Ship of Fools

I’m late to this, but I see there has been a deadly fire in an “artists’ collective” in Oakland, California:

Dozens of people are feared dead after a fire broke out during a rave at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California.

Authorities have confirmed nine deaths but say they are preparing for the death toll to rise as high as 40.

Oakland fire chief Teresa Deloche-Reed said between 50 and 100 people were thought to have been inside the venue.

The venue was hosting a concert by electronic group Golden Donna, along with six other acts. The venue had been announced on Facebook earlier in the day.

The building did not have a sprinkler system and firefighters did not hear any alarms when they arrived, Ms Deloche-Reed said.

The warehouse, which houses artists in improvised studios, was packed with furniture, mannequins and other objects, obstructing firefighters’ efforts to put out the blaze, she added.

“It was filled end to end with furniture, whatnot, collections. It was like a maze almost.”

The only exit from the second floor was a staircase made from wooden pallets, Ms Deloche-Reed said.

I occasionally encounter people who wax lyrical about “artists'” squats and other instances of “artists” taking over a building, thinking that doing so is exceptionally cool and edgy.  Not one of them has ever mentioned the potential consequences of occupying a premises which falls foul of any number of building codes and is uninsured.


Officials have opened a criminal inquiry into a fire that killed at least 36 people at a warehouse party in Oakland, California.

The premises had already been under investigation prior to the fire over possible building code violations.

The warehouse had no sprinklers and one ex-resident called it a “death trap”.

Officials described the interior as like a maze, with the warehouse packed with furniture, mannequins and other objects, the only exit from the second floor a makeshift stairwell.

The building, known as the Ghost Ship, was used to house artists in improvised studios but several reports say people were illegally living there too.

Neighbours had complained to the city about rubbish piling up on the street outside, and about the illegal tenants.

I don’t give a fuck how edgy or cool the people responsible for this place thought they were, if they have broken the law and people have died as a result then they ought to get the book thrown at them, same as the rest of us would.  Tim Blair has more:

Consider the number of people who might be implicated in potential wrongful death lawsuits, right down to every Oakland hipster café that allowed promotional flyers for this venue to every website that invited people on Friday night. Interestingly, with 36 confirmed dead in the deadliest US fire since 2003, artistic Oakland types are worried about other sketchy venues being shut down.

This is no different from driving an uninsured vehicle down the street with no license.  Much as though I dislike a lot of government regulation, some of it is sensible and stops innocent people getting hurt or killed.  People ignoring regulations because they self-identify as “artists” is something that should never have been tolerated in the first place.


9 thoughts on “Ship of Fools

  1. Small observation from a would-be artist (well, I went to Art College 50-odd years ago, does that count?)

    I was offered a place at Harrow Art College which was way better than where I ended up (Watford, initially) but I was — even at my then tender age — scared of beatniks and hippies and the kind of rubbish that became attached to ‘being an artist.’ This was a tag that meant one had lofty if impractical ideas, wore black polo neck jumpers (sweaters for our US friends), open toes sandals and had a scruffy little beard. One had to inhabit coffee bars and be willing to play the bongos (no, not a euphemism) but frankly the whole business repelled me. I was a working class lad and had few pretensions I can recall, and getting a job — it was on the design side of print and newspapers — was way more important than hanging around with people who I probably wouldn’t like.

    The famed if vastly overrated ‘summer of love’ (not evident in South Yorkshire where I lived by that time) was upon us and became the last straw with even more feckless hippies finally taking over from beatniks. No, I am quite glad I stayed away from pure art.

  2. At least when I squatted in Bloomsbury the egress was clear other than some damp mattresses and empty cans and vbottles, I honestly cant remember how we heated the joints back then.

  3. Thanks Tim for the link to your previous post. I note it was earlier in the year, which prevented me reading it then because (a) I only discovered your blog recently and (b) I only learned to read last July.

    It was a very interesting post for someone who was repelled as I said by the whole concept of the arts, even back in the silly ‘sixties. But one thing I learned is that really, really good painters — note I said painter and not artist, there is a huge difference — are astonishingly good at what they do. They also do a huge variety of paintings and not all of them ‘cutesy’ from for example Cuneo’s trains and tanks to a Scottish artist (Avril Patton) whose painting of a tenement block in Glasgow in the snow makes me purr with delight every time I see it. But if you want cutesy, you have to go some to beat Maxfield Parrish for vibrancy of colour and light, and for artistic wit and social commentary you need look no further than the likes of Norman Rockwell. All of these souls, and many more, could actually paint: they would be sneered at by contemporary ‘artists’ and derided by the left-dominated lame stream media, but real art should uplift and inspire and not make just make cheap mockery.

    I suppose we could say that modern ‘artists’ can only gush over what is cheap and useless in order to skim money from the system because they have no discernible talent to offer, while painters (of all stripes) are people who actually look at what they see and strive to capture it for others to appreciate. The anxiety of the former is not being given money by the state, the anxiety of the latter is not communicating the mysterious essence of our life.

    You see, as someone who tries to paint I know how f*cking hard it is, and I am pretty sure half of what I have ever put on canvas was more a happy accident than a deliberate choice. I have mentioned before about not rubbing out the best bits of a drawing (or editing it out of writing), and not painting over the best bits is even harder.

    As for Angela the Arty, I am sure she would make an interesting story 🙂

  4. I note it was earlier in the year, which prevented me reading it then because (a) I only discovered your blog recently and (b) I only learned to read last July.


  5. “This is no different from driving an uninsured vehicle down the street with no license. Much as though I dislike a lot of government regulation, some of it is sensible and stops innocent people getting hurt or killed.”

    I’ve never lived in Russia as you have, but I’ve seen the youtube traffic accident videos and so I suspect that, as they are here in Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, driving licenses are largely a consensus fiction of competence rather than an actual achievement of competence.

    Not to diminish your point about fire-hazards and stupid “Angela” types, but that point of comparison only works for countries like England or Germany where we can comfortably assume a driving license is actually a reasonably reliable indicator of competence.

  6. mike,

    Absolutely: I was referring to the western world, specifically those cases where assholes drive without a license and uninsured and mow down some family and get 6 months, out in 4. Of course, having a license is no guarantee of competence anywhere, particularly in places where they can be bought or the test is a farce.

  7. I came frighteningly close to joining an artists’ commune once (translators, who are legally considered as freelance artists in Germany). On reflection – it was just another loose partnership way of running a business, which is exactly what the hippie/commie communes in Germany do.

    The difference was – we were going to buy the building, and it was in the middle of nowhere in rural Germany, not freeloading in an edgy stolen warehouse in a west-coast city.

  8. I am not in favour of useless regulations either. Fire safety regulations are good, however.

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