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San Francisco has always been a hub for the LGBTQIA community. For decades, people of different sexual orientations and gender identities have created a home and community in the Bay Area. In the last several years, however, the Bay has been transformed by the developing technology companies. The once vastly diverse city and suburbs have witnessed the forcing out of its native citizens. And when people go, the culture that they cultivated tends to go with them. Queer businesses and staple hangouts, like the Lexington, have dwindled and disappeared with rising rent prices. In Oakland, three queer women have made it their business to keep a space open for the members of their community.
Almost a year ago, the Qulture Collective opened its doors for the Oakland’s Sixth Annual Pride Parade and Festival. While the festival’s fencing mistakenly blocked off the store front, the owners sent out their squad to invite folks inside to relax and socialize. The two-story venue introduced a café, a retail area, a gallery, and a work space. Everything inside the space, from the art hanging on the walls to the merchandise displayed on the tables, is created by local artists, shops, and queer vendors. ‘We wanted to create an entrepreneurial space and promote growth,’ said Alyah Baker, co-founder of the Collective and owner of the Show & Tell retail store in Downtown Oakland. She, along with co-founders Terry Sok and Julia Wolfson – who also own a local restaurant called the Garden House – have built a warm and inviting place for the queer community to meet and hang out.
‘Gentrification is taking its toll on the area and there are little resources at the community’s disposal,’ Terry stated about the inspiration behind the Collective. The three co-owners saw a need and filled it with their passion towards contributing to the greater community. Inside the Collective it’s striking how the patrons of the venue have curated the space. ‘I would say 80 percent of our visitors have hosted the events and brought ideas to us,’ Julia said as she explained the range of events. They have hosted healing events, decompression and writing workshops, demonstrating how the Qulture Collective has become as diverse as the area surrounding it. Julia went on to say, ‘The space is shaped by the people and everyone pitches in.’
But worry was evident on all of the owner’s faces. As larger companies begin to move into nearby buildings, the businesswomen are preparing for the next wave of displacement. With rent prices consistently rising, they have to be economical in their business practices. ‘Unfortunately, we have had to turn groups away because they did not have a budget for the work space,’ Julia stated as the co-owners discussed how they should rent out the upstair rooms. There is a struggle between maintaining good businesses practices and ensuring a continuing location for LGBT and queer people to meet.
It is not just the business, but the people the owners are concerned about. ‘Folks are leaving. Real, true members of the community who can no longer afford to live in the area,’ Terry said as she explained how Oakland has changed in such a short time. The incoming transplants believe they have made the town different, Terry chuckled at the thought saying, ‘They want to make it unique when it already is.’
So while the Qulture Collective has done well for itself during its first year of business, there has been some restructuring. Terry, Julia, and Alyah are looking for alternate means of funding through public grants and fiscal sponsorship. ‘We want to be more community and less business and maintain focus on the inside space,’ Terry said, indicating how the energy of the Collective’s patrons have altered the organization. With further support, they hope to eventually be a non-profit in the future.
Over the summer months, keep an eye out for the Qulture Collective’s events. There is new art entering the gallery soon that will center on the Bay Area’s queer history. The Collective is also continuing to host events like Reel Queer, an evening focused on LGBT films, and Butch Burlesque shows, celebrating dancing and gender expression. To further support the queer community in Oakland and the lovely owners of the Qulture Collective, check out their website and join the community.
Qulture Collective, 1714 Franklin St, Oakland, CA, USA, +1 510 419 0552