Oakland Is Now Granting Money for Art Spaces — NYC Should Do the Same


It’s been nearly a week since a fire decimated Oakland’s Ghost Ship, killing 36 people. What happened was undoubtedly a tragedy of the highest order, but it cannot be dismissed as a freak, isolated incident.

Rents in Oakland and the Bay Area generally are staggering, and polished high rises brimming with tech industry scions are marginalizing the very population that makes the Bay what it is — artists, musicians and writers living on the fringes of society.

Now, Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf has announced a $1.7 million philanthropic grant to create affordable spaces for the city’s arts organizations.

According to SFGate, the grant, which combines funds from Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the nonprofit Community Arts Stabilization Trust, was already scheduled for debut before the fire occurred.

“The arts are at the center of vibrant and diverse communities, and are critical to neighborhood health and well-being, yet artists and cultural organizations are increasingly vulnerable to instability and displacement,” Schaaf said in a statement.

“This public-private collaboration and investments are aimed at preventing displacement, growing the capacity of the city’s artists and cultural organizations, and enhancing municipal resources for the cultural sector over the long haul.”

The goal of the grant is to help artists keep their existing venues, or move into new permanent affordable spaces. Real estate will be bought and then leased at below-market rates to Oakland’s artists, which is a breathtakingly simple, effective means of ensuring that creativity needn’t cost lives.

While the specific vibe and culture of the Bay’s spaces remains a distinctly California phenomenon, New York City has its own. As Sophie Weiner pointed out earlier this week, places like 285 Kent and Death By Audio existed in a liminal space outside total legality, and posed all the same threats to safety as Ghost Ship. Many such spaces have attempted to legitimize, and found themselves unable to comply with the rafts of codes and permits required.

As Weiner wrote:

When the government continually closes the few spaces that manage to make it through the labyrinth of bureaucracy to open legally, it provides young people few options but to take matters into their own hands by running illegal spaces. Young people who love music will always find a way: after nearly half a century of repression, dance music culture is arguably stronger and more diverse than ever.

We reached out to the Mayor’s Office to see if the de Blasio administration intends to gather funds for a similar grant here in New York.

In the meantime, consider checking out Silent Barn’s fire safety training on Saturday.