Community Resilience after the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire

  •  Dec 15, 2017
  •  Gray Area Press Release

OAKLAND AND SAN FRANCISCO, CA– Three organizations that have been actively involved in responding to the loss of 36 lives in the Ghost Ship fire have agreed to work together to further support artists in the Bay Area.  These organizations share a common goal to preserve and create affordable live/work and performance spaces.

This year, Gray Area finalized $1.3 million in disbursements of Oakland fire relief and recovery funds and has been working in tandem on longer-term issues of safety and resilience across the larger creative community. It is unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to shed light on a broader situation around the need for safe venues for artists, musicians, and creatives. Gray Area knows the value of safe spaces for creativity and is committed to applying efforts to ensure this tragedy is not repeated. The organization was started in a DIY warehouse by a Queer Mexican Woman over a decade ago and through perseverance navigated extensive city permitting process to return multiple arts venues to code for public assembly. Without safe DIY warehouses – Gray Area would not have been developed.

Since the fire, meetings with both Safer DIY Spaces and Vital Arts made evident that data, knowledge, and activity are crucial to their individual missions and the resiliency goals of long-term impact and community renewal would be best facilitated by cooperative effort. Funds allocated to Gray Area for resilience total $250,000 and will support the two organizations continued efforts. These funds will enable Safer DIY Spaces to double the amount of hours it spends per week on construction & legalization project management for low-income communities, as well as engage a wider spectrum of trained building professionals to assist in these projects, all of which stand to significantly decrease the accelerated turnaround times required for keeping tenants in place. Funds will also enable Safer DIY Spaces and Vital Arts to raise additional funding for large-scale projects—including mitigation and legalization of highly-vulnerable sites, and acquiring existing buildings in concert with community land trusts—to ensure DIY sites are preserved as safe, affordable, and permanent community spaces for the future.

In the wake of the fire, dozens of groups reached out to raise awareness about the safety of DIY warehouses and artist housing. Many large donations were made to the Oakland Fire Fund to support community renewal efforts including requests from some of those eligible to receive fire relief and recovery funds. In addition, Bay Area promoters, Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment, along with Paradigm Agency’s Oakland office produced the Oakland United benefit event at the Fox Theater.

Community Meeting

We will be following up on a year-end meeting on the state of DIY spaces with a discussion of key steps community members can take to secure the availability of safe, affordable, long-term housing and creative spaces. The meeting will be held in 2018 in Oakland and will be announced by Safer DIY Spaces and Vital Arts.  A short presentation will be held about the work Safer DIY Spaces and Vital Arts have done to date, highlighting present challenges moving into the new year, followed by a community discussion. Sign up for further updates here


In response to the tragic Ghost Ship fire that took place on December 2nd, 2016 in Oakland, California, two organizations were founded to support live/work and performance facilities in the Bay Area: Safer DIY Spaces and Vital Arts. Since December 2016, Safer DIY Spaces has worked as a committed group of volunteer building professionals, artists and community organizers who over the last year have directly assisted over 70 low-income live/work and assembly sites across the Bay Area with the immediate abatement of hazardous conditions, as well as improper zoning and permitting issues, in order to safely prevent displacement. On policy, Safer DIY Spaces works directly with the City of Oakland’s Administration, Building, Planning and Fire Prevention departments to create more compassionate codes prioritizing life-safety.  Finally, Safer DIY Spaces works actively with property owners, lenders, investors, land trusts and foundations to put vulnerable, culturally-critical properties firmly on the path to self-ownership for permanently affordable live/work and performance space. Vital Arts has been working with victim families, live-work experts, policy-makers, and City of Oakland staff to honor victims of the Ghost Ship fire by advancing the long-term affordability of safe housing, work, and performance spaces, and to open funding opportunities for key projects by identifying implementing partners, corporate donors, foundations, and others committed to maintaining the cultural vibrancy of the Bay Area.


Gray Area Foundation for the Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization which applies art and technology to create social and civic impact through education, incubation, and events. Gray Area was established in a DIY live-work space over a decade ago and grew from there to encompass the variety of programming it currently has at the Grand Theater in San Francisco. The organization was previously displaced due to rising real estate costs in the Bay Area and managed a crowdfunding campaign in 2014 to save the theater and bring it up to code for artistic events. Executive Director Josette Melchor is also the founder of the organization and a queer person-of-color sensitive to LGBTQ and artist displacement issues. The Oakland Fire Fund was only one aspect of Gray Area’s work and is an endeavor that stems from Melchor’s personal connection to the tragedy. She and the staff lost many friends on December 2nd, one of whom had worked as a sound technician with Gray Area. Since the tragedy occurred, the organization prioritized this effort and placed other aspects of Gray Area’s focus on hold. The behavior of the organization changed to adapt to this unexpected commitment. A typical beginning to a new year became a drawn-out ending to the last. Moving forward, the organization will serve as the fiscal sponsor for Safer DIY Spaces and direct any inquiries with regard to this project to support their work. Gray Area was honored to step up as a first responder to the local community in a time of need and we are committed to producing impactful arts programming year-round. Donations and inquiries can be made here: https://grayarea.org/

Safer DIY Spaces (‘DIY’)is a Oakland-based coalition of architects, artists, community organizers and contractors that emerged in the wake of the tragic Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, CA in December 2016. DIY provides extensive fire, building and zoning code-compliance guidance, as well as financial assistance, to vulnerable and low-income communities living, working or holding events in DIY spaces. Since that time, DIY has confidentially assisted over 70 under-permitted warehouses and unconventional live/work/assembly sites facing displacement around the Bay Area, primarily in Oakland. The project also works daily on crafting policy changes with city and state jurisdictions to create more compassionate and safer building codes. In terms of long-term preservation, the project works actively with property owners, lenders, investors, land trusts and foundations to help place vulnerable, culturally-critical properties firmly on the path toward self-ownership for permanently affordable live/work and performance space. Donations and inquiries can be made here:. Donations and inquiries can be made here: https://saferdiyspaces.org

Vital Arts emerged from discussions between Edwin Bernbaum, Beth Jay and Thomas Dolan – long-time friends who galvanized around Ed’s loss of his son in the Ghost Ship fire tragedy in Oakland. Vital Arts works to develop innovative programs to assist with the creation and maintenance of sustainable, long-term affordable live-work spaces and performance venues through funding, project creation and implementation, and other help for artists. Donations and inquiries can be made here: http://vitalarts.org