Nick Gardner Dreams Big for West Oakland

nickatwallIf one were to paint a portrait of Nick Gardner’s dreams for West Oakland, it would be a colorful canvas of  joy and enthusiasm, with highlights of fresh air, organic food that we grow in our own schools, homes, and work places, a love of teaching and learning, with economic and social opportunity available for all those who are willing to work hard and not just those who can afford it, lower energy usage, solar power, rain water catchment, and healthy habitat. This painting would look very much like the living wall he is building at American Steel Studios. He is shy for a man who is leading a truly innovative project with so many people and moving parts. Nick has been such a joy to work with and has become such an important part of American Steel that we sat him down for an interview to learn more about him and this project.429657_426109324142051_718965916_n (1)

American Steel: What do you do?
Nick: I like to design and build cool things. Landscapes, living roofs, some wood working and some sculpture. Creating a living wall at American Steel is my latest inspiration.
AS: Why do you do what you do?
Nick: Living walls create habitat for butterflies, birds, bees and other beneficial insects.  That means among the urban city landscape you can have a tiny ecosystem.  The living wall is a self-sustaining system.  It’s a model for how everything should be designed – with beauty, function and reverence for the earth in mind.  It has a rainwater collection tank that stores water and is used the irrigate the plants year round; solar panels create energy to run the water pump; a mixture of drought tolerant plants round out the design.  I really want to get involved in sharing what I know either through hosting seminars, classes or job training of some sort. I think that’s the next step is to empower people who are looking for something (better) to do. Teach them how to do what I do and hopefully watch them grow.
544391_426107080808942_448863659_nAS: What brought you to American Steel?
Nick: I was drawn to American Steel by the amazing sculptures outside.  It became apparent to me that there are a ton of talented artists creating fantastic art pieces here.
AS: How has working in American Steel helped your business grow?
Nick: It has been a huge asset to be able to network with other artists in the community. There has been a great group of volunteers that have come together in support of this living wall project – Karen Cusolito, Elizabeth Dougherty, Tony Poek, Kat Sawyer, Sarah Kersten, Sasha Kramer.
AS: How have you been able to contribute to the community?424505_400621380024179_795726301_n
Nick: Whenever you can bring a group of people together to work on a project like this – you are creating community.  That’s the way things get done, that’s how we create change.  A project like this benefits the community in a number of ways – it discourages graffiti, creates habitat in an urban area and hopefully inspires others to do something similar to improve their neighbor hood.
AS: What brought you to Oakland?
Nick: The bay area has incredible scenery from the mountains to the sea and every nook and cranny in between is filled with real diversity which I enjoy. There is no other place like this and I don’t see myself ever wanting to live anywhere else.

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