Emeryville’s “Rotten City” district a semi-finalist for California Cultural District designation

Published On May 24, 2017 | By Rob Arias | Arts & Culture, In the Neighborhood

Emeryville has been selected among a large pool of applicants as a semi-finalist for a pilot California Cultural District designation. The program’s intent is to assist Californians in leveraging the state’s considerable assets in the areas of culture, creativity, and diversity.

If Emeryville is selected amongst the final list of 22 semi-finalists, it will not only receive the prestigious designation, but marketing support and a stipend to help develop the program for our city.

In 2015 the State Legislature approved Assembly Bill 189 which established State support in the development and preservation of our states cultural assets. The California Arts Council (CAC ) has been working for the past two years to establish the criteria and application process for this program.

Applications were solicited in early 2017 with the goal of identifying a small well-rounded group of communities. These communities would be diverse in make-up, geography and represent the many possible manifestations of cultural districts present in California.

Emeryville City Staff submitted the application to the pilot program last March. Our City’s application includes the “Rotten City” Cultural District that would encompass an area centered around the Hollis Street corridor. Rotten City is of course a reference to the notorious Alameda County District Attorney Earl Warren quote when Emeryville was considered a city of vice during the prohibition era. The area was mapped around the density of public art and institutions that support the arts.

Most of the competition involved are districts within cities. Our City is small enough to almost account for a single district. Emeryville will compete with this list of 22 districts that includes neighboring Oakland, San Francisco and San Rafael. Semi-finalists were divided into Rural, Urban and Suburban categories (Emeryville being considered “Urban”).

“Receiving this designation would certainly be a feather in our city-of-arts cap” noted Emeryville Celebration of the Arts Program Coordinator Sharon Wilchar. “It would also give the creative culture of Emeryville special recognition state-wide.” Wilchar also thinks having this designation might help restore some momentum the stalled Emeryville Center for the Arts and attract more artists to plant roots in our city. Successful cultural districts have the potential of benefiting the entire community.

Should Emeryville be selected as a winner of the coveted inaugural award, it would receive:

  • Official state certification – each district will enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the CAC certifying state designation as a cultural district for a period of five years and granting the district the right to use the state cultural district brand in its marketing
  • Branding materials – including the state cultural district logo, as well signage and banner templates
  • Technical assistance – including at a minimum an annual convening session, as well as peer-to-peer and other group learning opportunities given available resources
  • Joint marketing support – leveraging resources from state tourism partners
  • A stipend – up to $5,000 per district per year, to be used to support participation in the developmental evaluation process that will lead to the refinement of the design of the cultural districts program
  • Participation in developmental evaluation – the pilot cohort will receive support from the consulting team conducting the developmental evaluation of the cultural districts program, including at a minimum one site visit per year

City seeks help identifying “Cultural Assets”

The CAC has already toured our city and finalists for the program will be announced in early July. The next step is accumulating a cultural asset inventory list that must accompany that final application. The city is asking for the help of the public in assembling this list that identifies things that contribute to our city’s cultural identity. These assets can be places, people, organizations, events and other abstract ideas.

To contribute, download and fill out this PDF form and drop it off or email it to Economic Development and Housing Coordinator Emi Theriault by this Friday, May 26th.

Feature Image: Chief Justice Earl Warren who dubbed us “the rottenest city on the pacific coast” throwing out the first pitch at an Oakland Oaks game.


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About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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