Extract from a new mural by Peruvian-American artist Adrian Arias that brightens up the lobby at Freight & Salvage. Courtesy of The Freight

When the Freight & Salvage Community Engagement Committee sought to strengthen ties with other artistic communities, they kept hearing that getting exhibit space was a challenge.

“Well, we have some space!” said PC Muñoz, director of Education and Community Engagement at the Freight. And from that came not just a gallery, but a mural as well, in the lobby of the music venue on Addison Street downtown.

The first gallery exhibit launched in the summer of 2022 with the work of Oakland music photographer James Knox. That was followed by a retrospective exhibit of paintings by Cuban-American artist Pablo Soto Campoamor. The current exhibit, Adrian’s Playlist, running until the end of 2023, features works by Bay Area-based Adrian Arias, a Peruvian-American artist, poet and performer.  Arias is also the creator of the venue’s stunning first mural, titled Natura-Música

Arias calls murals “a place to reinvent life, reinvent daily experiences, and create a space where we open the door to the magic of imagination.”

“A mural makes us connect with a part of us that wants to go out and play, that wants to be inspired,” Arias said. “And sometimes it’s just a place to take refuge.”

Adrian Arias created a mural at Freight & Salvage this past summer. Courtesy of The Freight

Natura-Música, painted over a concrete archway in the Freight’s lobby, masterfully plays with musical symbolism and color along with the natural world — a prominent California poppy, a mysterious, golden-hued fish. Hidden images in the mural include a dolphin, a turtle and a ‘JalaPosa’ (a butterfly pupa resembling a jalapeño pepper).  Searching the mural for camouflaged treats has already become a pastime of Freight staff, volunteers, and concert regulars since its installation in August. Longtime musician and educator John Santos is also immortalized in the mural. 

Arias’ mural joins another one on Addison Street, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, by Cece Carpio. The murals add a layer of artistic richness to Berkeley’s Arts District, said Sunshine Deffner, who oversaw the Rep’s mural project.

“Downtown Berkeley’s Arts District has been a beacon for the performing arts for many years,” Deffner said. “Now, with more murals popping up, we are witnessing how the arts manifest creativity beyond our performances and into our community.” 

Music in images

In addition to the mural at the Freight, Arias also has an exhibit of work in the gallery, called Adrian’s Playlist.  Each drawing in the exhibit corresponds to a musical artist on his playlist, who inspired that particular work. 

A lobby gallery at Freight & Salvage currently features work by Adrian Arias. The pieces were inspired by a music playlist. Courtesy of The Freight

“The playlist was created in the pandemic, when we could hardly go out, that moment when we sought refuge in special songs,” Arias said. “It’s a mix of music that has affected me in the past, and new songs that helped me breathe and opened my eyes.”

“Listening to this list and drawing at the same time is a response to the emotional moment and a tribute to the musicians who created it. Musicians I saw at Freight & Salvage inspired the essence of the mural, like John Santos, Zoë Keating, Rupa & The April Fishes. Their sounds and creative engine helped me draw a space where nature grows with music to tell us stories.”

Some of the musical artists — Hope Sandoval, Yma Sumac, Bobby McFerrin — are directly captured in the drawings. 

Almost half of the artworks have now been sold. When those works are taken by the buyers, Arias will replace them with new works.  Unlike conventional art galleries, the Freight does not keep a cut of art sales. 

The next time you go to the Freight for a concert or a class, take a moment in the “contemplative corner” (a row of seats in front of the mural) to soak in the work of Adrian Arias and see what the love of music looks like when rendered as a work of art.