Jan 16, 2017

Santa Cruz, Tannery center artists take stock after deadly Oakland fire

Artspace Tannery Lofts

SANTA CRUZ >> Some 75 miles south of Oakland, Santa Cruz’s artist community is not far removed from its San Francisco Bay Area cousins and reverberations from December’s Ghost Ship fire.

As the poignant stories of each of the 36 lives lost in the converted East Oakland warehouse blaze emerged in the weeks after the tragedy, legislators, municipal officials and other arts groups began taking stock of similar situations, examining where improvements might come.

Though observers said the difference between the Ghost Ship and Santa Cruz’s Tannery Arts Center are night and day in terms of safety, living suitability and modernity, artists living in the local development empathized with their Oakland peers’ circumstances. 

Sculptor and photographer Geoffrey Nelson, a Tannery live-work loft resident said the Santa Cruz development should serve as an a model for artist housing everywhere. The development, nestled between the San Lorenzo River and Highway 9 just north of its intersection with Highway 1, serves as a contrast with the underground and unpermitted Oakland artist space, where some resided.

Nelson, a regular at the annual artist-centric Burning Man desert sojourn, had been invited to the fateful Dec. 2 party at the Ghost Ship, though he did not attend. Nelson said he has, however, been to several Oakland warehouse parties in the past.

“You feel sorry, obviously, because they were a lot of young people that may have had a great career in the arts, that would have contributed a lot. You also feel somewhat pissed off in the sense that, why cannot there be these spaces for artists that can be safe,” Nelson said. “Everybody acknowledges that artists are like the vanguards, they’re like the shock troops into areas that start to slowly change an area into not warehouses.”

The Tannery, on the 8.3-acre former Salz Tannery factory leather-making site, maintains 100 affordable rentals, including live-work lofts, plus two theaters, office and class space, a cafe, gallery and historic remnants of the leather tannery’s 145-year existence.


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