I have always believed that a yoga studio is fundamentally a community gathering space, and in these times of political upheaval, I also believe a yoga studio can be a community organizing space and change agent. Many of the practices of yoga are specifically designed to help us open to compassion and empathy, but compassion and empathy can all too often lead to emotional overwhelm and hopelessness if we don’t take action to serve others. We can funnel our collective compassion into advocacy, education and action through our practice. With the intention of giving as much as I can to preserving and cultivating the things in the world that I believe in (some of which are currently hanging on by a thread), I have decided to hold a monthly fundraiser class for a specific cause or organization that supports inter-cultural understanding, human rights, social justice, environmental justice and the arts.
Last month, we raised $900 for Standing Rock, in a packed class of joyful faces on Thanksgiving morning. I am truly grateful for the generosity of this community! For December, I had originally planned a fundraiser for Unite Oregon, but we will be pushing that one forward for a more timely need. I have decided to dedicate our December fundraiser to victims of the Ghost Ship Oakland Fire.
When I read about the space and the tragedy that occurred there, it struck very close to home for me. In the days when yoga was my day job and theater was my night job, my theater company and I would set up shop at any space where we could afford the rent. We made contemporary work, and preferred performing in warehouses and site-specific environments anyway. We were part of the low-cost-of-living/high quality-of-life movement that made Portland such a desirable place for young creatives to relocate to in the early 2000’s. During those years, we rented space at a variety of warehouses and buildings in Portland that were not up to code. The landlords were just sitting on the buildings until their property was worth more, and in the meantime they allowed low rent artists to work there, most likely because of the culture change it would create in the neighborhood.
One of the buildings was home to many artists besides us, all of us with leases that described what we were doing as “storage”, because the building was not safe for the level of work and occupancy it had. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that this is just how artists and landlords make things work in cities like this. It was due to our public performances that the fire marshall finally shut that building down, and all of the artists were evicted.
Many of those buildings have since been renovated (or demolished and turned into parking lots), and are charging 3-4 times what we paid. They are no longer homes to the kind of artists that worked there before. As the cost of rent continues to skyrocket in Portland, I worry for the future of the arts here. I worry for the lack of safe, affordable spaces for the artistic leaders of our community, which make this city such a special and valuable place to be.
I’m sharing this story because I think it could be easy for some to dismiss the tragedy that occurred in Oakland as something that is not relevant to our city, or to blame it on the victims for being in a space that was not up to code. If you are a homeowner or landlord in Portland, chances are you have profited quite a bit from the gentrification and growth of our city. The increase in property value here will all go to property owners and landlords, but we have the artists to thank for that increase in value. If it was not for the artists and their willingness to work in dilapidated buildings and develop a culture of intrigue in our ignored neighborhoods, Portland would not be what it is today. Whether we like the changes that have occurred in our city or not is a loaded subject of its own, and obviously there are some serious problems of inequity caused by gentrification that are worthy of substantial discussion, but I’ll just end by reminding you to appreciate the artists in your city and the value they bring, to consider how we might structure public policy to support affordable and safe working spaces for artists here as the city continues to grow and gentrify, and encourage you to join our fundraiser class as an act of gratitude to them and compassion for the families and victims of those irreplaceable souls in the Oakland arts community.
Action: Join us on Sunday, Dec. 18th from 6-7:30pm for a fundraiser Stretch and Sketch class. This class is open to both artists and yogis–some will stretch and some will sketch! $10-25 sliding scale. Followed by holiday party/potluck from 7:30-9:30pm, open to all.