Berkeley’s Gilman District is launching its first street fair this Sunday

Nigel Sussman’s Welcome to West Berkeley mural. Credit: Nigel Sussman
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Artist Nigel Sussman’s “Welcome to West Berkeley” mural in the Gilman District. Credit: Nigel Sussman

Three blocks in the Gilman District will be closed to traffic Sunday as the decade-old shopping district debuts a new street fair. 

Put on by the commercial district’s business association, the event will bring together 70 vendors, including jewelers, potters, artists and 10 food trucks, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 23. Fifth Street will be closed between Gilman and Camelia streets, and Camelia will be closed from Fourth Street to Sixth. 

SHOH Gallery owner Julie McCray, who helped start the Gilman District business association, said the goal of the family-friendly fair is to celebrate the neighborhood’s creative spirit and working-class roots. Organizers hope to hold the fair annually.

McCray, a lifelong Berkeley resident, said she moved her fine art gallery from San Francisco to Gilman Street in 2016 because “it’s where the art is being made.” 

In the 1800s, much of what is today West Berkeley used to be Ocean View, an unincorporated blue-collar settlement whose residents mostly worked in manufacturing plants, mills, and lumber plants. Later the area became a hub of West Berkeley’s “smokestack” industries, exemplified by Pacific Steel Casting, which closed its Second Street factory in 2018.  

McCray said the street fair aims, in part, to honor the area’s history. 

“This area still has that vibe,” McCray said. “It’s still multicultural makers [and] people doing things with their hands.” 

Visual art will be a focus at the street fair. Berkeley artist Nigel Sussman will do live mural painting on plywood, and kids and adults will be invited to make chalk drawings on the pavement and participate in an interactive mural-making activity led by artists Joey Rose and Alexandra Underwood. 

While the district has become known for its wineries, many of which will be doing tastings, the fair itself will be an alcohol-free zone.

A DJ will play music aboard the Pacific Neptune Chariot, a giant “mutant vehicle” with enormous seahorses decorating it initially designed for Burning Man. (Dancing is encouraged.)  

The fair will cost around $4,000 to host, McCray said, with vendors paying between $50 to $100 to book a spot. The arts nonprofit Commotion West Berkeley provided $3,000 for art and marketing purposes, and Gilman District will cover any remaining costs using $10,000 the city of Berkeley gave the group in 2022.

The Gilman District is working toward solidifying itself as an official business improvement district, McRay said, with a goal of giving the district’s business owners, artists and builders more say in city government. The Elmwood and Solano business improvement districts, for example, are enshrined in city code and have the power to levy annual assessment fees from its businesses to spend on events, entertainment, marketing, beautifying efforts and more. 

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