Thursday, December 8, 2016

Creative Loved Ones Lost to Oakland's 'Ghost Ship' Fire

At the Los Angeles Times, "Artists, college students, music lovers lost to the Oakland warehouse fire":

Em Bohlka was a poet with a master’s degree in literature who could quote Kurt Vonnegut. Donna Kellogg played the drums and inspired peers with her culinary skills. Feral Pines was a recent Oakland arrival, a bass guitarist, a good listener.

They were artists with day jobs, young creatives living off the grid, students dreaming of unconventional paths — at least 36, all taken by fire.

On Monday their names were scrawled on notes left at memorials that bloomed where flames had ravaged an Oakland warehouse. “Travis, we already miss you.” “Thinking of you, Ara Jo.” “Draven, you weren’t the smartest or the funniest or the bravest. That’s probably why we were best friends.”

Once a bastion of hippies and independent artists, the Bay Area in recent years has been dominated by techies and those with deep pockets who can afford the outrageous rents.

But the Oakland fire ripped through a close-knit community of artists ensconced in an underground music scene and committed to staying in the area. Their makeshift homes, their counterculture social scene, existed in a world invisible to those not searching for it.

It was where they felt accepted and safe.

“It’s an interesting group of people that all come together around the craft of electronic music and digital art,” said Josette Melchor, founder of a San Francisco-based arts nonprofit, who knew many of the victims.

“People have been doing this for decades and have been part of this community for so long. We’re not just talking about a rave, it’s really a group of close people that see each other almost every weekend, just kind of gathering around the creation of their own music.”

Melchor’s organization, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, was inundated with calls after the fire from people looking for any way to help. In response, it established a fund for the families of victims, which had reached more than $300,000 by Monday night.

They had gathered Friday at a concert whose location, until the last minute, remained a mystery. Then came the name on social media, shortly before the doors opened: the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland.

Cash Askew had looked forward to what was to be a gathering of like-minded artists and musicians, many of them “queer femmes.”

A transgender woman, Askew had grown up around independent musicians and it was no surprise when she began to perform. The 22-year-old played in the goth-pop duo Them Are Us Too, which recently released its first LP and had been on tour.

“Everybody just saw this star, just saw this shooting star in her,” said Madigan Shive, a fellow musician who had known Askew for more than a decade.

Askew was accustomed to alternative venues. They felt protected, judgment-free.

“We came to those places and those spaces to share music that was often looked at as strange or esoteric,” said Askew’s girlfriend, Anya Taylor, a performance artist. “A lot of us are people who know music and we’ve been outcast because of who we are. We were making music for us.”

When Askew headed to the Ghost Ship, Taylor stayed behind because of work the next day. “Have fun,” she said. “Be safe.”

News of the fire sent the 23-year-old rushing to the warehouse, where flames had overtaken the building. For four hours, Taylor stood outside.

“I watched the building burn, and I lost the love of my life,” she said...
Keep reading.

Plus, "Building inspectors had not been inside Oakland warehouse in 30 years, officials say."