How they do things in Berkeley

If you’ve been reading on my page, you will notice the occasional mention of Berkeley, playing with fire, my crazy artist friend Kiki, and other such things.

This used to happen at two locations, the Crucible, and the Shipyard. However, due to some earlier-mentioned fun with the Berkeley government, the Crucible moved to Oakland.

Which brings us to the Shipyard, which is just as innovative and fresh, but in a different way. The Shipyard is one of the most unique artist spaces that I’ve seen. They decided to build the entire thing out of shipping containers, save a small brick building in the corner where Jim lives that also conveniently holds two massive milling machines and a massive lathe (we’re talking about the sort of machines you’d use to build ships with). Kiki, her husband, and one or two other people, have a 2x2 stack off to one side. There’s a large open area that is used to actually assemble stuff in the middle of it all. The practical upshot of this is that each artist has a small personal work area to store tools and pieces and there’s a large open area that is then used as people need it to build large scale projects. It’s far cheaper than each artist needing to have a properly sized lot to build their creations, which means that they can afford it without going totally broke.

Only in a place like the bay area can this work out, much as only in a place like the bay area can I do astonishing amounts of my own construction work out on my balcony. There’s enough of a rain-free season that a roof ceases to matter, and in fact, allows you to build arbitrarily tall creations.

When they first moved in, they figured that it was no sweat.. The shipping containers are temporary tool storage containers, much like they are at any other workplace, therefore no code is required.

Apparently that was declared to be wrong. They weren’t allowed to be called temporary construction facilities, so they then began the process of becoming a legal permanent facility because they like the Berkeley area (as opposed to the oft-repeated threat to pack the whole thing up on trucks in a day and move to some open lot elsewhere in the bay). At some point, PG&E decided that they weren’t allowed to have power, so they switched to using generators for power.

This is when I first met them. I come over there because Kiki and I share the love of Neon and find myself meeting all kinds of really crazy folk. They eventually switched over to Biodeisel. Apparently they got a screaming deal on some large number of drums of basil olive oil that will do just fine to reform into fuel oil, so they burn that in a pretty large generator. They have a forklift to move things around. Jim has a pair of World War II amphibians. I think you get the picture here. There’s all kinds of different, unique creations spread around the yard.

Now, this all came to a head 2 months back when they needed to get their final use permit. Apparently the Berkeley political system is very participatory. Everybody demands to be happy with any decision. Thus, they needed to go out to the city zoning board meeting with overwhelming support. Jim was aiming for at least 200 people, because, in his words, “200 people can’t be said no to”.

I got out of work early and drove my tail out to Berkeley. They had a taco truck out front, serving up tacos. They had a bunch of people making signs and a silk screening booth where you could get an item of your clothing silk screened. There were people of all colors, including purple. We all pile in to the meeting.

One of the signs was something along the lines of “If you aren’t for the shipyard, you are for the terrorists.” He wouldn’t let me take the picture, so I didn’t.

The thing is that nobody dislikes the Shipyard. The local Orchard Supply Hardware loves the Shipyard because people who work at the Shipyard, myself included, pick up stuff from there all of the time. So it was 5 speakers for and 0 against for the comment thing. Jim made sure to let everybody get up, wave their signs, and cheer before he gave his speech. Kiki spoke about what she had accomplished (And let me tell you, Egeria is quite the accomplishment — They passed pictures of it up to the zoning board to show what kind of really beautiful stuff they were working on there) Michael Sturtz from the Crucible showed up. They were all uniquely eloquent speeches.

The end was pretty victorious. They got everything they wanted and certain members of the zoning board were very much for the Shipyard. (There was apparently more going on than was apparent at first glance, but that’s best left unsaid)

Afterwards was the party to celebrate victory. I didn’t quite know the way there, but I noticed a jeep with legos. “Of course,” I told myself. “Where else would the Lego Jeep, mentioned by one of the supporters, be going but to the Shipyard.” So I followed the lego jeep the whole way there.

Victory was celebrated. It goes without saying that there was a fire to gather around while we were partying. While they were pouring the ceremonial beverages, I randomly walked up to a group who had a bottle. I ask what it is and he shows me the label — single malt scotch. He looks at me and says “Your making the face. I’ve got to pour you some now.”

I mean, it was single malt. ;)