A memorial for the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez

Oakland Mayor Announces $1.7 Million Grant for Affordable Arts Spaces Following Warehouse Fire

After thirty-six people were killed on December 2 in a fire that engulfed a warehouse where artists lived and worked, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf announced that, with a $1.7 million philanthropic grant, the city will create more affordable spaces for arts organizations, Rachael Swan of SF Gate reports.

“The arts are at the center of vibrant and diverse communities, and are critical to neighborhood health and well-being, yet artists and cultural organizations are increasingly vulnerable to instability and displacement,” Schaaf said in a statement. “This public-private collaboration and investments are aimed at preventing displacement, growing the capacity of the city’s artists and cultural organizations, and enhancing municipal resources for the cultural sector over the long haul.”

The grant, which is funded by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and administered by the Community Arts Stabilization Trust, will support a two-year pilot program that will focus on helping artists afford their existing studios or find financially sustainable workplaces. The city will also buy property and offer it to local artists at below-market rates.

Critics disapproving of the mayor’s ties with developers booed Schaaf at a vigil that took place at Oakland’s Lake Merritt on Monday night. In response, Schaaf said, “It’s OK. This city is going to go through a lot of emotions and one of them is going to be anger. It’s my job to hear that and feel that.”

In addition to the grant announcement, Schaaf appointed Roberto Bedoya as cultural affairs manager. He will be responsible for allocating $900,000 in grants to arts organizations. Urban planner Kelley Kahn, a special projects director for the city’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development, will take up a new post to work on preventing displacement.

Meanwhile, across the country spaces occupied by artists are facing a crackdown from authorities who seem primarily concerned about preventing an emergency situation similar to the fire in Oakland. Citing unsafe conditions, artists were recently evicted from the the Bell Foundry arts building in Baltimore.