After Oakland Ghost Ship Fire, Cities Need Solutions To Cultural Witch Hunt


oakland_witchhuntThe recent Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire here in Oakland, CA. has ignited a Witch Hunt by city officials across the country from Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, Philadelphia, Baltimore to New York and counting. Unfortunately for hundreds of artists this tragedy is being used as an excuse for city officials, in an attempt to save face, by making examples out of residents in creative living environments. The sad reality of this is that it is unfairly targeting artists and treating them like a scourge on society by pushing them out onto the streets while not really addressing the real issues in a productive manner. The stampede to shut down artists’ warehouses is burning through creative communities red tagging buildings in a wholesale fashion. It is good to note that not all artists spaces/warehouses are out of compliance, contrary to the narrative being pushed by media outlets.

Another issue at hand is the assumption by city officials that only artists occupy spaces that may be out of safety code compliance. Let’s face it folks – there are small churches all across this great nation that are housed in buildings that do not meet fire safety compliance codes or have assembly permits. Walk down the street in any disadvantaged community and you will see a string of churches in old store fronts, theaters and similar buildings that have been transformed into houses of worship. How about all the garment warehouses? How about all the unlicensed automotive shops? Are city officials going to treat them in the same manner they are treating artists?  Are city officials calling out the owners of those buildings for not being compliant? The answer is an emphatic No! At least not until it benefits them politically. Where is the fairness and wisdom in the recent actions across the country against the arts community?

Speaking of disadvantaged communities – why are they only targeting the disadvantaged? Do you think that possibly some buildings in upper scale areas may be out of compliance. Well we may never know because they aren’t on the Gestapo Compliant Lists.

Why is everyone, outside of the artists community, standing around saying nothing while there is a rounding-up of artists, galleries, and DIY spaces being booted from their homes and studios where they make their livelihoods?

Here’s a good idea it’s the Holidays! (start X-Mas background music)No better gift than the gift of eviction! How about the cities send inspectors through the neighborhoods shutting down homes who have their Christmas tree wired up with a crazy menagerie of cheap extension cords and old Christmas lights. While you are at it make sure the toys don’t pose a fire hazard. Little Bobby’s racecars might cause a fire too!

This post isn’t meant to cast aspersions on the seriousness of fire safety, the usefulness of code compliance and the good work that city officials do on behalf of all city residents. The Ghost Ship Fire was a horrible tragedy that ended the lives of 36 amazing human beings that were loved by their friends and families as well as the artist community of which they were a part of. These actions against the artists communities dishonors the memory of those who perished in the fire and sadly uses their deaths as a political tool to hurt artists across the country.

The Ghost Ship building was a problem that had a long list of issues that made it unsafe and sadly it flew under the radar, but in the artist community it was the EXCEPTION rather than the rule.  The majority of artists spaces in Oakland (the greater Bay Area and beyond) are run by responsible people who care enough about themselves and others to create a safe environment and to be conscious of fire dangers. Kicking people out as a reactionary reflex (based on infractions that can be repaired by owners when given notice, the time, and the opportunity) is flat out wrong.

There are better alternatives. The mayors of all these cities need to throw up a stop sign with inspectors and mandate that the insanity be stopped right now. We can find better solutions to these issues. For example, the city can work with owners in a manner so that buildings can be brought up to compliance on a time frame that is reasonable and doesn’t require that they evict the artists from their homes and studios. Cities can create a program that will help building owners do this without going broke or having to raise rents to exorbitant levels. There can also be initiatives to work on solutions that help the current creative community stay in their spaces and make them safe at the same time. This is the role of government is it not? The path of scapegoating and targeting good people in the city by just shutting them down and demonizing them as hazards is not productive nor compassionate.

Artists communities incubate the cultural advancements that make our world a better place. When you go to the museum remember, that painting on the wall was made by an artist who most likely started out on in an old warehouse space. When you hear your favorite band remember they were practicing in a makeshift studio for a long time and playing shows at artists warehouses before they hit it big. When you go to see a circus remember that those performers lived life in a warehouse where they could practice their craft day in and day out. When you go to the movies remember that the filmmaker lived in an old warehouse space projecting his/her films on the walls for friends before they ever got funded to make that blockbuster that you love so much.

The truth is that Art is not made in the clean cellophane environment that the mainstream consumes it in. Art is birthed in places where people struggle, make concessions with their level of comfort, and place their focus and resources on creativity above all else. Those who support it are other artists who with a gaggle of their friends in a old warehouse will sit on uncomfortable chairs to watch a play, listen to a unknown unsigned band, look at paintings made by someone thought to be insane, or engage in one of a million other artistic happenings. Without these people and creative spaces…life would lose its luster, wine would have no taste, and our walls would be bare.

Let’s let cooler heads prevail and have all parties involved come together for the greater good. City officials, mayors, building owners, and artists can do the right thing and work in unison, instead of in opposition. Through a positive community strategy all creative living spaces can be brought up to compliance without evictions and financial punishment on building owners. We can make the world a safer place and our cities can retain our cultural incubators. Everyone wins!

To help the Victims of the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire Please consider giving to the:
Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghostship Oakland Fire


Comments are closed.