A deadly fire broke out on Friday, Dec. 2 in Oakland, Calif. at a live-work warehouse venue known as Ghost Ship. The fire’s origin is still unknown, but it left a counted 36 people dead with that number expected to rise. Artists flocked to occupy the space as Oakland and nearby San Francisco began to gentrify, the rising costs of housing leaving many artists without enough money to support themselves. While outsiders looked at Ghost Ship as a dilapidated eyesore of a warehouse, art and culture thrived inside as artists, musicians, writers and other creatives all lived and worked together to cohabitate the one place they felt safe in. The Ghost Ship fire could have happened anywhere in the country – similar DIY spaces exist in art communities across the country. If the Ghost Ship fire leaves us with anything, it is that we need to regulate these spaces to keep artists safe.
The Ghost Ship fire started during an electronic dance party held inside. Due to the clutter of warehouse inhabitants and failure to meet many fire safety regulations, the fire spread rapidly and left many trapped inside. A similar event happened in September 2015 when the Silent Barn, a DIY living art space in Brooklyn, NY, caught on fire, leaving its many inhabitants without any belongings or a place to live. These DIY spaces are havens for independent artists looking to live in the country’s growing cities but cannot afford to due to high costs of living. Within the confines of these community spaces, artists record albums, make art, host live events and live among groups of like minded people facing similar situations. Many venues across the country have strict age restrictions due to sales of alcohol, so these spaces are often the only place young people are able to be apart of their local art scenes.
Artists are often forced into these questionable locations for the sake of costs, but those that inhabit these spaces try to make them as homey as possible. Brandon Stosuy of The Creative Independent explained the need for artists to occupy these potentially unsafe spaces in his response to the Ghost Ship fire.
“It’s always been hard to survive financially as an artist, and makers of various sorts have always ventured into the spaces mainstream culture ignored.”
These community art and living spaces supply a safe space for many artists to create and live outside of a culture that will not let them. While many people like to idealize the creative lifestyle, many struggling artists are forced into these spaces just to survive. Since these spaces will not be going away anytime soon, they must be regulated in order to keep inhabitants safe. While most cities are being inundated with strip malls and big box stores, these community spaces retain the individual culture of different cities and keeps them interesting. Consider the growth of New York City’s culture in recent decades, burgeoning from the slums of downtown Manhattan to the cultural hub it is today. This growth was all at the expense of the unique artists inhabiting the area, so it is vital that we retain this culture by any means necessary.