[Editor’s Note: This collection of links concerning the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire was originally collected for inclusion in “This Week in Making”, but as the number of stories coming out of this event and community guides to fire safety grew, we thought it warranted its own post.]
On December 2, 2016 around 11:30pm a fire broke out at a warehouse in Oakland, California known as Ghost Ship during a music performance. The space, filled with artwork and wooden structures, quickly became deadly. Party goers became trapped on the second story when the only exit, a staircase constructed from pallet wood, became impassible. 36 people lost their lives in the fire.
This tragedy hits close to home for many here in the Bay Area (and beyond) who have lost their friends and loved ones. In this tight knit community of artists, makers, burners, and musicians even those who haven’t directly lost someone knows someone who has, has lived in spaces like Ghost Ship, attended events just like this one, or are currently living or making their art in conditions that aren’t strictly legal, but are more economical than the Bay Area housing market. It’s been hard.
Many in the art community are asking themselves not just “what could’ve been done to prevent this?” but also “what can be done right now to make our spaces safer?” This has been a very harsh wake up call, but already there have been a number of people writing about the kinds of improvements and safety precautions that can be made immediately. One of the first to come out was Gui Cavalcanti’s medium piece “A Guide to Fire Safety in Industrial Spaces”, which covers some of the bare minimum safety precautions you should be taking in your space. Tim Deagan, who has both lived and worked in warehomes and worked as a fire marshal for many years, offered his take on fire safety in underground art spaces: “Fire Safety and Emergency Response Considerations for Workspaces and DIY Venues”. Many have also shared and contributed to this document, “Harm Reduction for DIY Venues” (it should be noted that this is a living document, but as I write this on Friday morning it is currently only available as view only while items are fact checked and the document is formatted.). This document is very detailed and breaks down the steps you can take to make a safer space between what can be done immediately and for little money, and what can be done that will take more time or funding.
There’s a very real and valid fear that the Ghost Ship will lead to crackdowns on these spaces. On the opposite side of the country, in Baltimore, Maryland, residents and organizations operating out of the Bell Foundry were abruptly kicked out of their space. Although Baltimore officials claim that they were responding to a complaint and not the Ghost Ship fire, the complaint was made after the fire had made the news. The East Bay Times is reporting that roughly a dozen artists living in converted spaces have been given eviction notices. While Bay Area city governments have announced plans to work with artists to bring spaces up to code, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a 1.7 million grant to keep artists in the area, there’s still a lot of apprehension. A coalition of artists have banded together under the name “We the Artists of the Bay Area” and released this statement to confirm that they are committed to working with the local government to both protect art spaces and ensure that they are safe for everyone.