If you were to drive past the Coliseum down Hegenberger Road in Oakland today and glance over your shoulder, chances are you would see a handful of brightly colored houses and stretches of fence poking out of the industrial landscape. The Youth Empowerment Village of tiny houses, Youth Spirit Artworks’ years-long passion project, is finally closing in on its final stages of completion. (Disclaimer: Youth Spirit Artworks is the publisher of Street Spirit.) As the Tiny House Village edges closer to its long-awaited opening date, many community groups are hard at work helping different pieces of the Youth Empowerment Village vision come together, including the vibrant artwork that has been popping up around the site over the last few weeks. Recently, a team of youth leaders, volunteer artists, and Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) staff organized painting projects for both the fence planks and the murals on the sides of the houses themselves.
The fact that the Youth Empowerment Village is a beautiful, art-filled space is not simply a matter of aesthetics. YSA is rooted in the belief that art is a healing, community-building tool. The work put in every week throughout the duration of the summer, by volunteer builders and artists alike, is a testament to this belief, and has shown just how much this project means to the East Bay community.
Eli Streiff, along with a team of fellow YSA youth leaders, are managing the process of soliciting mural design applications from the community, approving them, and moving forward with completing the tiny house murals. With upwards of 20 murals completed, it is looking like the team will have no problem meeting their original goal of getting at least two sides of every house decorated. Painters include local muralists as well as YSA youth artists, including one team of YSA youth that are collaborating to complete a mural together in conjunction with YSA Senior Artist Jimi Evins. If the murals that we have seen so far are any indication, the Youth Empowerment Village will be chock-full of stunning artwork by its opening day.
YSA staff is also seeing a huge outpouring of support from the interfaith community for the project of painting the fence planks that surround the Tiny House Village, as well as the numerous planter boxes and barrels within. Members from YSA’s base of partners in the interfaith community—such as Temple Beth Abraham, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, and many more—have been involved in the process of painting prayers and blessings on the fence planks. The project has also received support from the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, Pacifica Institute, and hundreds of young campers from Congregation Beth El’s Camp Kee Tov. Over the last two months, summer campers between the ages of 10 and 14 have held COVID-safe, socially distanced summer camp sessions at the Hegenberger site each weekday, filling the space with bustling, exciting energy as they helped prime planks, planters, and barrels, and paint them with blessings. One of YSA’s core values is its foundation in spirituality, and this opportunity to surround the Youth Empowerment Village with the support, positive affirmations, and well wishes of community members of faith means a lot to YSA staff.
“It was really fun for those involved, because a lot of them haven’t been able to go to many events since COVID happened. A lot of people got to see each other after not seeing other people for a while,” remarks YSA Intern Simone Rotman, who oversees the fence plank painting activities. “It was a really cool opportunity for them to be a part of this greater project, since people of all different faiths and communities have all come together to work on it, and all their planks are going up next to each other.”
YSA youth artists and the city’s Berkeley Youth Works members also helped to prime and paint fence planks and planters. Dozens of weekend volunteers have been instrumental in erecting the fence itself. Indeed, the Youth Empowerment Village will be surrounded from the inside out by the care and artistic energy of folks from all corners of the community.
Jillian de la Torre is the Tiny House Project Coordinator at Youth Spirit Artworks and an aspiring social worker.