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Key to the City

A Guide to the Very Best Street Art in Oakland

Key to the City BY katie nave freeman 03/27/2019


When it comes to her jewelry line, Harp, Shelly Harper draws major inspo from all the good style she sees on a daily basis around her home in Oakland. And since she spends so much time pounding the pavement for ideas, she’s perfectly poised to share a list of her favorite street art, too. Tag along for a tour of the murals and graffiti she loves most—and why the medium means so much to her.


“There’s something about the impermanence of street art that really works for me. When certain pieces go up, I know that there’s a finite amount of time that the piece will stay intact before someone will tag over it or it will be scrubbed by the city or building owners. What it transforms to, or what is left behind, is often the most compelling story. It’s a cycle of unintentional collaborative art.”


“Each piece is about creating something without permission, which is important for me to acknowledge as someone who has chosen a creative career off the beaten path. I appreciate the courageousness it takes to get scrappy.”


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“There’s a tagger who goes by Harp, so, of course, I’ve been following them since I moved to the Bay and delight in seeing every piece that pops up. There’s even a truck that has a piece on the back often parked by my jewelry studio, and it energizes me. It’s a reminder that being able to create art using the materials that are available to you is so powerful. It’s easy to let fear creep in and let the excuse of not having the proper setup hold you back. If I’d waited for all the money to get all of the tools—or to have all of the skills I thought I needed to possess—I would never have started my line.”

“I’ve been following Oakland-based street artist GATS (Graffiti Against the System) for many years now. I love seeing the iconic ‘mask’ popping up around the Bay Area.”

“This piece, on the pathway that surrounds Lake Merritt in Oakland, is perfection. I’ve loved watching its transformation over the course of a week or so. It starts out sweet as ‘He Loves Her.’ Then, it gets even sweeter with the inclusive language ‘She Loves Her’ and reaches max sweetness with ‘She Loves Herself.’ To me, this is the perfect example of what beauty can be created with the cyclical nature of street art and the tension between opposing ideas surrounding it.”

“Street art teaches me that it is to be consumed by all and that there is no ‘type’ that it’s created for. I don’t want my line to be boxed in, and I don’t create for a certain person.”



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