Queer Healing Art Center celebrates 1 year of ‘Oakland Art Battles’

The Queer Healing Art Center was buzzing with excitement last Saturday as artists prepared their crisp white canvases, brushes and acrylic paint for an art battle.

It was the first anniversary of the Queer Healing Art Center which held Art Battles, live competitions where artists paint blank canvases surrounded by an audience. About 100 people attended Saturday’s event.

The public watches the artists fight in front of the Queer Healing Art Center. Credit: Florence Middleton

“As soon as the brush touches the canvas, everyone is electrified,” said Kin Folkz, née Monica Anderson, co-founder and executive director of the Queer Healing Art Center.

There were three rounds of 20 minutes. Six artists competed in the first round, followed by six more in the second. Guests used their phones after each round to vote, and five artists qualified for the final round.

Monica Anderson, who passes by Kin Folkz, greets the crowd at the first anniversary art battle. Credit: Florence Middleton

Artist Juliette Leong immediately stood out, in part because of her big yellow bow and bright shoes that shimmered as she approached her canvas. Leong is Art Battle’s youngest competitor at 6 years old. But she wasn’t nervous, she said.

When asked what she was going to paint, Leong replied, “You just have to wait and see.”

Juliette Leong paints her first artwork of the night. Credit: Florence Middleton

Juliette painted a cityscape with fireworks in a dark sky and people wearing sparkly dresses.

The art center, located in the heart of the Lakeshore Avenue commercial corridor, opened as brick-and-mortar in 2020 just weeks before the shelter-in-place.

“This pandemic was, for many of us, one of the latest in a long line of various pandemics,” Folkz said. “Everyone was sick at heart.”

Rosa Adams, left, and Wendy Trattner, right, compete in the first round. Credit: Florence Middleton

Art Center members wanted to find ways to support their community. They launched a trans and non-binary caravan to drive around Lake Merritt with their art-adorned vehicles and raise awareness of their COVID experiences. They served nearly 20,000 meals to homeless and sheltered people. And in 2021 they launched Oakland Art Battles.

Painting of Rosa Adams, before and after the competition round. Credit: Florence Middleton

Shortly after 8:00 p.m., the artists dropped their brushes and the public inspected the art and voted for the finale.

Diego Gomez, 40, of San Francisco, captivated the audience with two monster-themed masterpieces that night. Gomez walked away with the gold, qualifying for the regional Art Battle competition.

Oakland Art Battle winner Diego Gomez works on his latest piece of art as the public watches. Credit: Florence Middleton

The evening ended with a silent auction of freshly painted works of art.

Summar Abdallah, 28, of Oakland is competing in the final round. “I’m nervous,” she said before the event began. Credit: Florence Middleton

Diane Chan, 72, reflected on the paintings. “No one is alike. They are all beautiful,” she said. “This is my very first event and it won’t be my last.”

For Folkz, these art contests are about community, about art as healing, but also about survival.

Tara Rocker-Bates focuses on her artwork in the first round of the contest. Credit: Florence Middleton

Last year, the Queer Healing Art Center struggled to keep its doors open. Income from Art Battles helps pay the rent. Saturday’s Art Battle raised approximately $2,000 through ticket sales.

More than anything, Folkz says, the events feel like a family reunion.

Tajae Keith creates a painting in just 10 minutes as part of the event’s opening activities. Keith was the first artist in the latest Oakland Art Battle which took place in July 2022. Credit: Florence Middleton

“It’s a collective self-care environment. We are all in the same boat. It is less about the creation itself than about the process of [making art] together,” they said.

The Queer Healing Art Center has two upcoming exhibitions: Marsha Marsha Marsha and Bejeweled. The next Art Battle is scheduled for December 3, 2022.

This story was produced and co-published with Oakland North.