Goodbye, American Steel
I hadn't been back to American Steel Studios in quite a few months, so last night I dropped by open studio at the metal shop where I built my giraffes to say hello and see whats new at the Department of Spontaneous Combustion. I haven't been feeling very excited for Burning Man this year, so I anticipated that this visit would fire me up when I see all the cool art and energy that is usually in high gear by this time of the year, peak Burning Man build season.
What I found was a bit of a shock. The big, inspiring art was gone. Half the bays were empty. The Tuesday night soundscape which used to be marked by music, voices, and heavy machinery was gone. I made my way to Bay 5, wondering what has happened.
Luckily, the three people I was hoping to see most were milling about and I was able to catch up with the folks who taught me everything I know about metal and fire. The biggest news was that DSC is moving—in fact they are packing it out of AmSteel this very weekend.
I learned that since the building was sold last year, sweeping changes and restrictions have chased out the artists that used to be synonymous with AmSteel. Such as restricting the use of bay cranes, a 12ft cap on all structures and storage, and (quite detrimental to DSC) NO FIRE. Karen, the brilliant woman who had founded AmSteel and made it the incredible community art space that it was, has been forced out. The new management is interested in seeing each tenant's "business plan", and less interested in providing space for the not-for-profit artist collectives that have long resided there.
What that means for DSC is that they've basically been waiting to get evicted. They couldn't commit to building anything for this year's burn, since they didn't know if they would have the shop space to build it in—and sure enough, their time has come. In happier news, they have found a welcoming new home at m0xy, a community-based art center, who is very excited to have DSC join their community and bring metal and fire to their space. I'm relieved that an institution like DSC has a bright future since the story of artists getting squeezed out usually ends with their visions getting killed altogether. Still, moving an entire steel shop is a huge undertaking, and it'll be months before the new shop is up and running.
On a personal level, what I was hoping for was an inspiring visit that would fuel my energy for this year's burn and give me project ideas. It ended up being a confirmation that perhaps the timing is ripe to skip a year.