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‘Calming’ murals grace Oakland intersections

Public art at a crossroads

An aerial photo of a street mural depicting hands reaching across a field of frenzied blue lines. Courtesy Oakland Department of Transportation

If certain Oakland commutes seem a little more cheery lately, it’s not just you.

Local artists under the direction of the Oakland Department of Transportation (DOT) have adorned the asphalt at eight intersections across the city with new murals, and plans are laid for more than 20 additional in the near future.

Oakland DOT calls it the Paint the Town initiative, “a pilot program that allows communities to paint temporary murals on Oakland streets.”

The pilot began in January of this year and started spilling paint in the spring. Oakland Magazine calls the artworks “traffic-calming street murals” designed to soothe frazzled nerves at “busy or dangerous intersections throughout Oakland.”

But the city itself says, “The purpose of this program is to add life and surprise to our streets” without reference to traffic, noting that Oakland City Hall favored the mural idea because it was “community led, low cost, reversible, and fun.”

While Oakland DOT received more than 40 applications and approved 30 intersection installations across the breadth of the town, only eight works have actually manifested so far.

The initiative comes with a few rules: Artists may paint “only at an intersection or midblock,” no advertisements allowed, and the piece must not interfere with traffic markings or depict anything that might be mistaken for traffic directions.

The results are perky and inoffensive imagery: hands joined across the bay in Fruitvale, a fluttering hummingbird in Northgate, and sturdy looking trees near Rockridge.

A DOT Google Map reveals both presently extant murals and the future sites of nine proposed ones.

“This pilot phase is still underway, and [...] we have not yet determined the next steps,” the city of Oakland testifies, but invites potential artists to check back for future application possibilities.