Group seeks to preserve creative spaces

In response to the fire at a warehouse in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Dec. 2 that killed 36 people, a new organization has been formed to build a coalition between artists, community leaders, activists and policy makers, organizers said Monday.

We the Artists of the Bay Area, known as WABA for short, said they seek to facilitate conversations between the creative community and the broader community, advocate for creative spaces, provide access to resources and educate the creative community about maintaining safe live-work, studio and event spaces.

The group said the creative community it seeks to represent consists of makers, entrepreneurs, artists, innovators, hackers, inventors, technologists and performers. Their contributions in driving innovation and creativity underpin the economic and cultural vitality of the Bay Area.

Lara Edge, WABA leadership member, business owner and tenant of American Steel Studios in Oakland, said the city of Oakland “was already taking steps in the right direction to support the creative community” even before the fire at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse at 1315 31st Ave.

Edge said in a statement, “WABA wants to continue and expand that dialogue, influencing policy to support the creative community, and find immediate solutions for building owners and disenfranchised communities in need of affordable and safe spaces in the short and long term.” WABA said that in just two days it gathered more than 11,000 signatures in support of its efforts and the list of signatories continues to grow.

It said its members are reaching out to existing local advocacy groups, seeking to work with those who share the goal of sustaining creative spaces through sensible, practical, and legal solutions.

Liana Sananda, a WABA leadership member and community organizer, said, “No one wants to live or work in a dangerous space. In Oakland and urban centers across the country, the creative community has been forced to do just that.” She said, “Through the coalition we are building, WABA seeks to address the myriad social, political and economic issues that have driven the creative community and other marginalized groups to eke out an existence in unsafe spaces, and to offer them a better way forward.” WABA said its team is made up of more than 50 volunteers and more than a dozen working groups who are collaborating on identifying the problems the creative community faces and organizing resources and support for them.

WABA leaders said that although they’re saddled with grief for the victims of the fire, they are working to affect positive change in hopes of honoring the lives of those who died so that something good may come of the tragedy.