THE GHOST SHIP HALLOWEEN STORY
Since 2008, Ghost Ship Halloween has proven that an art-first event, built by small community-minded organizations can grow and flourish in the Bay Area. More just than an annual event, Ghost Ship Halloween turned an unfortunate civic circumstance in San Francisco, into an outpouring of uncommon creativity. It connected the Bay Area’s finest independent artists with a creative mission and a responsive audience. It is an example of how innovation is the hallmark of every community in the Bay Area, including the arts.
In the aftermath of San Francisco’s experiment with mass-market Halloween in the Castro in 2006, the SFPD actively discouraged any gathering in 2007. And in 2008, Supervisor Chris Daly and Mayor Gavin Newsom invited San Francisco’s entertainment producers to rethink Halloween and provide the City with an alternative to the Castro. Among the submissions was an art-drenched proposal from budding entertainment entrepreneurs Andrea Lundquist (formerly of the Space Cowboys collective) and Pete Glikshtern (creator of Liquid/Pink/SOM, Club 6, Mighty, Public Works and Jones venues). Their proposal involved giving ownership of San Francisco’s Halloween back to the “cultural creatives” who had made it vibrant in the first place. As it turned out, their proposal was tabled, along with all others as the city eventually moved onto more pressing needs.
But an idea had been born in that proposal and the two decided to throw a small version of the event at a little-used warehouse on Treasure Island called Building 180. In less than a week, over 100 artists came together to build a Ghost Ship out of recycled wood pallets and filled the space with large-scale art. The event was a word of mouth success and not only proved the concept, but brought out hundreds of people who had never even stepped foot on Treasure Island.
The 2008 event also established Ghost Ship Halloween key creative principles:
1: The art comes first.
2: Build something spectacular that can only be seen at this one event.
3: Build art from sustainable and recyclable materials. Divert waste when possible.
4: Aim towards small, independent, and local artists, musicians, and vendors.
5: Empower volunteers and newbies to introduce them to the visual arts.
6: Host the event the weekend before or after Halloween, not on Halloween night, to relieve pressure on public agencies and partners.
In order to grow the event in 2009, Lundquist and Glikshtern added SunsetSF (formerly Sunset Promotions), producers of beloved local events such as North Beach Jazz, Sea of Dreams, Silent Frisco, and SF Funk Fest to the team. Although the 2009 event was actually in a smaller space than 2008, (only half of Building 180 was used) the event was even more beautiful. That year, several creative art groups began to coalesce with the event as their centerpiece. The Cardboard Institute of Technology built a 50’ 18th century clipper-style pirate ship completely out of recycled cardboard. A group of independent carpenters and artisans who would eventually be known as “Make Big Art” built and hung a 40’ whale from the ceiling. A giant lighthouse beaconed over the dancefloor. Installations by renowned local art gurus like Peter Hudson and Michael Christian and Michael Brown’s Dusty City Diner were seen by eyes who were not on the playa, off the desert of Burning Man.
The event was an even bigger success than the previous year, not only selling out well in advance but drawing Treasure Island itself more clearly into the cross hairs of artists looking for work spaces. To many artists, cultural creatives, and entrepreneurs, Ghost Ship Halloween was the first taste of Treasure Island itself. Many would open art studios in the subsequent months and years and many even moved to T.I. and Y.B.I. to live. It’s no coincidence that there were only four commercial leases on the Island in 2009 as opposed to more than 500 today. The majority of the credit for this clearly goes to the hardworking City employees at Treasure Island Development Authority. But what is also clear, if difficult to quantify, is that Ghost Ship and other art events helped to introduce, and legitimize the Island to many who had never been there.
In 2010,Ghost Ship Halloween outgrew building 180 and moved to the (at that time) underutilized seaplane hangar called Building 3. “The Armada” would feature a 75’x40’ cruise ship, a 30’ cardboard undersea diver hanging from the ceiling, and a massive haunted house within the tentacles of a giant squid. With the extra space, the event was now able to welcome not only additional art installations, but more than 15 spectacular art cars. 2010 also allowed for the inclusion of additional art collectives in subsequent years, like Burning Man stalwarts Pink Mammoth, Distrikt, Hookahdome, Janky Barge, the Front Porch, and Silent Frisco. The event would have six independent music stages and employ more than 300 local artists, 50 local musicians, and countless support staff such as security, parking, sound, and lighting vendors. For the first time, all of Ghost Ship’s music sets were recorded, to be posted on the world-famous Ripecast internet radio show, vastly increasing the event’s international acclaim. Most importantly, despite doubling capacity from 2000 to 4600, the event continued its flawless track record for safety and security.
In 2011,Ghost Ship Halloween IV “The Afterlife” continued to grow, refine, and perfect its artistic vision. For the first time, the event would commission original visual artwork from famed UK album artist Jem Stone. The “ship” would be a 50’ long Viking funeral ship, hanging 15 feet from the ceiling, with lighting and visual effects mimicking a funereal pyre. The other star of 2011 was Charon, Peter Hudson’s incredible 50’ tall spinning zoetrope installation, which would be exhibited at Ghost Ship, again, for the first time outside of Burning Man. The Cardboard Institute of Technology would create a dozen other large and small-scale afterlife creatures to thrill the audience. Silent Frisco built a 60’x 60’ fully immersive video zone depicting a fictionalized Asian cartoon afterlife. After years of consistently raising expectations, even an audience that sold the event out more than a week in advance was overwhelmed. As an added civic benefit, the event added dozens of underprivileged Job Corps staff to the build, strike, and parking management staff. And again, the event maintained its flawless safety record.
In 2012, with the challenge of raising the artistic bar even higher, the Ghost Ship Halloween team unveiled their most daring, interactive, and humorous project yet: “Apocalypse”. The Make Big Art team would again employ hundreds of local artists, glue-gun slingers and volunteers. This time they would turn a half of the massive hangar space into a post apocalyptic ghost town complete with old-west style storefronts, a Zombie apothecary, and even a mock jail. Artist installations included Kate Raudenbush’s piece Star Seed, Mark Lotter’s Cubatron, and a metal globe from Michael Christian. Hovering over the ghost town was the “ship”, this time a 40’ wide Alien flying saucer. At the height of the event, in a moment of performance art genius, a massive Papier Mache´ cow was “sucked” into the spaceship as a humorous reference to the popular internet meme.
Ghost Ship Halloween 2012 continued to combine the best of the Bay Area’s independent art community with professional production value. TheGhost Ship Halloween audience had grown into the Ghost Ship community, with nearly every attendee in costume, many of them as original, or more so than the event itself. Ghost Ship had grown into the perfect artistic catalyst by employing artists to inspire artists.
And yet, the event had become, in many ways, a victim of its own success. Many of the artists and entrepreneurs that were drawn to Treasure Island for the first time by this event sought out and secured art and commercial leases on the island. With land values and commercial rents soaring in San Francisco, larger businesses sought out scarce space, finding it often on Treasure Island. And thus, in the Spring of 2013, theGhost Ship Halloween team learned that their beloved Hangar 3 had been rented to a year-round tenant.
So in 2013, with Treasure Island no longer a viable option, the Ghost Ship Halloween team set out in search of a new harbor. With the help of dozens of proposed solutions from the artistic and civic community, Building 12 at San Francisco’s Pier 70 was scouted, spec’d and deemed not only acceptable, but perfect for the event. With many of the advantages in size, appearance, and isolation from residences, Building 12 has additional advantage of being bicycle and MUNI accessible, allowing the event to improve on its commitment to sustainability.
Pier 70’s proximity to several underprivileged communities led to another key development. In 2012, Glikshtern had teamed with the 49ers to produce a daytime kids event at Candlestick Park. With this as a model, Ghost Ship introduced a “Sneak Peek Trick or Treat” portion of the event in 2013. Ghost Ship opened early, and added some extra flavor for the youth of the Dogpatch and Bayview. This daytime open-house featured face painting, bouncy castles, a fire truck, games, pumpkins, a hay maze, and a chance for area youth and their parents to be amazed and inspired by the art of Ghost Ship.
Ghost Ship Halloween 2013: The Abyss was announced to huge clamor in September 2013 and after many delays finally got the go ahead from the city of San Francisco to go on sale on October 10. The event sold more than 2000 tickets in the first 24-hours, leading to the expectation of yet another sold out show.
Ghost Ship Halloween’s move to Pier 70 was an unmitigated success. The event was better than ever and we were able to successfully partner with new government agencies like the Port of San Francisco, Dept of Homeland Security, and SFPD Bayview Station, Forest City, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association and more. Our Homeland Security liaison had this to say after the event…
“Without exception, everyone entered without incident, and danced, drank, and enjoyed the music. Despite whatever concerns I had, this event was highly organized, peaceful, and came off without a hitch. The event staff displayed know-how in every dimension of planning and execution. Parking, access and egress, permits, safety and security, food and beverage, lighting, and garbage collection was well managed. It was an impressive event that was “San Francisco at its best.”
The first-ever daytime kids preview allowed the neighborhood youth to enjoy the art of Ghost Ship in the daylight. That night, more than 40 Djs rocked 5 sound systems and Silent Frisco while enjoying our most elaborate art creations yet, including a 50 foot long wrecked nuclear submarine. Artists like Michael Christian, Pete Hudson, and Jem Panufnik showcased their most ambitious works and a great time was had by all.
For 2014, we proudly expanded Ghost Ship Halloween to two nights, October 31 and November 1st. Besides reconnecting with many of our old friends like Distrikt, Brass Tax, Friends & Family and Death Guild, we have added star ringer talent to the lineup. JAMES LAVELLE and DJ AFRIKA BAMBAATAA ventured to Pier 70, as well as 45 other DJs and over 10,000 people on Halloween night. And for the first time ever, Ghost Ship welcomed the legendary THUNDERDOME interactive art piece and its incomparable cast of gladiators, wranglers, singers, djs and handlers. Two men enter, one man leaves.
In 2015,Ghost Ship Halloween: Annihilation unveiled its most ambitious production ever, with 75 musical artists on 6 stages, and its first-ever production not centered around an actual ship of any kind. Instead, the main stage featured a “faces of annihilation” projection-mapped mushroom cloud art piece so profound that it brought many attendees to tears.Ghost Ship Halloween’s music lineup continued to bring exciting, meaningful live performances from the likes of South African duo GOLDFISH and legendary turntablists like DJ Q-BERT and KRAFTY KUTS. The event also featured an incredible “Air Raid” installation by the Pink Mammoth and Janky Barge crews, live music from local heroes THE JAZZ MAFIA, and an electro-burlesque night featuring the artists of TRAPEZE.
In 2016, Ghost Ship Halloween took on its most ambitious challenge yet, taking on the massive 3-story interactive mezzanine area built in to Pier 70 for Super Bowl 50. The mezzanine was transformed into Ghost Ship Halloween’s first VIP experience, featuring fully hosted bars and prime viewing of the main stage. We also feature our most over the top musical experience yet with an initial lineup featuring djs JUSTIN MARTIN, and J.PHLIP on Friday and THE ORB and DJ DAN on Saturday. Toronto’s legendary house music trio THE NEW DEAL will perform on Friday and seminal West Coast underground indie techno circus THE MUTAYTOR will make their reunion appearance on Saturday.
In December of 2016, The Ghost Ship Halloween team learned like many of you that a warehouse in Oakland, coincidentally referred to as “the Ghost Ship” had burned down during a party with the tragic loss of many lives. Instantly, our unrelated event was thrust in the national spotlight due, at first to confusion, and eventually as part of an effort by some more cynical forces to demonize art communities worldwide. Our team immediately to do what it could to help those in need find the resources they needed, send assistance to a heartbroken community, and help to frame the conversation around the tragedy towards one of harm reduction. One of our leads even appeared in a harm reduction story on the PBS Newshour.
We also decided that we would absolutely have our event in 2017. The reasons for this are as follows:
- The similarities in the names of our 10 year old annual event and this tragedy were purely coincidental. Our event has an exemplary track record for safety and customer service.
- If we were to stop doing our event, the only thing people would think of when they heard the words “Ghost Ship” would be the tragedy, and not the 9 years of art, music, and love we have built.
- The communities most affected by the fire are the ones that most benefit by our event. We feel the best way to help artists is be doing events, booking artists and building art.
LoveBoat Halloween: That said, we also felt that if the families who lost loved ones could be spared from having to see posters with the words “GHOST SHIP” on them, then we should offer them this courtesy. So, like every year, we picked a theme to work with for 2017. But unlike previous years, for 2017, the theme – LoveBoat Halloween– will lead all branding. We are not changing our name. We are emphasizing this positive theme out of respect. We’ve done Abyss, Asylum, Annihilation and Atlantis but in 2017, we think the world could use a little love.
2017 – On August 1, 2017 to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of this unlikely success story, we will go on sale with our biggest headlining acts ever. We will also be announcing a new creative director who should lift our art outlay to new heights.
The Ghost Ship team has proven that by working cooperatively with civic and commercial partners, San Francisco’s independent art community can create a world-class event that is 100% local. We have proven that the concept of “Halloween” is not something to be feared, but rather something that brings out the most creative and inventive ideas. Halloween allows people, for one night, to dress, act and be whom they wish to be, and Ghost Ship Halloween gives them the perfect interactive backdrop for this adventure. With the help of our incredible community, and our many supporters in San Francisco’s civic infrastructure, we pledge to continually raise the bar for sustainable creativity, and safe entertainment. Because we believe that the art comes first.