Ian Zellick is one of those too-often-ignored Mills commodities: the Mills Man. As have hundreds of other men, Ian graduated from the College with a master’s degree. The graduate school of Mills has been co-educational since its inception.
Ian is also an Oakland man. Born in San Francisco, he has lived in Oakland for more than thirty years. Oakland has benefitted from his residency.
This man has enthusiasm. He makes zealots of others, too. Whether he’s describing a small cathedral in France or a performance at a Latino cultural center on San Pablo, or an Oakland program for children in crisis, he takes his listeners along with him. You find yourself contributing to the program, attending a dance performance, and visiting that cathedral.
His enthusiasm brings him to volunteer countless hours for an amazing variety of community programs. At one point in the past few years, someone actually made a list of his volunteer activities—twenty-six committees, boards, and advisory positions were on that list. And that was just one year.
On the list were organizations involved in education, events management, mental health programs, Oakland’s disability commission, and the arts. He has played a leadership role in such disparate organizations as the Oakland Ballet (president, board of directors) and Displaced Homemakers (advisory board).
His work for Oakland has won him numerous honors and awards. He was especially pleased to be honored at the Oakland YWCA’s Salute to Women a few years ago. He truly enjoyed his role as “token male” in the group of women leaders of the community. On a professional level, however, the award which seems to have the most meaning for him was the Preceptor Award, given at the annual national Broadcast Industry Conference, awarded to a television professional who has done the most to encourage and support young people in the field.
Two years ago, Ian retired as Director of Community Affairs/Assistant to the General Manager of KTVU-Channel 2. He had been at the station since its beginnings, “I was the first employee of KTVU,” he says, “not the first person on the site, but the first hired!’ His efforts at KTVU helped make Channel 2 truly a community-based television station.
Since then, he has reduced his volunteer involvement, and now does only three times as much as most of us do for the community around us. “I’m on only one board now—the East Bay Agency for Children—but I’m still on a few committees—the auction committee for mental health, the advisory committee for the Junior League of Alameda/Contra Costa Counties, and the nominating committee for Oakland Potluck [a group that runs a major food program for the community’s homeless population]-that’s all.”
Ian is enthusiastic about EBAC. “This is the best-run non-profit agency I’ve ever come across. We deal with about 10,000 kids in crisis each year, from little babies to eighteen-year-olds. Much of our work occurs in classroom situations, conflict resolution and such. But we also run a full-time day care facility for kids who are rather seriously in need one way or another. In addition to our Oakland facility in the hills, we have another in the city for two- and three-year-olds, and one in Fremont!”
Many of his volunteer activities, in fact, have been related to children’s programs. Programs for young people are critical, he says, “It’s a corny phrase, but they really are the future. If we don’t do something for them, then there won’t be anything later.”
From his position at KTVU and his involvement in so many programs, Ian Zellick probably knows more about all of Oakland’s community programs than most. His experience crosses neighborhood boundaries, cultural differences, ethnic interests, and program types. He is a networker of excellence, able to form surprising links between dissimilar agencies. For instance, when a crisis threatened an important residential service for pregnant teens, he facilitated an arrangement between Oakland’s YWCA and The Salvation Army Booth Center to insure that the program continued.
Ian is the man to ask if you are interested in the cultural life of Oakland. He can describe for you the new Oakland Ensemble (”The Oakland Symphony failed because it was badly managed. The Ensemble is a much smaller group, gives about four concerts a year, and is gradually growing.” He will recommend the La Pena Cultural Center. ( “They have an incredible arts program-they bring Flamenco dancers, singers from Venezuela, all sorts of interesting things.”) He comments on the Black Dance Festival. (“It’s held every year at the Calvin Simmons Theater. Some of the groups are really good, some are horrible. It’s certainly something people should see!”)
Ian says, “With the exception of the fact that, as is true everywhere, it is harder and harder to get money, the arts in Oakland are very healthy. The list of offerings in the city each month is terrific!’ He believes city support for the arts is becoming better. “There was a time, not too many years ago, when the majority of the city’s cultural money went to the major arts organizations which were ballet, the symphony, and, to some degree, the opera. All three were very upper-middle class European American groups. The city still very generously supports the ballet and the ensemble, but the leadership has put into operation a process for putting a percentage—a passably good percentage by this time I imagine—into small companies which are just getting started. There is particular support for small companies which are working out of the various ethnic neighborhoods.” He adds, “It’s a good process.”
“Oakland is an extremely interesting place for the arts,” says Ian. “You would be surprised at the numbers of artists who are moving into Oakland. An artist can still find a loft which is affordable in this city. A department of the city even helps artists find a place to do their work! A great many internationally known sculptors and what have you are working in great big lofts, creating wonderful stuff which gets carted all over the world and exhibited, and the average Oakland person doesn’t even know they’re there!”
There is a downside to the arts of Oakland. Ian’s enthusiasm turns to ire when he discusses the missed opportunities of the diverse city. “In so many other areas in the community we’ve broken down the barriers between ethnic groups, at least to some extent. But if you go to the ballet there are few African Americans in the audience. If you go to the Ensemble Theater, for all the work they’ve done to try to open up their work to all groups, there is still basically a black audience.
“It’s sad when a small black company has a black audience only. Why doesn’t it have a Latino, Asian, white audience, too? Why wouldn’t whites, for instance, enjoy the gospel singing awards? Art doesn’t have to be part of one’s own culture! I mean, good God, Tibetan chanters are not part of my upbringing, my culture, and I go to hear Why don’t we go to each other’s performances here?”
The unfulfilled possibilities of the Oakland cultural scene are what most disturb Ian Zellick. “Our children are growing up in horrible cultural isolation one from the other even though they live next door to one another. It’s sad that our school systems do not have the money to teach the arts so that we can begin to build a multi-cultural audience, so that our children learn what ethnic groups unlike their own have to offer in dance, theater, music, all the arts.
“Oakland is the opportunity. The Festival of the Lake is the closest we come to an inter-cultural arts program. We’ll have to build from this base!”
It sounds as if Ian Zellick, community leader extraordinary, has yet another crusade in view.