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Ruth O’Day (Oakland) collaborating with East Bay Habitat for Humanity (Oakland)

Award: $33,985 Visual Arts grant awarded in 1994

Completed: March 1996

Ceramic artist Ruth O’Day collaborated with East Bay Habitat for Humanity, and with residents, students, and community organizations in the Sobrante Park area of East Oakland to reclaim a neglected, dangerous park through a public art project. The project sought to highlight East Bay Habitat for Humanity’s community revitalization efforts in the area. The Tyrone Carney Park Ceramic Tile Mosaic involved more than 200 volunteers and took 15 months to complete.

The project’s original plan was to identify the neighborhood’s “gateways, pathways, and entryways”; but, as the design committee discussed the project and canvassed other neighbors, the idea of focusing on Tyrone Carney Park emerged. The park had become rife with crime. Unfortunately, six years after this project’s completion, the City of Oakland fenced it off, trying to reduce gang violence in the area.

While Sobrante Park was known as an African American neighborhood, many Asian American, Southeast Asian, and Latino families also live there. Therefore, while the design committee chose a motif and stucco color based on African fabrics, volunteers painting the individual tiles incorporated symbols from many cultures. An eight-foot “guardian” mosaic relates to a Mayan cat figure.

Prior to undertaking this project, artist Ruth O’Day had shown work in two one-person and many group exhibitions. She had worked as an art teacher for older adults, Alzheimer’s patients, and adults and children with disabilities in East Bay public schools and at Alzheimer Services of the East Bay. In 1991 she had collaborated with Balinese artists on tile designs for house and garden entryways.

The mission of East Bay Habitat for Humanity is to build community by providing low-cost home ownership opportunities to people with low or very low incomes. The homes are primarily built by volunteers and Habitat Homeowners.