The Oakland fire is terribly arresting. I find myself going about my normal day when suddenly, though I am geographically removed from the tragedy, my mind returns to its contemplation. I cannot begin to imagine the grief of those closely impacted by the fire, though even for someone who is at least one degree removed from the event, it still weighs heavily: the death toll is too great, and there are countless days remaining before the final resolution: too many people remain missing, and the investigation into the fire continues…
As I listen to the haunting strains of Them Are Us Too, I try not to think about the suffering of those final moments, but it pains me deeply to think about so many young lives filled with beauty, creativity, and promise snuffed out in the flames— and all in the pursuit of art and the experience of life.
The news reports tell us that the warehouse was not up to safety codes and posed significant threat to those inhabiting the space. Is this what happens when the arts and humanities are relegated to an underfunded corner in our society? Perhaps we should stop to think why people would choose to live this way, anticipating that perhaps it was in pursuit of the life that they wanted to be living: creating, and not because they were/are degenerates or blights on society.
Society may not have a place for them. Profit and greed corrupt, forcing those who, in another time, might have been able to make a living off of their passion into unsafe practices. Let us rally together as a community to support the artists, for art is what bolsters us in times of struggle. Art provides perspective, and levity, and circumspection… It is what makes us human, and it is what allows us to participate in the human experience.
The romanticism of the starving/struggling artist is incredibly damaging and pervasive cultural imagery. There is no need to manufacture tragedy in a world already filled with pain and suffering. All human beings deserve a safe place to rest and to gather together. The Oakland fire may have been the result of the folly of youth, for, we do enjoy believing ourselves invincible… but it is a tragedy of youth as well, that so many died without need.