Barbara Schaaf Interview Excerpt
Barbara Schaaf, Interviewee
Angelle Pryor, Interviewer
October 29, 2002
Angelle Pryor: Maybe we should keep talking and do that afterwards.
Barbara Schaaf: OK.
AP: If you don’t mind.
BS: So that was my first involvement with the Festival. And in those days of course it was free, open to the public, free. The funding came from city and from the state. Then each year it grew a little bit bigger. The arts thing that really got everything going, which was really a pretty incredible two weeks—uh, kind of—the sponsoring organization existed and they did a 4th of July concert. The Open Studios kind of continued but everything kind of spread out and was not any longer part of a two-week festival. So everybody kind of did their own thing. A lot of the good things died out, but a lot of them stayed, but didn’t coordinate their efforts.
So then, I’m getting my dates mixed up, what was actually, I forget what my next job was there. That was about when Susanne.[Hirshen] wasn’t part of it from the beginning; she came on around then. The two arts organizations, Festival at the Lake and Oakland Festival of the Arts–which was the Junior League kind of thing kind of spread apart and each kind of did their own thing. So then, my involvement—it was in ’85 that I was actually the Volunteer Coordinator. I was also called the Chairman of the Steering Committee. I forgot what my job was the year before that. Anyway the Steering Committee—all the heads of the different activities were volunteers –and part of my job was to help get those people—a lot of them were already in place or emerged from the community. And we had regular meetings to see what everybody was doing, and everybody pretty much had to make their own plan, get their own helpers, fund their own thing. I mean it was that kind of a thing. It was very, very community-based.
I remember we had a Low-Rider competition and I can’t remember the lady’s name, but she was from the Fruitvale. She organized a Low-Rider competition. So she had her own committee that did it. It was very community-based. If she came to the meeting and said “Hey, Gee, I need some prizes, anybody have any ideas?” People would step up and help people out. Business was involved to some extent. John Rubino, who was with Kaiser in some capacity, was the person before me, and had much more stature in the community than I, as far as being the Chairman of the Steering Committee. But I would guess that there were thirty people on that Steering Committee, probably, and it was fun because if you had an idea and you could do it, you could do it.
The Festival, as you know, had a Board that was appointed by the Governor. I was always an honorary member of that. I was never appointed by the Governor. They were supportive and kind of did their own thing and were supportive of whatever was going on. But those were, I think, the good days because it was so community based. I had an office in the old YWCA, that’s still there on Webster St. in Oakland. We’d go down there every day as a volunteer and work. When I finally got into the volunteer coordinating, we’d put in the newspaper ‘You wanna volunteer at the festival?’ We had some meetings, people showed up and we’d kind of identify some helpers.
It was a three-day event as you know, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and I had three shoeboxes. My husband, at the time, was in the shoe business. So I put all the names for the Friday volunteers in the Friday shoebox, and all of Saturday and Sunday. I had a coordinator for each day. They came and picked up the box, and called the people and gave them assignments.
By the time of the Festival, I didn’t really know what was going on. I don’t think we had computers then, there, at least. Maybe the boss did, but I didn’t. Don’t know if I would’ve known how to use it anyway. But so by the time the Festival came, they had all the information and I didn’t have any information, so I didn’t have so much to do. It was kind of out of my hands. Seemed to work out all right. I identified some people; I should obviously still remember those people who did that. I like to keep in touch with a couple of them still. But it worked pretty well.
Then I can’t remember the year we actually fenced. I think one year we fenced, and let people in to kind of get that going and then we started charging. And then came, then I forget even how many years Susanne did it, did her thing. Then came a time mostly during Susanne’s—shall we say reign? —It was still a pretty strongly community-based event. They started getting new executive directors. Then it became more difficult for people from outside the area, or not part of the Festival family to have the same ability to base in the community.
So it got real easy for them to start hiring people to do some of the work that volunteers had done before. Certainly as a person who works with volunteers, I know there’s certain advantages and disadvantages to working with volunteers. I was thinking of one of my experiences: this cute girl came in on her lunch hour, her name was Michelle Williams and she wanted to do something.
So we had the waiter/waitress race. The different restaurants competed with some kind of a thing going, go and put up the table and run back and pour or something, that kind of thing. So her job was not only to contact all the restaurants, she was to get the prizes, you know, and to get people to help run the thing. So she did it all. So people just kind of took it upon themselves and actually did it. That was very funny, I did one of the ...all of a sudden some big union issue came up. One of the restaurants wasn’t a union restaurant, and all of a sudden everybody got all excited. But there’s some little crisis that comes up of course. I remember her thing coming by. I think it gave people an opportunity to stretch and to do stuff, maybe they didn’t know they could do, because it wouldn’t happen unless they kind of did it that way.
Transcribed by Hannah Tandeta
A part of the "Communal Use of Public Space: Oakland's Lake Merritt" project of the Oakland Living History Program