Sat January 16th
Viviana Rodriguez-Smith is the founder and curator of E14 Gallery. She brought the vision of the gallery to life based upon the need for spaces where artists and community can feel at home. Viviana states, “despite the many artistic voices and perspectives in Oakland, there are not many steady outlets for their artistic expression, and E14 Gallery rose up to serve as a home for these local artists.”
Prior to E14 Gallery, Viviana worked for La Clinica de La Raza, one of the biggest non-profit health organizations in Northern California, as a community health educator. As she was transitioning out of the organization where she had worked for sixteen years, she was introduced to a brick and mortar project by friends from EastSide Arts Alliance, a Third World Cultural Center serving the Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous communities that comprise East Oakland.
At first, she was invited to help and to manage inventory for the group. Viviana soon began to create a vision for the physical space. When EastSide Arts Alliance realized they didn’t have the capacity to continue, they offered Viviana the project. She didn’t want to miss the opportunity and what it represented for herself, for her community, and for others in this rapidly changing area. Thus E14 Gallery was born.
The name of the space comes directly from the history of Oakland. In 1996, the city changed the original name of East 14th Street to International Boulevard. Though they stated it was because of the different communities and the diversity of the people living in the area along the roadway, many residents and locals believed that the action was in anticipation of gentrification. These same people often still refer to the street as “East 14” or “E – 1 – 4”, and it is these people–whose history is rewritten by others–that Viviana serves. She honors this history through her gallery and its name: E14 Gallery.
In 2016, she called on her community to bring E14 Gallery to life. Tommy Wong from East Side Arts Alliance, and her former student Edwin Rodriguez and his wife Yadira Galindo from LIBRE CLTRA collaborated to launch the space. Together, they worked to create a hub for locals and like-minded artists and makers.
Located in Old Oakland, E14 became a space where artists of color and the community could feel at home, welcomed, valued, and validated–a place where everyone’s stories mattered. The location of the gallery is important because this space is held for artists and Oakland natives while many other organizations and businesses are focusing on transplants and new wealth. Since 2017, the gallery space has become a place of community, where people meet, socialize, get inspired, and plan their projects.
What motivates her is the ability to create a space where communities of color feel welcomed, where their life and experiences are valued, validated, and where everyone can feel inspired and energized. She loves her community and believes the arts are important because they breathe life into those who experience it. She takes pride in being able to bring attention to the voices and issues in Oakland. The space stands for history, culture, resistance, and resilience; while E14 does showcase full-time artists, some feature artists might actually be your local social worker, teacher, or union organizer.
In the future, Viviana would love to expand upon what she has started with E14 Gallery and provide a similar opportunity for young Xicana and POC women to become business owners, to follow their dreams, and to take control of their destinies.
E14 Gallery is about community belonging and identity. It’s about equity and community cultural wealth. Facilitating the space that allows the community to come together gives Viviana the motivation she needs to tackle all the difficult issues that come with holding space in Oakland, and she is not letting go.