Oakland fire touches two Detroit artists

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Two Detroit artists were hit hard by news of Friday night’s fire in an Oakland, California, artists’ warehouse.

Monica Canilao, who divides her time between Oakland and Detroit, said she would have been at the doomed party had she not been out of state at Miami’s Art Basel.

“I lost people I know,” she said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around.”

Canilao admits that the subject of fire safety was one that came up from time to time at the Ghost Ship, as the warehouse was called.

“That place was a little crazy the way it was built out,” she said. “It was kind of like a maze, and not the safest. If you were upstairs and there was a fire, the stairway down just wasn’t that safe. So I could completely see how so many people got trapped.”

But not every built-out artists’ warehouse in the Bay Area is like that, she notes, adding that many of them are up to code.

Still, she reports that the Oakland warehouse where she has her studio got a notice from the fire marshal Monday morning announcing an upcoming inspection.

“I think the city is going to use the fire to close down more artist-run spaces,” she said. “They’ve already been shutting places down because the rich techies and dotcom-ers are moving in.”

Detroit sculptor Ryan Doyle, who’s also lived in Oakland, said he was acquainted with some people lost in the fire, but that none of his friends happened to be in the warehouse when it broke out.

Doyle blames skyrocketing real estate for the fact that artists increasingly are jammed into substandard spaces.

“People are packing into these warehouses, the last bastions of cheap studio space,” he said from Los Angeles, where he’s building props for a Will Smith movie, “because of the big increase in Bay Area rents over the last 10 years.”

As for the Ghost Ship, he said, “It was beautiful. People who lived there had spent a lot of time making their homes nice. They were very generous, and a big part of the arts community.”


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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy