Asylum Granted for the Gnomes of Oakland

During the chilly last weekend in January, the Gnomes of Oakland were threatened. PG&E, clearly not understanding how integrated the gnomes had become in Oakland, “announced it would remove the diminutive, hand-painted creatures that have been proliferating around Lake Merritt for six months on the grounds they were ‘compromising’ utility equipment.” So said SFGate this morning, in their article PG&E grants reprieve to Oakland’s gnomes, which garnered home page real estate.

But the weekend was tense. Channel 2 reported the story (follow to video) and the public came out in droves to support Oakland’s fairy brethren. Here at FairyRoom, our article, entitled “The Telephone Pole Gnomes of Oakland,” posted last June, has been heavily trafficked. Oakland loves its gnomes.

Said PG&E: “We received a great deal of public feedback, so we’re declaring the poles gnome-man’s land. We’re not going to remove them. We’re committed to working with the artist, the city and the community to find a peaceful resolution.”

It’s hard to fault PG&E — they were simply following protocol. Stuff attached to the poles can indeed compromise operations, but the gnomes pose no such threat. It’s warming that the utility even made an announcement rather than dismissing the art as run-of-the-mill graffiti. The artist, who had worked so hard to preserve his anonymity, appealed to PG&E in an email: “We see too much garbage on the streets here, too many shootings, too much violence, not enough that makes one stop and smile. … They were meant to be an ongoing gift to my community.”

There are now over 2000 gnomes in Oakland. They are no longer contained to the neighborhood we reported on back at the beginning of summer. In a November article with the word “Gnomageddon” in the title, The Artist Resource & Review reported gnome expansion into a neighborhood adjacent to Jack London Square. More continue to appear almost every day. And these little guys have fans.

With gnome fate hanging in the balance, the artist also appealed to the city, as did many in the community. And as reported in today’s SFGate under a subheading Peace Talks:

The city responded by calling an emergency meeting with PG&E staff members.

“We are holding peace talks in a secret mushroom patch near the Rose Garden,” said Zac Wald, chief of staff to City Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney, whose district includes the preponderance of the gnome population. “People love the gnomes, and they are District Three residents.”

Though they came close to identifying him, neither the City of Oakland nor PG&E went as far as to actually name the artist, so again, let us all huzzah as massive corporate and municipal organizations embrace the fairy within and work together to preserve some homegrown whimsy and magic.