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Keyshia Cole

Despite all the apparent drama that surrounds her life, Oakland’s Keyshia Cole has shown herself to be an incredibly shrewd businesswoman and, most importantly, a remarkably consistent artist. Over the course of the last decade, Cole has put out five albums (most notably 2005’s The Way It Is and 2007’s Just Like You,) that range from good-to-great and two reality TV series that all serve to highlight her plucky, resilient nature in the face of a troubled past and an uncertain future. In the process, KC has exposed her fans to the sometimes transcendent highs and immanent lows of the Urban Woman’s American Dream with remarkable transparency, pathos, and the kind of charm that only comes from true talent.

Tue., July 29, 7 p.m., 2014

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EASY DOES IT

Proto-punks, post-hippies, deadheads, druggies, and hungry folks of every stripe populate Mimi Pond’s new graphic novel memoir, Over Easy, with the action set around a bohemian diner in late-’70s Oakland. It’s an immersive experience: As the counterculture shifts from hippie to punk in an eyeblink, art-school dropouts and society’s misfits find a temporary home full of free love and plentiful drugs among the deep fryers and hot plates. Tonight at McNally Jackson, Pond — a former Voice contributor and writer of The Simpsons’ pilot episode — reads from this coming-of-age story, and delves into it in conversation with fellow humorist Lisa Birnbach (The Official Preppy Handbook).

Mon., May 12, 7 p.m., 2014

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Judy Chicago Proves She’s About More Than Vagina Plates at Brooklyn Museum Show

Judy Chicago wears rose-colored glasses, not that she needs them. The artist behind the notoriously yonic The Dinner Party celebrates her 75th birthday this year with major museum exhibitions all over the country, including Santa Fe, Oakland, and Cambridge. Her exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum opened earlier this month, and she returns the favor on Saturday with A Butterfly for Brooklyn, a large pyrotechnic display in Prospect Park. So what does she have to be upset about? To hear her tell it: plenty.

It’s not that she has any complaints about her own career. Chicago has been a household name in contemporary art since she completed The Dinner Party, a triangular table set with vulval ceramic plates dedicated to notable women, in the late ’70s. Sappho, Josephine Baker, Emily Dickinson, and even “Fertile Goddess” are given places at this imagined meal. When The Dinner Party came out, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum were the only large institutions to show it. The opening at the Brooklyn Museum in 1981 was the largest reception in the museum’s history. During its first presentation, 100,000 visitors came to see it. Since going on permanent display at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the museum in 2007, the number of people who have viewed her landmark work has grown to almost 1 million.

Looking back on her years of struggle as a female artist in a male-dominated art world, Chicago says, “Where I am now is a miracle. The Dinner Party has done so much for me.” But if The Dinner Party is the art equivalent of a power anthem, Chicago worries it’s made her a one-hit wonder. “For the longest time The Dinner Party was the only thing anyone associated with me. I used to say, I hope before I die people will come to see The Dinner Party as only part of a large body of work.”

That time has arrived. “Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work, 1963–1974,” is the first cohesive look at her beginnings. The works are bold and self-assured, like Birth Hood, 1965, a car hood painted with slick automotive paint so that it looks like the wings of a moth, or Rainbow Pickett, 1964, a row of Easter-egg–colored plywood beams that ascend in height to over 10 feet. These and other works in the show take the formal language of minimalism, but reject its strict austerity. Like the artist herself, her works are nothing if not colorful.

On the day of the press opening, Chicago was wearing the aforementioned tinted glasses as well as gold sneakers. She’s a petite woman, but her personality towers. She regaled the crowd with tales from her first disappointing visit to New York, which included a meeting with Harold Rosenberg, a well-known art critic at the time. She brought her slides; he brought a hard-on. “He made a pass at me, and I told him to get fucked,” Chicago said with a laugh.

Reflecting on the 40 years since that compromising exchange, Chicago marvels at her own accomplishments. “Can you name another permanent installation for a woman artist, anywhere? I can’t.” But while she’s thrilled about her achievements, they only magnify the barriers still facing women. “I’m occupying around 30,000 square feet with all the work that will be in museums this year. There’s not a museum in the world that would accord that much space to a single woman artist.”

Though she’s achieved many milestones herself, Chicago is restless on the subject of the impediments facing other women, and isn’t afraid to name names. “It kills me that at the National Gallery, a tax-funded institution, the collection is 97 percent male and 99 percent white,” she says. “There should be a class-action lawsuit!” She’s critical of museum initiatives to tip the balance and has lived through enough to know the phony from the genuine: “MOMA announced that they’re devoting 2015 to women artists. That was a ’70s strategy; all we want is 50 percent!”

Despite all her success, there are barriers Chicago herself has yet to break. “Not one of my works is in a major museum collection, other than the Brooklyn Museum or LACMA. Not MOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Met, the Whitney . . . ” For readers who may not find that surprising, keep in mind that Chicago is one of the most important visual artists of the past century. In fact, the very term “feminist art” is attributed to her.

She is also critical of those who believe the art world has made an about-face. “People say everything’s changed in the art world, but it’s mostly at an entry level. There are lots of women and artists of color showing in regional shows, small galleries, independent and alternative spaces, group shows, but you get up into the top institutions and nothing has changed,” Chicago says. “It’s a long history struggle. There’s definitely been a profound change in consciousness, but translating that into institutional change is a really big job.”

Chicago is happy to take on that task. She wrote a book called Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education (Monacelli Press, 2014), which details her 50 years of teaching and testifies to the ways she has seen and heard art education keeping women out. “I’ve been hearing stories for years, and I’m disappointed to hear that things haven’t changed since I was a student,” she says. “It infuriates me that women pay these outrageous tuition prices and have to seek out the history of women in art. These women pay to educate themselves.”

Chicago is hopeful that her book will inspire others to change outdated pedagogical practices to be more inclusive of women. But for now, she has the immediate future to contend with. Saturday’s A Butterfly for Brooklyn will be her biggest pyrotechnic project to date, and there’s still a lot to do. More than 1,000 fireworks must be hand-inserted onto the Prospect Park lawn in the week before the event. She’s done two “butterflies” before, one in Oakland in 1974, the second in Pomona in 2012. This will be the first on the East Coast.

“Pomona was kind of practice,” Chicago says, laughing. “There will be a much larger number of effects in Brooklyn. We’re going to have thousands of individual pieces: saxons, rockets, flares, and strobes. And lots of color! Red, pink, purple, fuchsia, white, silver, and gold.”

She’s giddy talking about the Butterfly, and rightfully so. It’s a momentous event for her, and very symbolic. “Butterflies have come in and out of my work for years, but it’s always been a symbol of liberation,” she says. “I stopped in ’74 because I couldn’t get the funding to continue expanding my ideas. I’ve waited 40 years to work at this level of complexity and scale.”

She smiles. “This is the best birthday present in the world.”

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The Institute Is an Engrossing First-person Account of an Absurdist Game

A thrilling, absorbing, absurdist real-world alternate-reality game played out on the streets of San Francisco and Oakland gets souvenir-doc treatment in Spencer McCall’s The Institute—but complaints that there’s too little here about how the Jejune Institute was hatched or what it all may have meant matter little in the face of the one great thing The Institute does offer: a record of the mad invention of the game’s masterminds.

A typical participant in the game (created by Jeff Hull) reports his experience: A flyer advertising force fields in San Francisco’s financial district led him to call a phone number that directed him to an office suite, where a woman gave him a key to a room where a lounger was positioned before a TV upon which a cult-leader-like genius was bragging about having invented a new type of water—and then warning the player not to open the top drawer of a nearby desk. Inside said drawer, the player discovered an “induction card;” once that was filled out, the mysteries deepened.

The inventor’s Jejune Institute, it turned out, was in ugly conflict with the Elsewhere Public Works Association over a movement called Nonchalance. The details were doled out in a mixed-media scavenger hunt across the Bay Area, involving low-wattage radio broadcasts, bizarre books turning up in local stores, a rescue mission involving spelunking, and, pricelessly, players being told, “It is imperative that you dance!” by a mysterious voice on a Mission pay phone.

Video footage of that last stunt and some smart thoughts from the players on their disappointment with the game’s ultimate resolution distinguish the film, making it more than just an accounting of clever folks’ cleverness.

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Deltron 3030

Fresh off the release of Event 2, the long-awaited sequel to their classic self-titled debut, Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala have returned from the ethers of a dystopian year 3040 to remind us that the future is now on this third stone from the sun. That is to say, everything that Del warned us about on Deltron 3030—the widespread governmental surveillance, socio-economic ruin, cultural vapidity, and wack MCing—is now the norm in our overly corporatized, socially-mediated 2013 reality. This has confirmed the Oakland rapper a something of a prophet, which means that we should pay close attention to him on Event 2, especially as he spits his 3RDEye flows over tracks so stellar they sound like Spaghetti Western soundtracks spliced with classic video game music.

Wed., Oct. 9, 8 p.m., 2013

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From Zuccotti to UC Davis: 99%–The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film

“We are the 99 percent,” chant the Occupy protesters as they set up a self-sufficient community in Zuccotti—renamed Liberty—Park to demand an answer to America’s wildly unequal distribution. 99%—The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, a documentary made by over 100 filmmakers, gives us a look behind the barricades at these men and women who hoped to start a revolution on September 17, 2011. Though it largely sides with the protesters, the film does not find them faultless. For example, author Naomi Wolf criticizes the movement—after police forcibly evicted the protesters from the park—for being satisfied with “changing the discourse.” It’s a valid concern: After the outcry, what next? What is the solution? It’s easy to root for separating money from government, for wanting our votes to count. It isn’t news that greed at the expense of millions of others is bad. What is shocking is seeing the aggressive and malicious response to the movement: the growing police state where a row of nonviolent UC Davis students gets pepper-sprayed, an Iraq veteran’s skull is fractured by a flashbang grenade in Oakland, and members of the media have their press badges seized. The only time we hear from the 1 percent is when an unseen woman asks different people in suits if they’re going to the rally. When one man who says no is asked why not, he replies, “Because I make money.” And though the protesters may shout that money is not free speech, the reality is that it has the loudest voice of all.

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The California Honeydrops

Their latest album, Like You Mean It, is pure soul—not the kitschy kind, but that deep brand of soul that springs from the taproots of the American collective unconscious. As it turns out, mixing the Polish heritage of frontman and songwriter Lech Wierzynski with Oakland crunch and a jazz pedigree gives birth to something like Sam Cooke on happy pills. The band has aged here: They ditched the jug and washboard for a funkier groove, but they preserved that original kernel of gutbucket strut. They’re just four blues fanatics kicking it old school with lo-fi equipment, but together they make a wailing wall of sound.

Thu., Aug. 15, 8 p.m., 2013

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Souls of Mischief

Two decades ago, a quartet of high-school friends from Oakland released its debut album, the long-sighted ’93 ’til Infinity, and its chill lyrics and sparse production helped make it a bonafide hip-hop classic. Since then, the group has tested the latter part of that album title ad infinitum (pun only partially intended) and their last three records (including their most recent, the Prince Paul-produced Montezuma’s Revenge, which is a far better listen than the title will have you believe) have failed to reach the Top 200. Tonight’s concert, however, will focus almost entirely on 1993, when the group plays their classic LP in its entirety.

Wed., July 3, 8 p.m., 2013

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Rogue Wave

Born out of a “screw it, the economy sucks, let’s start a band” mentality, Rogue Wave generate a blissfully pleasant sound that lands somewhere between Simon & Garfunkel softness and the Shins-type folk pop jangle. Unsurprisingly, the group comes from laidback Oakland, CA and their catchy, vocally-driven melodies have landed themselves across tons of film and TV soundtracks. With a ‘90s indie slacker feel, and a dreamy but compact iteration, it would be hard to have a bad time at one of their shows.

Fri., June 21, 9 p.m., 2013

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Often-inspiring Buck-up-a-movement Doc Occupy Love Will Amp Up the Protest Set

“Today I can’t help feeling that the entire planet is on the verge of becoming ground zero,” Velcrow Ripper declares in the opening minutes of his buck-up-a-movement doc Occupy Love. That “can’t help feeling” serves as an early warning about the film’s true subject: what Ripper feels about the world, the Occupy protests, and his hopes for the latter to salvage the former. He’s on firm, scarred ground when itemizing Occupy Wall Street’s complaints about the damage that barely regulated capitalism has wrought upon glaciers, homeowners, and air-breathers. He’s less certain when he and his talking heads insist that the uprisings of the Arab Spring, of the Spanish anti-foreclosure movement, and the stateside Occupiers are nothing less that world-saving collective expressions of humanistic love. “The most important thing that’s ever happened on our planet,” one fellow declares. Another insists “Love can be the liberating force for humanity because it’s so primal and so simple, like light.” Vague as all this is, the photography is beautiful, the scenes of crowds and their signs arresting, and the interviews with individual protesters—in Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, teargassed Oakland, and even melting Greenland—are often inspiring. Lefty doc mainstay Naomi Klein turns up to add some intellectual rigor to all the revolution/evolution poetry, but a kid environmentalist tells us why nature is better than the pricks at his school: It “doesn’t tell you you’re a stupid idiot.” This will be a hit with protesters looking to amp themselves up with footage of a murmuration of starlings, here illustrating the power of shared consciousness. It could be bigger still with rightwingers eager to dismiss everything Occupy as hopelessly naive.