DIY venues provide healthy spaces for cultural expression, particularly for groups marginalized by popular culture. While more traditional venues may be off limits to fringe artistic disciplines, or artists from gender or ethnic minorities may have trouble breaking through the status quo, DIY house shows presented in these spaces serve as incubators and safe spaces that generate invaluable cultural capital while serving as a welcoming home for people from all walks of live.
In a word, they are indispensable community spaces in an increasingly alienated world.
Yet, five weeks out from the disaster in Oakland, the media is rife with dismissive language, labeling the Ghost Ship fire event that was underway when the fire struck a “rave” and reenforcing the idea that such spaces are hotbeds of hedonism. Venues have been shut down by authorities across the nation – including the Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Drkmttr in Nashville, and Rhinoceropolis in Denver – depriving communities of much needed access to social and culture life.
Also under threat are the innovative living practices promoted by such spaces. Ghost Ship – like many other DIY art spaces across the country – was a “live-work” space that circumvented prohibitively high housing costs by creating a multi-purpose structure. In an era of over-development and poor space usage, these inventive community centers push boundaries and encourage us to rethink the space around us.
The issue often revolves around proper safety conditions being met (which can be prohibitively expensive for non-profit generating DIY spaces) and zoning laws. If city authorities can acknowledge how such spaces contribute to the local creative economy, they can surely construct innovative laws and reach out to such spaces to ensure that safety conditions are met, neighborhoods near such venues do not experience undo stress, and the spaces can go on being safe havens for the diversity that makes city life worthwhile and enriching.
Another factor that should encourage authorities to take a proactive, pro-social approach to DIY art spaces is that the anti-DIY backlash following the Ghost Sip fire has given breathing room for the racist far-right, which has lashed out at these decidedly pro-social environments, using hotlines to report them and compiling lists on websites such as 4chan.
An original post on 4chan – a popular online destination for the “alt-right” – was quite blunt:
These places are open hotbeds of liberal radicalism and degeneracy and now YOU can stop them by reporting all such places you may be or may become aware of to the authorities, specifically the local fire marshel [sic].
When neo-nazi sympathizers see an avenue for marginalizing vulnerable groups of people, it is a responsibility of public leaders to step up. These spaces are more important than ever considering the social climate we inhabit. Thoughtful city officials across the nation should take note and support DIY art spaces instead of criminalizing them.