After a deadly fire in Oakland, Calif., last month in an underground music venue, Seattle arts and music leaders are urging city officials to take a collaborative approach to regulating such spaces.
Following the horrific fire last month that killed 36 partygoers in an Oakland warehouse, arts and music leaders in Seattle are urging officials here to tread carefully.
Rather than crack down on unregulated living spaces and venues in an effort to prevent another tragedy like the December blaze, they want the city to offer help.
They’re worried that a punitive approach by building inspectors and fire marshals could hurt Seattle’s do-it-yourself scene and push shows further underground.
“When government stresses enforcement more than collaboration and problem-solving, that becomes dangerous,” said Vivian Phillips, a Seattle Theatre Group executive who chairs the Seattle Arts Commission. “We don’t want to see that happen.”
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The arts commission and the Seattle Music Commission, both volunteer advisory groups, along with leaders from the Central Area and Capitol Hill arts districts, sent a letter to Mayor Ed Murray in December with their concerns and recommendations.
And on Tuesday, leaders from those groups discussed their ideas with City Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s civil-rights, economic-development and arts committee.
Officials haven’t yet committed to a specific course of action. But the mayor has promised to work with the groups, and Herbold said Tuesday she would be willing to arrange additional conversations between artists and city representatives.
S. Surface, a Seattle curator and architectural designer who serves on the arts commission and who worked on the groups’ letter to Murray, said the city’s response, “in contrast to how some other municipalities are behaving, has been much more positive and open.”
Denver officials closed down an underground venue called Rhinoceropolis soon after Oakland’s “Ghost Ship” warehouse went up in flames, Surface noted.
“We wanted to get out ahead on this,” Surface said. “We wanted to show the arts community that we support them and then back that up with some recommendations.”
Surface said some people live and do art in noncompliant spaces because they can’t afford other spaces in an increasingly expensive city.
In their letter to Murray, the groups recommended that officials create a special, simplified license for pop-up events.
In the short term, the groups said the city could pay for event-safety boxes containing items such as exit signs, fire extinguishers and first-aid kits.
Tim Lennon, executive director of the Vera Project and a member of the music commission, said his organization could distribute the boxes.
The Vera Project, an all-ages music and arts venue, was born years ago out of a Seattle do-it-yourself movement that’s still going strong, Lennon said.
“In warehouses, on loading docks, in theaters on dark nights,” he said. “Dance parties, art installations, performance art, theater, concerts … The DIY scene is even more diverse than the art scene overall.”
In a letter replying to the groups, Murray said his staff would review the recommendations.
“I strongly believe community engagement is one of the best ways we can keep the public safe,” the mayor wrote. “I look forward to working together to ensure that a tragedy like the Oakland Ghost Ship fire never happens in Seattle, while also ensuring that the artistic exuberance and cultural inclusion exemplified at Ghost Ship is never lost.”