Monday, December 5, 2016

The tragedy of Ghost Ship, the Bay Area arts scene, and the housing crisis

With the recent news of the horrific fire in Oakland at the Ghost Ship artists' collective, I find myself reading article after article about the tragedy. Reading posts from Bay Area friends and community on Facebook. An acquaintance in Oakland who is a wonderful, sweet, and kind person lost her partner in the fire. Friends of friends perished in the fire. The impact of this tragedy is far reaching. It affects every queer, trans, qtpoc, poc, artist, musician, immigrant, ally, etc. that lives on the fringes of society, feels treated as an "other", or is simply gathering to connect in a community where one feels safe, seen, and validated for being their authentic selves, as well as enjoying music in a welcoming community space. Trying to find an affordable and sustainable way to make one's art, one's music, and earn a living in an expensive, gentrified urban area, where there is a major housing crisis, such as the Bay Area is incredibly difficult.

I'm sending love, light, and healing energies to everyone effected by this tragedy.

It's so sad that Bay Area creatives and lovely queer, trans, and qtpoc individuals died.

Life is sacred.

Life is precious.

There needs to be more spaces and buildings that are affordable and safe for artists to live, work, and gather in community.

At its root, this tragedy happened due to the Bay Area's major housing crisis.

I moved to San Francisco in 2009 to go to San Francisco State University to pursue my MFA in Cinema.

I recently relocated back to Portland, Or in late August 2016.

Living, studying, creating, and working in the Bay Area from 2009 to 2016, I'm intimately connected and aware of the Bay Area and the rapid changes that have occurred in the last 4-5 years. In particularly, regarding the major housing crisis.

I find it heartbreaking, that the Bay Area is no longer a welcoming or affordable place for artists, musicians, activists, intellectuals, healers, and anyone that experiences oppression and is looking for a supportive community in a progressive area. i.e. LGBTQ, Queer, Trans, QTPOC individuals.

In my opinion, the Bay Area is affordable for affluent people or people that work in tech.

What is a community if teachers, healers, artists, musicians, etc. cannot afford to live in an area?

What is a city without its vibrant art and culture?

The very fabric of a community ought to encompass everyone. The Bay Area has become a tech mono-culture.

Some artists and musicians that are hanging on by threads to live in the stressful, tense, and exorbitantly expensive Bay Area, live and congregate in places like Ghostship.

An MFA Cinema colleague of mine lived and worked in an artists warehouse in the Fruitvale area of Oakland. It wasn't Ghost Ship. He hosted a few events in his warehouse studio for our MFA cohort. I went there twice for events and gatherings. The building was only one story, yet the first floor was like a maze. There were many studios and doors. Finding the doors to enter and exit the building wasn't easy, unless you lived in the building.

These are the spaces where some artists live and work.

I lived in Berkeley and in Oakland for several years. The last three years I lived in the Bay Area, I was continually displaced from my housing. It was incredibly challenging to find new affordable housing for myself and I'm connected to my Bay Area communities. I would go to housing appointments to look at a potential new home and there would be several people there at the same time to go on a housing tour with. I would essentially be competing with these people for the room. Rather than touring an apartment or house with the current housemate(s), multiple people being shown the room and home at once created tension, competition, and trying to one-up each other. I remember leaving a housing interview and said, have a good afternoon to one of the interviewees who was ahead of me as he walked out the door of the apartment. He definitely heard me and ignored me completely.

If you rent in the Bay Area and are trying to find housing, it's incredibly difficult. Landlords, for the most part do not keep up their properties and renters put up with all kinds of decay and issues with their housing just to keep living there. People live with mold. People live in living rooms. People live in filth. People live on commuter couches and pay hundreds of dollars per month to do so. People live with incompatible housemates. People live with rodents that landlords do not feel it's a priority to get rid of. People live with doors falling off of their hinges from wood decay. Some people live with 3 people in one small studio in San Francisco. People put up with all kinds of unhealthy conditions just to continue to exist in the Bay Area.

The tension in the air in the Bay Area can be cut with a knife. So can the air of competition, materialism, and fear of displacement and housing evictions.

The last place I lived in Oakland, near Lake Merritt was affordable for me as an artist. While living there, I worked as a Waldorf teacher, worked on my film in the works; Queering Yoga, and did other odd jobs like Lyft, freelance photography and film work.

I was displaced from my Oakland home this past August. A couple of weeks before that occurred, I had clarity to move back to Portland, Or. It was challenging for me to let Oakland and the Bay Area go. I was attached. I love the Bay Area. I love the land. The water. Hiking in the Oakland hills. I love the food. Queer/Trans/QTPOC art and cultural events. I loved the Queer community yoga class that I attended regularly. I appreciate EBMC, The East Bay Meditation Center. The Bay Area was like a beacon of light for me as a child and teenager. It was a dream come true to move there in 2009 and have a purpose to be there (Graduate school). I lived in the Bay Area for 7 years. When it was time for me to move and leave the area this past August, it become evidently clear.

I will always love the Bay Area. I tell people that it's a great place to travel and visit. Yet, for me my quality of life is better in Portland, Or. It's calmer and more peaceful. The air and water is healthy. There are more trees. People are kinder. The pace of life is slower and thus healthier. There are a lot of art, cultural, and culinary delights in Portland. It's an exciting place yet more sustainable. For me as an artist, the Bay Area is unsustainable. I had my time there and I truly lived and worked really hard on my creative work. I was tired of continually being displaced from my housing the past several years. Having to move again and again and not having that be my empowered choice to make whether I move or not.

In a sense, I do feel exiled from the Bay Area and my community there. Yet, Portland is a wonderful place to be. There is no utopia or perfect area to live in the world. Each city, town, and area has it's pros and cons. I feel it's important to honor and trust one's inner guidance, knowing, and truth. That is infallible. If one is called to live in Oakland, then opportunities do unfold. It doesn't mean it will be easy, yet it will be more easeful. There are challenges and blessings everyday. Housing opportunities for me have unfolded since I've been in Portland.

The question is, how can we as a culture and society value creative professionals and musicians enough to create affordable spaces for artists and musicians to live, work, and thrive?

Portland is also having a housing crisis of its own, yet it's not to the degree of intensity as the Bay Area. Since, Portland is a smaller city than the Bay Area. I'll save talking about the Portland housing crisis for another time and blog.

Thanks for reading.

In light and hope,