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Members Of Oakland Artist Collective Move Out Over New Warehouse Rules

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- An Oakland artist collective may be fading away. Tenants claim the new owners are using their own artwork against them as a way to force them out.

Dozens of artists were packing up and moving out of the West Oakland warehouse where they've been staying. Some are being evicted, others are going by choice, because they don't agree with the new house rules.

"By Monday, I'm out of here. I've been working and losing sleep," says one tenant.

The 6-acre West Oakland warehouse known as the American Steel Studios is a collective founded by artist Karen Cusolito.

"It's pretty devastating and heartbreaking and bittersweet," says Cusolito. She rented the warehouse 11 years ago and divided the empty building into dozens of work spaces. About 200 artists work here around the clock.

"It's like taking away their church," says Michelle Burke, another artist. "Like this is our family, and it's being eviscerated."

Burke needs to clear out of her space by Monday. She blames the new owners for pushing many of the 200 artists out with restrictive tenant regulations, like no work on nights and weekends.

Another guideline says no structures over 12 feet high. But some of the art pieces they make are more than 30 feet tall. For example, there is a bus being transformed into a snail mobile for Burning Man.

Cusolito has art pieces over 30 feet high. She's upset about a rule that regulates noise. She says it's hard to comply because of the machinery artists use to sculpt their work.

"Since we're in an industrial area, in an industrial warehouse, doing industrial work, I'm a little confused by that because that's what we do -- we make a lot of noise."

Cusolito is moving out in August and leaving the expensive Bay Area. Many others will be gone after this weekend.

"We're flexible on all these rules but we have to take everything on a case by case basis," says one of the new owners, Gerris Wilkerson of 11 West Partners. They bought the warehouse last fall say they need to have house rules and they're not trying to push anyone out. They need to balance safety with creativity, especially after the Ghost Ship fire.

"There's a way to have house rules and safety standards and not stifle creativity, and keep people safe," says Wilkerson.

Some tenants who are staying say they welcome the new changes. The owners say six new artist groups are moving in as others are moving out.

The tenants say the new owners did not raise their rent, but they did take away some common areas previously shared by the artists for free. The new owners haven't said what they plan to do with the warehouse in the long term.

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