DIY Art and Music Venues Targeted and Shut Down after Ghost Ship Fire

Denver, CO – The residents of local DIY art and music venues Rhinoceropolis and Glob in the RiNO district of Denver were abruptly evicted the evening of Thursday, December 8th, by the Denver Police and Denver Fire Departments. The spaces are currently being investigated by fire inspectors, despite passing annual fire inspections for eleven years in a row, one as recent as this summer.

A recent rash of raids on warehouse venues across U.S. cities, including Bell Foundry in Baltimore, comes after the devastating fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland that took the lives of thirty six people.

From the San Francisco Bay Area, KRON4 reported that rescue workers found people who perished in the fire, in positions of “protecting each other, holding each other”. This devastating loss of friends, loved ones, and beloved artists has impacted communities across the country and elevated the urgency of finding solutions to the ever-increasing lack of affordable housing.

Photo: Anthony Bonnett

On the evening of Dec 10th, Denver’s Nocturnal, a dance-music oriented event at Eko House was forced by authorities to shut down their benefit show for victims of the Ghost Ship fire.

Some of the neoreactionary far-right are using this tragedy to weaponize regulation of artist spaces and bring harm to the LGBTQ and alternative underground communities. A post from the Rhinoceropolis facebook page with the caption “Be warned” shares a link revealing a call out from a 4chan board to report all art spaces to “crush the radical left“.

Musicians are taking to twitter to fight conservative harassment against their communities and spread the word on how to contact political officials, such as the city council and the mayor, to fight against the evictions.

City Council Member Albus Brooks has been responding and there has been a call out to reach out to him on twitter regarding the targeting of artist spaces as well as the inhumane urban camping ban ordinance that he spearheaded.

Sarah Slater, co-founder and musical director of titwrench collective which birthed an annual music festival showcasing women and LGTBQ artists, provided Unicorn Riot with the following statement regarding the evictions.

Titwrench Festival and Collective were both born in Denver’s underground art scene, circa 2008. With the support of house venues, volunteer-run art spaces (both Glob and Rhinoceropolis have hosted our events) and many, intertwining DIY artist circles, we cultivated a new artistic platform for women and LGBTQ artists. Artist-operated spaces are treasured lifelines for a diverse community, where creatives of all kinds can live together affordably, while opening their homes/hearts to the public, in the name of expression, culture, experimentation and fun.

 

The abrupt and unannounced eviction on Thursday, December 8th 2016 of 10 residents of Rhinoceropolis and Glob is both unjust and requires an immediate response to this silencing and censorship of artists. Residents were given less than 4 hours to remove all of their belongs and vacate their homes. It is particularly cruel to be targeting and displacing artists already under duress, as we are grieving the very recent loss of our friends in Oakland, while facing stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing as well.

 

Denver is our home and we have a right to be part of the conversation that sets the tone for how we should live. We demand that city officials and arts leaders work with residents of these spaces to ensure their buildings are brought to code and they can continue providing a critical platform and outlet for emerging artists and culture in our city.” – Sarah Slater, co-founder/music director of titwrench collective

We also interviewed a Denver music writer and historian who requested to remain anonymous.

UR: Do you have any shows or events at Rhinoceropolis or Glob that stand out for you in your history of covering music in Denver?

The Iceage show on August 2, 2011 at Rhinoceropolis stands out because it was kind of a hardcore show with Civilized and Negative Degree but not so much with the Danish post-punk band Iceage and weirdo noise rock group Hot White. It was aggressive and energetic but it felt like people were all connected. I rarely feel that at shows and it’s not why I go but it seemed like a beautiful experience at the time.

 

Titwrench July 9-11, 2010 was exceptional. I only missed one band of the whole festival, I believe… But other than being a great and diverse event, the art installation that Alicia Ordal and Elena Stonaker built of the giant vagina that later issued forth a flood of people including host Piper Rose? You don’t soon forget stuff like that.

UR: What do you think people can do to help or to support themselves and others right now? Both directly for Rhinoceropolis and Glob and the greater DIY community?

I think getting people a place to live during the interim is essential. Many people in America, certainly not all, don’t really know what it’s like to be uprooted from their living space so suddenly and have their whole lives thrown into a state of utter uncertainty. It’s not like being put into a refugee camp or a concentration camp with your citizenship status and future that uncertain. Or, worse, having your village, your city and your country bombed to the ground as happened with my mother when she was a child. But this situation is more than being evicted. It’s a way of life that, specific potential situations aside, harms no one that was attacked. Whether that was motivated by greed, an overreaction to the tragic Oakland fire at Ghost Ship or whatever, what DFD did seemed odd as that building passed a fire inspection in the summer. So I say if someone has legal training or knows someone who can donate some services to looking into the legality of what happened should do so.

 

Also, keep things going, bring the events on the books into your venues. Further, let’s get people into office on the local level across the board who value he arts for real and not some sanitized version of art and who will work with places like Rhinoceropolis and GLOB (and hopefully those spots themselves) to bring things up to code if they mysteriously aren’t. And to recognize that spaces like that are an important cultural phenomenon and re-zone them as work/live spaces. If businesses are given terms of compliance in any way, then a DIY space should be given the same consideration…

UR: Do you think this kind of censoring/raiding artist spaces will continue after the initial rash of reactive suppression/targeting following the Ghost Ship tragedy?

I think Denver will do what it always does, which is what America always does–make a big display for a while, to demonstrate that it cares, and then neglect the effort. And when it’s brought to the city’s attention, act again if there is a pretext. It would be much more efficient to actually deal with issues of affordable housing and having positive relationships with people living on what some might consider the fringe of society. But that would mean seeing some value in the contributions of those people to the city which with the Hancock administration doesn’t seem possible.

 

When people legislate away homelessness rather than dealing with homelessness for real it’s difficult to imagine those same people would find value in art communities that aren’t making donations to the campaign or generating a lot of revenue for the city even though those same places have added immensely to the quality of life of Denver. Until city leaders can make that leap and grow a heart and not seek out the same old dumb American answers to complex issues I think the harassment and putting pressure will continue.

Milton Melvin Croissant III | Rhinoceropolis | September 27, 2008
Photo used with permission of Tom Murphy

Fleshtone | Rhinoceropolis | August 16, 2009 Photo used with permission of Tom Murphy

An online fundraiser to support the tenants with community donations surpassed their $10k goal within one day of launching.

According to the non-profit organization RiNo Art District, the landlord is working with the tenants to restore the venue.


RiNo Arts District also issued a statement which includes their plans for next steps as well as a calling the eviction a knee-jerk reaction and a misstep.

We have learned that the eviction was a directive of the Deputy Chief of Police, likely a knee-jerk response to the tragedy at Ghost Ship that occurred earlier this week. While we support any effort to ensure that people are safe and protected in such spaces, we feel this rash move to evict people on a cold winter evening without reaching out to us, or other partners, to identify a solution or strategy, was a misstep.” – RiNo Art District

Other Denver local musicians, writers, and journalists are speaking out on why support of DIY spaces is needed now more than ever.

Ghost Ship was not a rave; it was a show and dance party put on by hardworking artists. Like “DIY,” the term “rave” also has a long history of being misunderstood: In the late ’90s, it seemed synonymous with drug use. But that night in Oakland, what was happening at Ghost Ship — and has been happening at places just like it for decades — was centered on art, music and the people who were creating it and enjoying it. Some say DIY spaces are unsafe, but such conditions like those found at Ghost Ship can be found anywhere. And assuming that any “non-traditional” place housing working artists is unfit is nonsense.” – From Bree Davies, writer, reporter, and co-founder of titwrench in Westword


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One thought on “DIY Art and Music Venues Targeted and Shut Down after Ghost Ship Fire

  1. Thank you so much for covering this. As a long time Denver musician who was priced out last year, this breaks my heart… We need to promote and preserve what is good and cool and diverse in this country

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