The East Bay has lost one of its most popular arts and culture events.

The 23rd annual Art & Soul Oakland has been canceled due to a lack of city funding. Featuring a range of live music performances, an artisan marketplace and local food vendors, the outdoor music and art festival has been a downtown Oakland tradition since 2001, drawing tens of thousands from all over the region. 

“Due to a months-long delay in funding support from the City of Oakland that had been approved by the Oakland City Council for last year’s event, we have no choice but to cancel our 2024 festival,” organizers posted to Facebook on Friday, May 10. “Instead, we will use the balance of this year to regroup and hopefully secure new funding.” 

The post saw more than 400 reactions and 70 comments from disappointed fans of the event, many expressing their frustration at Mayor Sheng Thao and the Oakland City Council for failing to support the festival. 

“It felt good to see that support, but a little unsettling to see the fingers of blame being pointed all over the place,” Samee Roberts, executive producer of the festival, told the Chronicle. “I think that this is an unfortunate situation where a funding entity is in dire financial straits themselves.” 

Prior to the pandemic, which put the festival on hiatus due to COVID-19 concerns, Art & Soul Oakland was backed by a $150,000 city grant and was a multi-day affair. Upon its return in 2022 as a one-day event, the city cut back its funding to $20,000. 

In December 2023, the City Council allocated $1.3 million to Oakland-based arts and culture organizations, with some grants directly earmarked for festivals while others were devoted to operating support. Art & Soul Oakland was among the groups that were meant to receive the funding in March. The current delay, however, is making it challenging for organizers to even climb out of debt from last year’s event, which had a budget of $110,000.

“We’re a small nonprofit,” Roberts said. “We started this festival as a way to put Oakland on the cultural map and it succeeded … (but) we weren’t in a position to be able to float the festival on our own without the funding we’ve come to rely on through the city of Oakland.”

To make matters worse, the city recently changed the guidelines for its Neighborhood Voices for Festivals Grant, requiring events to take place before July 2024. With this year’s festival scheduled for fall at Frank Ogawa Plaza, Art & Soul Oakland is ineligible.  

Art & Soul Oakland isn’t the only community event to feel the pinch. Oakland First Fridays, another beloved free arts and culture tradition, was temporarily canceled from January to March due to “financial challenges.” It resumed in April. 

“We would like to return next year,” Art & Soul Oakland organizers said in the Facebook statement. “Only time will tell if it will be feasible.”

Reach Zara Irshad: [email protected]

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