The Ghost Ship warehouse fire on Dec. 2, 2016, in Oakland, California, claimed the lives of 36 people, all actively involved in Bay Area arts. Instead of standard obituaries for those lost in the fire, we created something different: an online gathering space with profiles of each person, focusing on their art, talents and contributions to the Bay Area arts community.
Along with written remembrances compiled from conversations with family and friends, we embedded in each profile the music, art, writing and other creative contributions from the fire victims to show firsthand the important roles they played in a thriving underground scene. We also crafted illustrated portraits of each person and, responding to requests from families, made each portrait available for hi-res download.
This was a very hard personal project for our team. Nearly all of us knew personally one or more people in the fire, among them Alex Ghassan, our on-call video producer with whom we’d worked many times. We saw firsthand the national media’s hungry descent upon Oakland and its grieving residents, and made a conscious effort to behave differently and more respectfully.
Our tone was set with a widely read essay titled ‘It Could Have Been Any One of Us,’ by our online editor, Gabe Meline, which in heartfelt prose captured the perspective and pain of an underground community that embraced off-the-grid living spaces and the family they foster as important safety nets. Once each of our 36 tributes was complete, we produced a short online video collecting each person’s portrait and community role, showing the collage of the loss in the Bay Area.
These people were more than fire victims. They were musicians, sound engineers, DJs, visual artists, writers, event promoters and more. We have been proud to honor their contributions.