Curatorial Projects > Code 33 (2001)

Code 33

An installation by Suzanne Lacy, Julio Morales, Unique Holland, David Goldberg, Michelle Baughan, Raul Cabra & Patrick Toebe

May 2 - June 16, 2001
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

Code 33 - the police code for "emergency, clear the air" - was a two-year project by a coalition of artists, activists, youth, and police that culminated in a performance event with 150 Oakland youth and 100 Oakland Police Department officers at Oakland’s City Center West parking garage on October 7, 1999. The project was an attempt to clear the air between two groups that have historically had a tense, distrusting relationship and to create context where police officers and young people could talk candidly and intensely about issues that affect them both - crime, authority, power, and safety. The audience of 1,000 community members witnessed the spontaneous and unscripted dialogue of youth and police coming together to explore their realities and stereotypes.

This installation – a condensed archive of the 1999 event – is structured to mirror the performance experience while also creating a critical context for understanding the impact of public art. It leads viewers through a matrix of heated, passionate, provocative conversations between youth and police officers, images of community as produced by participating youth, artifacts and objects used in the workshop, training, and event production processes. It will challenge the public to listen and engage with the voices of our youth, to better understand the complex world they inhabit, to better understand the distrust they have for police officers. Call it art in the service of social change, or social service in the function of art. Regardless, the result is a potent mix.

In Oakland, CA, a city where approximately a quarter of the population are youth, young people consistently cite their relationship with police officers as a major problem. Furthermore, police officers are often driven by fear which can translate into an explosive situation between an officer and a young person - sometimes leading to a shooting. Yet, opportunities for dialogue between the two groups have come few and far between. As a major proponent of artists’ roles in shaping the public agenda, Suzanne Lacy and a core group of collaborators created opportunities for youth and police to meet and hear each others’ perspectives and opinions in non-threatening settings. In preparation for the Code 33 event, young people and adult staff from the Code 33 project made presentations on youth/police issues to Oakland’s 57 Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils, serving as a springboard for youth, government, police, educators and the community to shatter stereotypes, build relationships and develop meaningful communications. Art workshops, youth training activities, planning, art production, mentorships and presentations before neighborhood groups were all part of the collaborative team’s effort to engage a broad cross-section of Oakland in supporting youth.

Since the early 1990s, Suzanne Lacy has worked with many collaborators on various projects under the acronym T.E.A.M. (Teens + Education + Art + Media). The mission of T.E.A.M. is to produce socially oriented public performance and multimedia installation art that develops youth participation in public policy, has a direct and positive impact on mass media images of youth, and promotes theory and practice demonstrating how art can truly affect social change. Projects produced to date include No Blood/No Foul; The Roof Is On Fire; Youth, Cops and Videotape. Relying on long-term involvement of participants and community organizing, T.E.A.M. orchestrates complex behind-the-scenes scenarios, directing teams of collaborating artists and choreographing scores of non-artists who come together to address social issues and build community. Their work vividly demonstrates how far one can go, as artists and activists, toward affecting public policy.

- Kevin B. Chen