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DIY Warehouse Spaces Around The U.S. Face Closure Threats After Ghost Ship Fire

Denver’s Rhinoceropolis and Baltimore’s Bell Foundry have already been shuttered.

December 13, 2016

In the wake of the fire that claimed the lives of 36 people at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, city officials across the country have shut down a number of multipurpose arts and living spaces. On Thursday, December 8, the Denver Fire Department, responding to an anonymous tip provided to Denver police, evacuated a DIY venue known as Rhinoceropolis, a spokesperson for the Denver Fire Department told The FADER.

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Travis Egedy, who produces electronic music as Pictureplane and lived at Rhinoceoplis for six years, told The FADER that the shut down seems like a "coordinated sweep" by city government. "The fire department and police knew that we were there — it's not like it was some secret," he said. "They're using what happened in Oakland to squash this stuff that's too radical to them."

Rhinoceropolis, located at 3553 Brighton Boulevard in Denver, began functioning as a DIY venue and living space in 2005. According to Westword, the space has hosted hundreds of shows, performances, and art exhibitions and stood as one of the longest running DIY venues in the country.

"It was always up to fire code," Egedy said. "There was a fire inspection just a few months ago, it passed, then they shut it down out of the blue." Melissa Taylor, a spokesperson for the Denver Fire Department confirmed to The FADER that the warehouse space had passed a fire inspection earlier this year, but said that, at the time, the fire department was unaware that the building was being used as a living space and inspected the building according to its commercial zoning permits.

A report from the Denver Fire Department cites multiple code violations, including a lack of fire detection systems, illegal sleeping quarters, inadequate wiring, and general fire-safety concerns. When asked about the timeliness of the tip and response, Taylor said that the fire department reacted "no more expeditiously than we would have in the past or will in the future" given the violations. 11 residents were evicted in total; Officials say that the owner of the property will have the opportunity to bring the building back up to code.

In Oakland, Dorothy King, the owner of Everett & Jones barbecue restaurant, held a press conference last week to voice concerns over a neighboring warehouse art space, knowns as the Salt Lick, that she claimed posed a fire danger. Sam Lefebvre, a journalist and artist who works out of of Salt Lick told The FADER that they are working with Everett & Jones on a public gesture of solidarity.

On December 5, city officials in Baltimore condemned converted warehouse space the Bell Foundry, citing code violations. "I've felt some of the safest feelings I've ever felt in [warehouse] spaces where I can truly be myself and feel unjudged and unguarded and not worry about authority," Dan Deacon, who lived and performed at the Bell Foundry space in the past, told Billboard. "But I've certainly felt unsafe in a crowd after a sporting event gets out and there's 50,000 drunk and screaming fans, but no one's taking about shutting down stadiums." Similar spaces in Philadelphia, Dallas, Nashville, Indianapolis, and New Haven are also reportedly facing closure.

Egedy worries that these closures are part of a larger struggle between city government and artists around the country. He also pointed to a viral thread from the online message board 4Chan that called for people to report "leftist" art spaces to local police and fire departments for violations. "I worry about other DIY spaces around the country," he said. "For every person that goes to these spaces — it's so important to their lives and in the local community — there's even more people that don't understand that."

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