Oakland has suffered a lot of bad publicity lately because of the crime problem, but there's a lot more to the city than that.

For starters, it's home to one of the best street festivals in the Bay Area, one that happens not once a year but once a month!

It's called Oakland First Fridays, and the February event was scheduled for Friday, but it was cancelled because of the rain.

First Fridays grew out of Oakland Art Murmur, which began eight years ago as a free monthly stroll through the KONO (Koreatown/Northgate) and Uptown districts, featuring the many art galleries and mixed-use venues that have made Oakland one of the most artistically exciting cities in the country.

As Art Murmur became more popular and the parties spilled out onto the streets, attracting gourmet food trucks and artists selling their own creations, First Fridays became its own event, operating on a parallel track with Art Murmur.

Up to now, First Fridays has relied on volunteers, who have worked long and hard on what has been a labor of love. But toward the end of last year, it became clear to the folks at the KONO Community Benefit District that they needed a pro to coordinate everything and take First Fridays to the next level.

The same thing happened back in the 1980s with the Solano Stroll in Berkeley/Albany. The Stroll had been chugging along just fine on volunteer labor for 15 years, but in 1989, the Solano Avenue Business Association wisely hired event planner Lisa Bullwinkel to run the show, and that's when the Stroll really took off and became the iconic festival it is today.

To run First Fridays, KONO has hired event planner Sarah Kidder, an Uptown resident herself whose previous credits include the West Contra Costa County Unified School District's annual Ed Fund Excellence in Education banquet and last year's wildly successful Bark And Meow Around The Block street festival for the Berkeley Humane Society.

"We're bummed (by the cancellation), but at least it gives us more time to work on making the March First Fridays even better," Kidder said.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.