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An Open Letter to Our Community, From the Former Residents of the Recently Closed LoBot Gallery in West Oakland

We want safer buildings. But please listen to this community before you try to protect us.

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The last 96 hours have been a waking nightmare: waiting to hear from missing friends, grieving the loss of dear people in our community. So many have been confirmed deceased. We are struggling with hope and grief and trying to hold each other together as our vulnerable arts community faces this unfathomable tragedy. We are struggling to say goodbye to the people we danced and performed with, and nodded to across crowded venues. These are the people who once made LoBot an art hub and underground treasure.

We are just a few days into a nightmare that is still unfolding. Bodies are still being carried from the warehouse that many friends called home, but already people outside of this community are calling for a crackdown on art spaces. This threatens our ability to survive and create in a rapidly gentrifying city that we helped build.

We are trying to grieve, yet simultaneously feel called to defend the spaces that our deceased friends spent their lives making beautiful.

We are artists who also recently lived and worked in another Oakland warehouse that was not well-equipped for a fire. It was not retrofitted with a modern fire-suppression system by the building owner. We so deeply feel the need for increased safety — but we are worried about what that might mean for our community.

At LoBot, a fire inspector visited following an anonymous “concerned citizen” complaint. Even though we prioritized fire safety, and were not cited for any violations, our landlord told us to leave, and refused to negotiate. The art space we spent thirteen years cultivating was crushed in a matter of weeks, our home destroyed, our ability to create pushed further into the margins.

Today, many of us are housed in less-safe places, or jump from one temporary crash pad to the next, clinging to hopes of making it in Oakland. Others have been forced out of the Bay, losing the community they’ve spent years building. This cannot be the answer.

Displacement continues to push Oakland artists out of their long-established work spaces, forcing us to accept risks. We are at the landlord’s mercy; their bottom line can dictate the amount of protection that we have from disaster. Our homes are leftover spaces — we tolerate negligence for freedom; disinvestment for stability. We’ve become desensitized to these conditions, as they have plagued many places that we work and live, and venues where we’ve been able to feel truly alive.

Why do we gather in these sometimes rickety and unequipped places? Because they often have safe-space practices — intentions to be anti-oppressive, accessible, inclusive, and protective of those with marginalized identities. They embrace cultural activities that are not burdened by a need for profit — events that are strange, complicated, small, critical and underground. We can’t afford to go to shows with high cover charges. And there is a lack of all-ages venues.

These spaces strive to avoid potential harassment — we can’t risk being grabbed at a dance party where we aren’t surrounded by people who will defend us. And some of us can’t go to shows where people wear scents, or where wheelchairs can’t get in the door.

We gather in these spaces because we aren’t afforded much physical safety in this quickly gentrifying city.

Because, when everywhere else is so dangerous, all we have is each other.

And so, it is indescribably painful to see the death of our friends being used to attack the form of safety we have built in each other.

We want safer buildings. We want our spaces retrofitted for modern fire-suppression systems, exits, and alarms. Please help us build them. But please do not contact the fire marshal, who can “red-tag” our buildings for immediate displacement instead of working with us to resolve issues, or send letters to our landlords that put us at risk of being evicted. Most important: Please do not call the police, who put our bodies at risk. Please listen to this community before you try to protect us.

To our friends at Ghost Ship: We are with you. The artists of what was formerly LoBot Gallery are donating a portion of our security deposit to your crowdfunding page, in hope that it helps bring some stability and sup-port to you. We’ve donated the rest to small arts groups and communities at risk for displacement in Oakland.

We call upon our former landlord, Katie Harmon, along with all landlords who profit from artists and the arts, to contribute as well.

Our hearts are grieving for our lost friends, hoping for those missing, holding those still waiting.

In solidarity,

Members of the LoBot Community
Oakland, California
12/6/2016

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