.SubZERO Takes Over South First

San Jose is many things to different people. With its sprawling layout and unique, stand-alone neighborhoods, it can often feel like seven cities in one. 

For Cherri Lakey, founder and owner of art gallery’s Anno Domini and KALEID, San Jose is a wellspring of tenacious art and expression, one increasingly overshadowed by the looming shadow of imposing tech companies–but never defeated. 

No matter how you slice it, San Jose is a place where people make manifest their many visions. Maybe it’s something in the water. But why focus on the whys, when you can simply showcase it all, all its funky and vibrant facets, for the city at large?

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music in the park san jose

That’s what Lakey set out to do with this year’s SubZERO festival, which features such diverse artists as sculptor Heiko Greb, textile artist Eraeon, artist and designer Force 129 and a host of musical performances ranging from DJ collective the Flipside Crew to the atmospheric punk of LA band the Swords of Fatima. 

A longtime and outspoken advocate for art in all its forms in San Jose, Lakey came up with the idea of SubZERO with her husband Brian Eder after the success of an art walk they had put on in 2006 when they first moved into their South First Street Space (which houses Anno Domini). Lakey and Eder saw potential in expanding the idea. 

“We were getting so many people coming out to the art walk, and at the same time, we knew so many local artists that the question was: How do we share this audience with all these amazing local artists that the five or six (local) galleries can’t accommodate?” 

They started out with a little art market in their parking lot with the vision to expand it to a proper street fair. After a few years, as many organizations have historically been wont to do in San Jose, the SF-based ZERO1 bi-annual, a big tech funded non-profit that synthesizes art, science and technology, announced its intention to roll into town and showcase the fusion of art and technology ‘properly.’ But Lakey and Eder saw it differently. 

“We were more interested in the subculture and counterculture of art as activism. So we proposed working together with a more subculture version,” Lakey says.

And thus the SubZERO festival was born. The first year was a collaboration with ZERO1. But as time went on, the organizations went their own way. But SubZERO endured.

“It just hit all the marks for us,” Lakey recalls. “All the amazing artists that were here and what they were doing—all without much pretension or even validation—we wanted to bring that to the surface.”

SubZERO indeed hits as many marks as possible. It has become something of a carnival; a bustling and colorful street fair that takes over downtown First Street for a weekend and fills it with the panoply of creative expression in San Jose. Be it visual artists, performing musicians, poets, dancers, wrestlers—you name it—chances are it has been or will be featured at SubZERO festival. 

“[SubZERO] is kind of the San Jose utopia for us,” Lakey says. “It’s the San Jose we know is here, and we want to show people. It truly is a celebration of people that are incredibly unique and individual and that deserves to be shared.”

To ascribe its success to one source would betray the event’s collage-like essence. And to feature one big artist over another would be besides the point, explains Lakey, because “every year is a clean slate. It’s a platform for possibilities and potentialities. We just really enjoy the hunt.”

It is no doubt a transformative time for culture and art. With the advent of AI and its soul-sucking formula of the all-seeing algorithm, the soul of humanity grows increasingly marketed and codified, cannibalized and sold back to us for a nominal fee. Today, true imagination and creativity feel more like an act of rebellion—if not magic—than ever. 

“People are trying to build this city the way they want. We are also trying to build this city the way we want, and that goes for the artists too,” Lakey says. “We want more than pizza and beer. We want food for the soul.”

SubZERO

Fri-Sat, 5pm, Free

South First Street, San Jose

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