By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
A much-anticipated multi-use space in downtown Oakland dedicated to queer people will soon be opening its doors.
Qulture Collective, founded by three queer women who also identify as “serial entrepreneurs,” is undergoing a build-out process to support a cafe and work-study area, a retail space stocked with mostly queer-made merchandise, a queer art gallery, and co-working studios for queer artists and makers.
Located at 1714 Franklin Street, Qulture Collective is a response to the East Bay queer community’s call for a designated queer space to commune, collaborate, work, and feel safe – one that isn’t night-centric and doesn’t necessitate alcohol consumption. Earlier this month, co-founders Alyah Baker, Terry Sok, and Julia Wolfson launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to support the business’s build-out, an expensive and tedious endeavor ultimately resulting in the space’s official opening in September.
“Qulture Collective has a cultural/community slant to it,” Wolfson, 32, a self-identified queer lioness, told the Bay Area Reporter. “It poses the question: what does it mean for us to come together and spend time with one another? It’s a way to discover what ‘queer community’ means. Also, when you buy a cup of coffee, you’re supporting the staff and space. When you buy something from the retail space, you’re supporting a queer artist or maker. It’s the power of purchasing; lifting up the community in the process of buying a cup of coffee or a gift for a friend. We’re also more inclusive than exclusive, which means we’re open to allies, too.”
The multi-use space is founded on a “cycle of support” whereby the cafe and retail space secure Qulture Collective’s sustainability and permanence, which in effect ensures that community events and artist/maker workspace and merchandise arrangements remain accessible.
Baker, 33, a queer woman of color and owner of the downtown Oakland boutique Show and Tell, has been integrating accessibility into her business practices for four years and is bringing that expertise to the collective.
“In my past career working for a large mainstream retailer as a queer woman of color, people didn’t know how to relate to me; they looked at me weird,” Baker told the B.A.R. “That’s uncomfortable as you’re trying to excel in your career. When I left, it became important for me to highlight folks that experience spaces or opportunities as inaccessible because of gender, orientation, disability, etc.
“When Show and Tell opened, my co-owner at the time and I decided to carry products created by people we shared community with, people without representation,” Baker added. “It was very much on my heart and mind that the business needed to be for people without access. Qulture Collective toes the same line.”
Baker also plans to move community events historically held at Show and Tell to Qulture Collective.
“We’ve needed to expand out of that location and establish something that will answer additional community needs,” Baker said, “like a cafe people get good service in where they don’t get misgendered or have bathroom issues. But also screen movies and have additional events, things we’ve been doing already that Show and Tell’s space can’t support anymore.”
Qulture Collective also seeks to break up the homogenizing effects of gentrification, a disturbing shift longtime Oakland residents Baker and Wolfson have witnessed, but that’s particularly painful to Sok, an Oakland native.
Sok and Wolfson co-own Garden House, a 25-year-old salad and sandwich shop one block from Qulture Collective. Sok’s mother ran Garden House before her and Wolfson; the businesses on the block Sok remembers as a kid are long gone.
“There are so many cafes around now,” Sok, a queer woman of color, told the B.A.R. “They’re very similar in an unfamiliar way, in a way that’s not diverse. I don’t even recognize the people walking down the street anymore. None of them look like the people I grew up with. It’s scary for me to see this much change so rapidly.
“I’d like to influence people to understand where I’m from, that things are changing but I’m not going to let absolutely everything about the city I grew up in be changed,” Sok added. “For me, that means preserving community. And if I am behind change, it’s change that means more space for that community. Qulture Collective means family, community, and a deep-seated love for Oakland.”
In just over two weeks, the Indiegogo campaign has raised about $3,600. By the fundraiser’s end on September 17, the three co-founders hope to have $50,000 raised. Perks for donating include bottomless mimosas served at Qulture Collective’s Indiegogo Braunch (brunch and lunch) fundraiser Saturday, August 22 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the collective.
“The brunch is an opportunity for people to come and see the space, meet and talk with us, ask questions, and make suggestions around additional community needs,” said Wolfson.
Other donation perks include donor name engravings on a permanent founder’s wall in the cafe, sponsor of nonprofit of donor’s choice to utilize the Qulture Collective space as needed for one full day, and an array of event hosting options.
“We want people to know that shortly after making a donation, this will happen,” Sok said. “I can’t imagine not thriving once we’re open.”