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You don’t have to be rich to be an art collector at this art-lending library

Two men talk at an Oakland Art Library event. | Brieana Breeze Photography

At the Oakland Art Library, founded by local artist Mike Hampton in April 2018, you can check out pieces of art instead of books. 

“It’s like a moving art gallery,” Hampton said. “And people who may not be able to afford a really expensive piece, they can still take it home and enjoy it for a summer or a winter.”

The Oakland Art Library charges $20 a month to its members, who can borrow art for a three-month period before returning it—or choosing to purchase it outright.

The concept makes fine art more accessible to the broader public, and it’s a win for the artists, too. 

While traditional art galleries typically charge a 50% commission for selling art, at the Oakland Art Library 100% of the proceeds go straight back to the artist, putting money into the hands of creatives at a time when they need it the most. 

It can be challenging to get work placed at a gallery, according to Hampton, and the Oakland Art Library also offers an accessible way for artists to break in. 

The library has had art on display from renowned local artists like koi fish stencilist Jeremy Novy and muralist Norah Bruhn, as well as artists just starting to get their foot in the door. 

Scene from a past event at The Oakland Art Library, where members can borrow (or buy) art at its monthly art events | Courtesy Mike Hampton

“They’re creating a space for all sorts of artists,” said Chris Weir, an artist who has participated in five shows with the Oakland Art Library and made connections to perform live painting at a New Year’s Eve event at San Francisco’s Mint thanks to the library. 

The library has the additional benefit of building community. At its monthly art events—which feature everything from live art-making to stand-up comedy to spoken word and music—people have made new connections and found ongoing work. 

“It’s like an adult playhouse,” said artist Sarah Lohmann of the last event held at Lumen Labs in Berkeley, noting nooks and crannies filled with art as well as a catwalk. “Everyone is there to see the art, and it feels very special.” Lohmann ended up selling two of her prints at the show. 

Amy Copperman, an artist who paints with acrylics and oils, has had her art borrowed as well as multiple pieces end up in public spaces. “I wouldn’t have known how to do that on my own,” Copperman said. “It’s a great way to share your work and get connected to other artists.” 

And the curator for a New Year’s Eve New Bohemia event at the Mint in San Francisco ended up scouting art at the library, placing multiple works for the show. 

“It also gives a space for the artists to connect with people and show without having to feel that push to sell either,” Hampton said. 

Around 40 to 50 artists will participate in each show, which is open to the public as well as members, and there’s no fee to enter. The library has hosted shows at Crooked City Cider, the (now closed) Starline Social Club and Lumen Labs, and will have beer sponsors such as Ocean View Brew Works and Gilman Brewing

So far, the library has had no issues with members not returning art or damaging art. “We’ve been fortunate with the community that we’ve been able to put together,” Hampton said. 

“There’s this giving energy amongst everyone,” Lohmann said. “It feels so community-enriching.” 

Artist Rose Paratore, who has also exhibited at the Oakland Art Library, agreed. “Every time I come out of one of these events, I feel like my cup is full again.”

Oakland Art Library’s next art party will likely be on Jan. 20 from 6-10 p.m. at Crooked City Cider in Oakland, and you can check its website for more details.