My thoughts on #Oaklandfire

While I never directly participated in Oakland's "underground" art/warehouse scene, I wrote and edited countless articles about it as a reporter and editor at the East Bay Express, a free alt-weekly serving Oakland, Berkeley, and surrounding East Bay communities. During most of the years I worked there, from 2005 to 2013, our very offices were housed in a converted warehouse in West Oakland.

Throughout this time, Oakland's underground arts scene, warehouse parties, and live/work lofts in East and particularly West Oakland served as a refuge for a vibrant, nationally renowned artistic community nonetheless living on the margins of society. Their efforts produced not only great local art and a safe haven for people of many walks of life but also contributed to the success of the increasingly mainstream Burning Man festival and, in an indirect way, to the larger artistic and culinary renaissance that has fostered considerable economic development in downtown Oakland and many Oakland neighborhoods over the past decade or so.

In that sense this community has become a victim of its own success, as skyrocketing real estate values have further threatened the viability of the makeshift shelters, studios, and venues that allow it to exist.

This tragic fire is a huge blow to a community that belongs to not only Oakland but all of the Bay Area. In a broad sense, it is our region's artistic heart and soul. Much emanates from there that may not always be apparent or appreciated. Beyond the immediate and terrible loss of life, this fire could well have long-term implications for a movement that has already been priced out of San Francisco and is now threatened by a similar fate in much of Oakland.

I don't have any answers, but did want to share these thoughts from a very important time in my life spent living in Oakland and covering (as a relative outsider) music and arts for the local free weekly. For those inclined to read more, here's a good article at KQED -- and one from the East Bay Express archives linked therein.


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