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‘We’re all hurting’: Mourners gather at Oakland museum to remember victims of Ghost Ship fire

Carol Koch posted the note from her daughter on the Ghost Ship tribute, an installation at the Oakland Museum of California.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles TImes)

On Friday night, several hundred people were on hand at the Oakland Museum of California to pay tribute to the Ghost Ship victims.

Outside in the Oak Street Plaza, a chalkboard “memory wall” covered with the names of the victims gave visitors a chance to write a note of support. All donations went to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts fund for the victims and their families.

“We are gathered here because we love you and we know we’re all hurting,” said Evelyn Orantes, curator of public practice at the museum.

“We all need a space to come together in community and remember that there is light and hope in the world. I want to thank the artist community for bringing shape to things that live in our hearts and our minds, that we can’t always put words to.”

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Museum director Lori Fogarty had a simple message for the East Bay art scene that some fear is under siege in the wake of the fire: “I want to extend strength and courage to the artist community — we’ve got your back here.”

Just after 7 p.m., there was a moment of silence that ended with the sound of a drum and children’s voices. Hundreds of bubbles filled the air outside the museum while those in attendance held candles.

At the end of the two-minute reflection, someone let out a cheer: “God bless Oakland!”

Oakland artist Chris Treggiari helped design a memorial adorned with names of the 36 who died in the warehouse fire last week. A ship replica — its three masts missing sails — sat atop battery-powered candles on the wooden, altar-like installation. The vessel was set against a starburst of boards.

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On the floor, framed messages and candles were placed on top of wooden stools, with such messages as: “He inspired a hell of a lot of people, he still is.”

“We just wanted to create a sacred space,” said Treggiari, an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts. “We just wanted to get people talking and thinking and sharing.”

Treggiari worked with Ghost Ship victim Alex Ghassan on a video installation called “Oakland I want you to know,” which was displayed at the museum over the summer.

The two worked side-by-side for more than four months, interviewing people for a documentary that covered issues such as gentrification and demographic change in the city of 400,000.

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“He was an extremely hard worker and he had a great incredible eye and his compositions were really beautiful,” Treggiari said of Ghassan. “We did have a lot of fun together. We spent a lot of time together and we had a lot of laughs. It was a pleasure to spend however many months together.”

Carol Koch, an Oakland resident for 30 years, left a message on behalf of her daughter Katie Gibson, who has been texting with her all week. Gibson, whose nickname is “Peach,” used to frequent the music warehouse scene in Oakland when she was younger.

Fighting back tears, Koch placed a note card on the memorial that read: “Friends, dance, sing, love and laugh in heaven. You have touched so many lives. You will be missed, but never forgotten. Love, Peach.”

ben.poston@latimes.com

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Twitter: @bposton

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