Just read about Cash Askew from Them Are Us Two getting caught up in that horrific Oakland fire that happened over the weekend, Didn’t know Cash personally, her music has been covered here though and we’ve been scanning news feeds checking on Oakland friends since the news broke, scanning and hoping not to see any familiar names and reading some pretty idiotic comments from news outlets and social media trolls. Over here in East London where art studios, warehouse living and such are a (almost imposed) way of life, you can’t help thinking the thing I keep on reading, “it could have been any one of us”. It really does hit when you read about the people caught up in the fire, it really could have been any one of us Our thoughts are with our fellow artists, musicians and creative people of Oakland, their families and friends.
“There are no words to convey the excruciating heartbreak felt by those closest to the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire” wrote Gabe Meline via KQED Arts, “At the moment, 33 are confirmed dead, with search crews still sorting through the ashes of the site. As stories and details of the fire are shared, and while thousands await news of missing loved ones, a phrase keeps coming up: “It could have been any one of us.” For those of us involved in artist spaces one way or another, the tragedy is impossible to process. I, too, have been inside a warehouse like that, we think, living, working, dancing into the night. According to the Oakland Fire Department, this fire has taken more lives than any in the city’s history” and Gabe is right there, ror those of us involved in artist spaces one way or another, the tragedy is impossible to process, be artists and musicians in Oakland or Hackney or Berlin or….
The Ghost Ship looked like a beautiful creative space “for many of us, these spaces are what have kept us alive. In a world that demands its inhabitants to be a certain way, think a certain way, or live a certain way, we gravitate to the spaces” to quote Gabe again. These places where we can make things, do things, share things, these creative spaces linked around the globe are where we come together.. And yes, it doesn’t sound like the people running the space hadn’t really thought it out in terms of something like this happening, but some of the things that the mainstream news commentators are saying about the people caught up and the space itself really is at best uninformed…
“Cash Askew of dream-pop band Them Are Us Too died in a major warehouse fire in Oakland on December 2, reports Billboard. She was 22. Dais Records, which released Them Are Us Too’s debut album Remain in 2015, when Askew and bandmate Kennedy Ashlyn were only 21, mourned Askew’s death in a statement, “Completely devastated by the loss of Cash Askew. She was one of the most talented and loving people we’ve ever known. Please keep her and her family in your thoughts, along with all those lost in the Oakland tragedy.” As of Sunday night, officials have identified 8 of the 33 dead found in the gutted warehouse and artist studio, including Askew. The fire broke out during an electronic dance music party in the two-story converted live-and-work space, known locally as the Ghost Ship. According to Oakland Fire Chief Melinda Drayton, the fire was one of the deadliest in the city’s history. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation. The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, an established Bay Area nonprofit, created a relief fund for the victims of the fire that you can donate to here.” (From Vulture website)
ADMIRAL GREY of Cellular Chaos and such, kind of put it well with her posting on social media, I hope she doesn’t mind her words being reproduced here…
“I have been trying to collect my thoughts and emotions about the tragedy with my brothers and sisters in Oakland. My first thoughts went to the sweet, hardworking, generous and talented Katabatik artists and crew – who warmly took me, a stranger, into their welcoming family when I toured there solo a few years ago and were generous in more ways than I can thank – and to friends of many of my friends: those who died on a night that should have been a simple joy in a world with far too much sadness; those who survived but will bear the scars forever; those who feel powerless and wretched in their loss of beloveds.
It hasn’t been easy seeing the media and individuals immediately pointing fingers and shaming the victims (or the artists and organizers) in this situation, but it hasn’t been surprising, either. My first reaction to their animosity is that of frustration and anger – to be calling these innocent people degenerates, careless, blaming it on drugs, is not only sweepingly inaccurate but tragically laughable in its irrelevance. I have seen far worse bacchanalia with more dangerous drugs and drinking habits in ‘normal’ and ‘mainstream’ clubs and bars and homes – and even worse, combined with animosity, violence, rape, and drunken car crashes that are swept under the ‘normal’ rug. If you think you wouldn’t know the ‘type’ of people that were at this party, you are wrong. They are your smart, silly, dorky, punky, hardworking and creative co-workers, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends. They are the people building sets, sewing costumes, creating the art installations that you see at events, the paintings you see on walls in public spaces, homes, and galleries, they are the people composing and playing the music you listen to on streaming services without even knowing who created it. They are the people serving you drinks and coffees wearing colorful clothes, they are the people petting your dog on the street or fixing your bike.
I have lived, worked, built, created and performed in spaces like this throughout my adult life. The majority of people who are involved with spaces like this work very hard – they tend to have more than one job, in different fields, and then work when they come home, either because their jobs are separate from other creative projects they work on, because their projects demand a great deal of work, or because they then help out other people later in the day. I am not saying that this is unusual – all types of people are busy and do many things – I am saying that perhaps some of you work in an office then help your kids with homework and then work in the garage or around the house and so do these people. Like any cross-section of any population, yes, there will be people who have problems. But to pose the idea that being an artist or ‘creative’ is being a problematic person – that is a damn shame.
People in America that only engage with mainstream arts and entertainment tend to not realize the trickle-down in cultural development that comes from this very type of independent artist that is often mocked in our capitalist society. There must be an avant-garde (or ‘experimental’ or ‘DIY’ scene, if you will) in order to have mainstream arts and entertainment. That is why ‘avant-garde’ is loosely translated as the ‘front lines’. New ideas and forms of human expression are tested and explored, and these ideas eventually evolve and trickle down into mainstream arts, media, and culture to create the more populist arts that a larger spectrum of people are exposed to through funded projects and companies. If this didn’t happen, popular art would never change with the times, new ‘cool’ TV shows and movies, pop songs that somehow seem fresher and weirder, and even new funny or thought provoking TV commercials that greater America enjoys would never happen. Not only do DIY-type artists create a staggering range of art for smaller audiences in these low-rent worlds whose ideas feed into the mainframe, but they often directly make their living working for the bigger events and companies that make your mainstream media.
Yes, in hindsight it is head-slapping that this space was such a fire hazard, that it didn’t have working smoke detectors or seem to have marked exits, etc. And it’s true that many of the spaces I have lived and worked haven’t, either. And many of them have been in non-zoned places (with the landlords looking the other way) because being in larger cities where one either grew up or moved to in order to make a living and have a large artistic community is extremely expensive for people who need extra space for building, creating and rehearsing. For this reason they resort to the difficult task of collectively renovating warehouse and factory spaces, sometimes with cast-off items and with jury-rigged technologies, in order to exercise their right to a pursuit of happiness (and their happiness happens to come from building the world things that provoke thought, connections and joy). In contrast to the angry finger-pointers, the immediate reaction of my friends and I was that we need to come together and learn from this experience, to, yes, be more adamant and helpful in making spaces like this safe, with marked exits and adequate fire safety exits and extinguishers and instructions. People still die in horrible fires in places equipped with these things, but indeed it is worth doing. Sometimes tragedies like this must happen to make a larger population make a move towards safety measures. Let us look at this in this way, instead of casting blame on those whose genuine goal was to simply create something fun, beautiful and functional for other people while on a budget.
I know that I will post this and then remember so many things I meant to also say or wish I’d written it better, but for now I will just add one more thing. Tonight I also grasped that the people who respond in anger and blame do so out of love and pain. We lay blame because we are sad and angry at horrible loss. We want to sort things out, to ‘solve’ things, to find a reason, to find someone at fault. And we want to do these things because at heart, we are full of love, and we are very, very, very sad when beautiful people and beautiful things are destroyed. So when people are cruel or cast blame, respond with love.
Thanks for listening. Please comment with love and understanding in mind. I will delete trolling comments in this space.
Love The Admiral”
Preventing Another Oakland Warehouse Tragedy Means Supporting Artists, Not Punishing Them
As the death toll rises from a devastating fire that tore through the Ghost Ship arts space in Oakland, California on Friday, opportunistic publications have begun spinning. Their assessments of the tragedy emphasize the illegal nature of the space, which was neither zoned for housing nor permitted to host events. The New York Times called it a “fire trap;” the Daily Mail, always searching for opportunities to sensationalize, called the space a “death trap” and a “commune”, describing the party as a “rave”—a term that’s nearly impossible to define… further reading .