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Inspiring Change With Public Art

Boxing Mural

“I give the youth a voice when they are often told to be quiet.”

“I realized growing up, with art being such a passion, I didn't have any role models—outside of my uncle—who were painting portraits or doing creative work that I could relate to. So, I made a choice after my football career to be that person in my community. I wanted to be someone that kids could relate to but also look up to, and then on top of that, give them some opportunities and pathways that they could actually take advantage of.”

— Bobby Arte

DSAL and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office have been working to transform public safety in unincorporated Alameda County for more than 15 years. Decades of disinvestment left our neighborhoods without theaters, cinemas, music and arts venues, libraries, and parks. Public art is one of the most important tools we use to turn this situation around. Public art empowers residents to transform their neighborhoods, rejuvenate their surroundings, and effect change, and we are fortunate to have Bobby Arte, a classically trained oil painter and portrait artist born and raised in Oakland, spearheading our public art initiatives.

We caught up with Arte to learn about his background, his inspiration, and why it’s important for him to inspire youth to pursue careers in art. What we learned is that, although his first career was in professional football, art was always his passion and inspiration.

“My favorite uncle was a cartoonist,” said Arte. “When I was about four years old, I would watch him working on his cartoons. He worked with Morrie Turner back in the Oakland Tribune days and was a really cool cartoonist. He was also the youngest uncle, so we were close enough in age that we were really bonded.”

“As far back as I can remember, I've been drawing and doodling and painting,” he said. “Then high school came around, and I tried out for the football team, made it, ended up excelling, and found a love for the game and an opportunity further my education and also my world experiences by joining the football world.”

Arte got a scholarship to play football in college and eventually signed with a professional football team. After several years playing professional football in the U.S., Europe, and Canada, Bobby “tore up” his knee, which caused him to reevaluate things. That’s when he decided to finish school and move on to a more professional career while doing something that he’s always been passionate about—the artwork.

“I always treated my art as a career, not a passion project or a side hustle,” said Arte. “The way to do that was to have a paycheck teaching art. I was able to move up in my teaching position, all the while painting, going to shows, learning as much as I could about the industry, and finding where the money was in doing art. I was able to scale up and do murals, which allowed me to bring in youth, through my nonprofit, and to show them and teach them what being a professional artist looks like.”

Arte was introduced to DSAL by Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Carrol (now a Captain), and one of the first public art projects he led was the larger-than-life mural of boxers at the entrance of the DSAL Boxing Gym at the Hayward Adult School.

“We had free reign to do something boxing-related, and I feel like youth are always looking for celebrities or stars to look up to, and it always helps when those celebrities or stars look like them,” said Arte. “They have a feeling of connection that, ‘If Andre Ward can make it, I can make it. If Julio César Chávez can make it, maybe I have a chance.’ I give the youth a voice when often they are told to be quiet. I really wanted to get a lot of our youth involved in building something positive that can leave a lasting impression.”

“That's why we chose the boxers,” he said. “They're painted in a realistic manner, so they are very easily identifiable. There’s an instant connection.”

On a typical project, Arte says he has “about 25% of the concept in mind” before he gets input from the youth, and then he “speaks with them, gets a lot of inspiration and guidance, and then we'll kind of chisel out the final 75% together.” He also sends drafts to DSAL or the business commissioning the piece to be sure that it aligns with their values.

Arte says he has a lot of appreciation for the work DSAL and the Sheriff’s Office are doing to transform the community.

“DSAL and the ACSO are walking the walk, not just talking,” he said. “People say ‘defund the police,’ but I think it should be more of an engagement through civic service, where they help implement programming and support organizations and nonprofits that give youth some real, viable options, when they often feel like they don't have any choice, or they don't have a voice.”

“DSAL and the ACSO have given so many young people an opportunity to be seen and heard that it has literally changed lives,” said Arte. “I think that's how we should go about doing it versus, you know, pounding enforcement down their throats. Give them some opportunities and resources, we can really make a difference.”

Be sure to visit Arte’s website to view his art and learn more about him, and keep an eye out for DSAL’s murals, created in partnership with the Alameda County Office of Education, at Angry Fish Sushi, Pacific Apparel, Mercado La Raza, Ashland Soccer Park, and the Hayward Adult School Arena and Boxing Gym.

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