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Photos bring community through gate to Mills

Bob Hsiang

Due to a grant funded by the James Irvine Foundation, new photographs have been hung in Mills Hall. These photographs are part of a promise the college made to connect the surrounding neighborhoods with the Mills community.

“[The project began] as a part of our imperative to have a multicultural engagement between Mills and Oakland,” Vice President for Information Resources Renee Jadushlever said. “We have selected this hallway due to the large number of visitors that visit Admissions-the prospective students and their families.”

This project was created and installed to “give one a sense of roaming the Boulevard. In fact, the exhibition is arranged by street address to give viewers the sense of walking though the neighborhood,” states the introduction piece, which was written for the series.

Organizers Jadushlever, 1992 Mills alumna Patricia Wakida and Associate Provost Andy Workman made sure that the series was looked at from many angles so viewers would grasp the project’s intentions.

The College invited three photographers to photograph the nearby Laurel District on MacArthur Boulevard. The photographers include Heike Liss, a 2002 MFA alumna; Johnna Arnold, a 2005 MFA alumna; and Bob Hsiang. Each photographer worked with project director Wakida.

Liss focused on portraits of the store owners with interior and exterior views; Arnold depicted the culture and structure of MacArthur Boulevard with emphasis on transportation, pedestrian movement and objects; Hsiang photographed the stores’ exteriors, making sure to include architectural details, signs and displays.

“Talking with storeowners on MacArthur, I discovered many of them didn’t want this [project] to happen,” Arnold said. “This surprised me; wouldn’t they want more business, to be a thriving shopping district, to increase safety and cleanliness in their community?”

According to Arnold, the fact is that they do not. The boulevard has become part of their extended family. The community has created its own feeling of strength as well as its own distinct community. The MacArthur Boulevard storeowners have created an assortment of places to shop and peruse: nail salons, karate dojos, dollar shops and bars. The area encourages a variety of people, all of whom have called Oakland their home for as long as they can remember.

When Hsiang explored the community to photograph, he too thought it was a unique community.

“In the Laurel, I felt it is possible to know a store owner and feel part of a real community. In other words, it is scaled to a human level that one cannot find in a larger neighborhood,” he said.

The students also find the community that they live in to be quite interesting.

“I think that it is nice to see the manifestation of the link Mills has with the surrounding community. It’s great to know what is actually out there,” sophomore Rebecca Stone said. “I work on this floor and walk by these pictures every day. It gives the hall a homier look and showcases the Oakland community in a vibrant light.”

The series will hang on the second floor of Mills Hall for one year. Mills will invite the public, the Laurel District and Oakland City officials to an opening reception in May.