How to resist apocalyptic DIY and stay alive: An interview with The Dial
By Elise Granata
Illustrations by Pia Barnett
You brush away shards of glass that rim a busted window like teeth. Inside: Decaying sofas you hauled in from the street. Moldy, stinking shells of the vintage arcade games you somehow finagled from the Goodwill. Crumbling murals of quirky animals in funny outfits (we thought it was cute at one point?). A smoking PA system. A slimy, poorly-stocked snack bar.
Well, the last part was always like that. When your space was open, at least.
Most grassroots arts spaces hit the apocalypse early. Shut down by cops, pushed out by mega corporations, weakened to extinction by lack of funding. “APOCALYPTIC DIY” was a phrase introduced to me by Kunal Gupta of Silent Barn to describe spaces that burn out fast. These spaces exist in a land far away from sustainability; here today, but probably not tomorrow.
That’s why the story of The Dial is an inspiring one. After being recently shut down, they are finding ways to sustain their work without a physical space. Their original incarnation was as a warehouse in the suburbia of Murrieta, California: an all-ages oasis of printmaking space, open mics, dance sessions, film fests, and art shows. This warehouse had been threatened before, but finally buckled to local police and noise complaints in October this year. Now they’re without a physical space. But, like their neighbors to the south at The CHE Cafe, they’re anything but gone.
And it’s thanks, in part, to the worst (or best) timing in the world. They received non-profit status three weeks ago. Finished fundraising for a brand new, shiny PA system the day they were shut down. So, for founder Kyle Napalan and the rest of The Dial Collective, dying is just not an option. How could it be? They have local support, a community of artists who are hungry for a home, and now have infinite lessons to learn. For Kyle, this is an issue with larger scope than just Murrieta: “We recognize that when a DIY space faces difficulty, no matter where it is, there is a disruption in the vibration of the overall quality of what we’re trying to do.” You can click here to donate to their rebuilding efforts. Read on below for a powerful interview with Kyle about how the arts take shape without a physical space.
On second thought, this might be apocalyptic DIY after all. The dead just won’t stay in the ground.
(Side note: Kyle is such an amazing speaker and I am so bummed about how terrible the quality of our phone call recording is so that I can’t share it with you.)
So, philosophies have the potential to live on beyond a space’s physical parameters. It seems like what you were trying to do with The Dial is make your mission endure beyond a physical space.
Yeah. I think it was about tapping into the understanding that what we’re doing is larger than what we think we’re doing. Understanding the consciousness in what we’re doing provides everyone with an idea of where we’re supposed to go.
Why do you feel like there’s not that awareness already?
I think it’s because we’re set in a system where we constantly worry about the immediate problems– the bills, the things that could get us shut down– before we even get a chance to converse and problem-solve for this larger community at hand. Those immediate problems stunt the space.
Many of these spaces really run on donations, and everyone agrees that shows shouldn’t be above an affordable price. There are all these really strong policies that we hold morally as a community. So I think funding is a really big deal; I think cities could fund these spaces if they converse about it differently. My biggest thing [at The Dial] was going around the police force and going around the law. In the beginning when we didn’t have any paperwork, any anything, what sustained us was thinking about the way we converse around this. We as a counterculture are going to walk with a stigma in our own community that we have to prevail against. When they see a bunch of kids together, and one person is of a younger age and one person is wearing an Anthrax shirt and one kid has spikes all over his neck– these suburban communities instantly think the worst. We need to change that. We need to work together to change that mindset because it’s not fair that this conterculture already has this demeanor without actually having the ground to prove ourselves. So, it’s about creating community policies so these cities would look at these venues as more of community centers for truly at-risk youth. That’s the conversation I would like to have. That’s the conversation these spaces need to have. That’s really what they are, because they’re not a venue. And they’re not a business, for sure. They’re a community center. And this is always my conversation: these spaces are not for everyone, but they’re for the few that need it and understand that they need a creative space to filter out the rest of the things in their lives.
Yes. Yes. 100% yes. I feel like you are transmitting directly from my brain. Can you go into the story of how your physical space was shut down, and how this whole line of thinking you mention plays into that as well?
Recently, we were shut down immediately just because of a sound ordinance law. If the noise you’re making is above 70 dB or 90 dB– which is the sound of a car engine– it’s technically illegal. Even though there’s tons of noise that goes above and beyond that, when police get called and come to you, we have a conversation with them. Every conversation we’ve had has always been very peaceful. If anything, it’s gotten better over the years because we’ve always had the right conversation with them. A lot of their kids ended up going there. Even in the community our neighbors and police force were always on our side, and that’s what allowed us to have the space. But they do have a record for all of the complaints that were made.
So, we have millions of theories. It could be somebody living [next door] illegally, or someone just to spite us– we’re surrounded by so many businesses. We can only be nice to so many people. The theory is someone could have called so many times, and when the police come to us they had the ability to act on it or not act on it. Most of the time they don’t act on it. Actually, most of the time they ask us if we need help. But on this recent occasion one police officer who is really disgruntled (we know who he is) apparently decided to take action and cited us as a public nuisance. He ended up threatening our landlord and his business. We had to do the right thing and step down from the city. Now, the city marked us as a public nuisance, so we can’t operate as a business or even as a non-profit there even though we do now have all of our legal paperwork. They can always use their sound ordinance law against us.
How did the paperwork play into it? Had you guys been pursuing non-profit status all along?
We just got our federal non-profit status approved three months ago. And we just got our state approval last week. I always knew that it was never going to be a business. The non-profit thing was always the main goal. It took three years to put it together because it costs a lot of money, and it takes a very long time. Ironically, right when we got shut down we got a brand new system the day of that we did a lot of fundraising work for. We got it the day of. And we got that state approval for the non-profit a week after. Our landlord was going to build us a little patio area for smoking. There were all of these things on the rise…we had just helped other non-profits in the city, helped with an anime expo, helped out with the TED conference. We were able to build very good relationships with the community. All the businesses around us were churches. They always thought we were a church too because of how we run our space. That all kind of just…happened.
What were you in the meantime before getting non-profit status?
We weren’t anything. That was the biggest problem. Essentially the idea that I had, which was really an experiment, was wondering what would happen if we opened up a little space. At the time it was our living room; That was our crowd area and the stage area all at the same time. They used a small room just for artists to put up stuff. I would hold these weekly meetings just to see people who would come out and see who was interested. It just kind of exploded after that. More people came, the place got packed. It grew into itself. I didn’t even call the warehouse The Dial. That was never the intention. The Dial was this idea that a space could exist where people could think for themselves. The name came from this publishing house started by Ralph Waldo Emerson and his friends. It was about developing self-thought. And I thought: that’s what a space should be. It should be about evoking self-thought, so that through creative means you are able to find a process of identity. I just wholeheartedly believe that through creativity you can find identity. And with a community you are able to support people’s radical ideas that are really the push for innovation. I thought there was a lot of really great, talented people in this small suburban community and it grew on its own. We ended up having 2400 square feet that just kept growing and growing. That was what was going on before that.
And now that the physical space is no longer, I know you mentioned moving out of town– how do you feel like that geographic difference will affect the collective without a physical space? What will that look like for you?
It really hit me last week because we had to move out within a three-day notice. Luckily our landlord was rad and helped us walk through it. No one was really mean to us aside from that particular officer who I think got in a tiff with someone else who wasn’t a part of the collective core and that person gave us the wrong impression. I don’t know. It could be a milion things. When we moved out, I moved out everything, the house, for all of us. The next day we had a film fest. We tried to salvage all the shows we had for the next three months. Luckily, Temecula is really just a street down, so it won’t really make too much of a difference. We were just on that borderline cusp in Murrieta. So geographically, it won’t make that much of a difference, but I think it has definitely made me realize how we were taking so many steps forward. We were taking leaps and bounds far beyond what I imagined at this time. Losing your space and everything that falls underneath it– all of those things you take for granted– this experience does humble you. We did ten to 12 shows per month. We always did a 50/50 split with bands so people could understand that these are hardworking people and need to get to their next place. We always tried to consciously make people realize that art costs a certain amount of money, and if you support thatthere’s something you can take away from it. So losing the space humbled me and everyone in this experience taking all the things we did take for granted, while realizing all the things we could have done better.
I’m going to give this big rally speech tomorrow because I had to build myself up in this last week. I really didn’t get much time to sob over it. A lot of kids depend on this. To me, it will always be a dirty warehouse. But for the community, it was their first show. I don’t even know how many couples that met there, or whose birthdays were there. It grew beyond me. And that’s what the whole point was; It was never about me. It was about the community and what they wanted. If I could filter that through a space, that was more that enough. But I think we outgrew the space already. We converted our events and shows to become a part of what the space is supposed to be. From the beginning, it was always a community space. It was never a venue. I always tried to make sure that people never said “venue” because that’s a scary word for the city. A venue? Music? Drugs? What? I always try to make sure everyone understood that it was a community space. In doing so, I think we reached the capacity for what our space was going to offer because during the day we wanted it to supplement a lot of the arts programs that were taken away from school. And I had the idea that was happening because I was in school, I saw it happen. One of the people I met through the TedX conference was also opening up a space– more of a space that featured hands-on workshops, metalworking, 3D printing– things we were already kindof doing but didn’t have space to do. This is the consciousness that I want to shift: that art needs to be taken as seriously as math, science, and history. if you don’t encourage creativity within those means, you’re stunting a lot of really bright, youthful ideas and you’re boxing them into this suburban community mindset that really doesn’t have culture. Our whole motto is that we support arts, culture and community engagement. I believe that through small amounts of community engagement, you can build culture through art. Culture is already built by individual ideas. You just put that in a central place, you never know what could happen.
That is crucial. Did you grow up in that area?
I moved here in 2004. I’m originally born in the Philippines, but I lived in San Diego most of my life. But I always grew up in a suburban community. After high school, I wanted to move to New York and all of these major cities. But when I visited, I realized that the problem with all of these established cities is that you kind of felt like you want to paint a canvas, but all of these cities already had all of these masterpieces already painted. I felt very diffused by the idea, and felt like I had to try to fit in to all of these cultures I never fit into, because my standards of what I believed were about common decency or respect within the arts community; It wasn’t the same there. It was really part of the experiment about this part of human faith and leap within art again. Will people come if you really build it? They do. I was more attracted to these suburban communities, especially now in the time we’re living in, we’re all kind of stunted in how we experience communities. That’s really where innovation exists. I was always really fascinated with history. All of these fantastic spaces I went to as a kid, like The CHE, they made such a difference in my life. I wouldn’t be alive without The CHE. I wanted to take advantage of all of these really, really, really great-minded people. The problem in cities was that there was already this established notion of the limitations of what creative was or is. Here, it’s a totally blank canvas. There are people willing to go above and beyond to prove themselves. I never before met people like that, who just had this burning desire to do. To not really ‘get,’ but to do. There’s a lot of people that weren’t even artists that I met. I always talk about this girl who is like a little sister to me. When I was starting the space out I would move all of the equipment by myself. She was 17 when I met her, and she asked if she could help plan events. To me, it was about belief in the space, so it was natural to me to say “okay.” Four years later, this girl has a totally different path in her life. Her background and family put her against all of the odds. She wasn’t supposed to succeed in the environment she was produced in. But through this experience I had with her, she grew in this very fascinating way. Becuase she was supported by people that didn’t make her feel crazy, she just kept making better decisions for herself. It was just a natural inclination. She ended up working for the senator and the city. She doesn’t even have a college degree. I believe education is something we teach each other through life experience. I believe in these environments you can cultivate education too. That’s my hope. My hope is in the next space, we can supplement all of those things.
Photo by Candice Weldon http://www.candiceerica.com/
There was no precedent for The Dial. What were some of the things that you feel could have gone differently?
I don’t think we could have done anything differently. That’s the thing. The fact that we survived four years under the radar is kind of amazing. We knew from the beginning that this was a very fragile operation. If you understand that and you treat this like your home, this place can survive. We would write these policies that people would sign which basically said “Don’t be mean. Treat people equally. Don’t drink or do any illegal things around here because we’ll get shut down.” And there were many experiences where I dealt with the opposite of this firsthand. This one guy pissed off the roof because he wanted to show his affection for the space. He thought marking it was somehow symbolic. Some crazy things happen that I feel almost validated us to be shut down. There was a guy who took off his clothes and threw beer bottles. Even with all of this crazy stuff happening, I saw kids and people there constantly reacting to the situation. Taking care of one another because anything could go wrong. Our capacity was technically only 52; we maxed out at 250. There was enough of a fire hazard. There were a billion, billion shows that gave us every right to beshut down. But it didn’t. The silver lining of that was that there were many experiences where these girls came in; they were young, in high school, 16, and I would see them in shows flailing around, shirts kind of coming off…I felt like a parent. These girls came there and they were kind of drunk and didn’t want to be kicked out because they didn’t have anywhere else to go. They didn’t even have money for the show. And I said hey, it’s all donation, but if you’re going to come in for free I’m going to give you my two cents. And you have to listen. And the two cents is this: You don’t have to do this. If this is the last place you have to go, you would think you’d show more compassion and care for the people here working for it. Being drunk, allowing your friends to do the things that they do affects all of us. These are people your age. I was probably the oldest person there, and at the time I was only 23. I had to trust these kids I hardly knew to help keep the space together. I treated everyone like an equal because I don’t believe that age defines your mentality or emotional reaction to the world. I try not to make people feel inferior because of their age. Valid ideas are valid ideas. I just told these kids “Hey, I don’t know you, but I care about your well-being if you’re here.” We’re all kind of responsible for them here. If they make a fool out of themselves, it really stunts their growth in front of these people who really care. If you don’t recognize that these people around you who you might not even know give a shit about you, you’re ruining your opportunities anywhere. So you can go in, but please be more conscientious. That’s it. And there were millions of times where I saw these girls tell other people that same thing, and were very courteous about it. Those wins meant the world to me and everyone else. So no, I don’t think we would have done anything differently. Even the cops I apologized to multiple times would say everyone was very kind and generous. So, there’s nothing we could have done differently because this was inevitable. I want to process this as the idea that we just outgrew our physical space.
By starting an arts space in an area where there’s nothing like it is hugely beneficial, but you’re also creating a new language that the people around you don’t speak. Do you feel like, ultimately, the community wasn’t ready for it?
When bad things happen, I try to tell everyone that this is a chance for us to reevaluate ourselves. To reevaluate what we can do better, and what we’d like to do better. My conclusion with what was happening at our space is that we really want to help everybody. When I toured with my band I got to see all of these other spaces that were like ours. Anywhere. In the middle of the desert, in small towns. The fact that this idea could exist reinforced that we were doing something important, that this space wasn’t just meant for a suburban downtown, but that it was meant for everywhere. As long as you provide a safe space and you allow people to create and have a free-falling notion of failing, then yes. We would love to help you out. Whatever that means. Whatever your community wants. Just that notion.
In this new era of The Dial, how do you see yourself in this next step?
I would like to be able to stabilize us so we can help. The problem now without a space is that we can’t help. I got a message from a friend whose space got shut down recently where he was like “Hey man, trying to build things back up and need some words of inspiration” and I was like I’m trying to help myself right now! I need to get myself back up. It really just teaches us you can’t help other people if you don’t help yourself. We were just not focusing on internal problems. We try to help as many people as we can, and I believe that the next space is going to give us is a chance to be able to stabilize those ideas, and truly execute them in a real-fashioned way. Towards the end of last month we were just going beyond our means, and I think that’s just because there’s so many people that want to help and throw these events. They get nothing out of it. Everyone gives their time. No one makes a single buck out of it. I think it’s amazing how broke we all are. Even getting toiletries is an “everyone’s gotta chip in” situation. It really does work similarly to some context or denomination of religious places. If you think about it, music is a religion. Our bible would be lyrics and verses of many musicians and bands we look up to. That made me definitely understand how important it was for many other people besides myself.
Who makes up the The Dial Collective at this point?
I think we operate differently from a lot of collectives. The conversation I usually have with other collectives is that they’re very visceral about keeping a transparent policy on being equal. That’s always been something I’m about, but the biggest downfall in allowing everybody to have an opinion is that somebody could only be in the space for a week or so and could block out everyone else’s opinion. I always felt like not holding people accountable stunts ideas and it stunts the progress and longevity of these spaces because sometimes people don’t want to be a leader and I totally understand that. I never wanted to lead anything, but I knew that through accountability I was only going to get progress in some certain way. So the collective is really made up of three levels. There is the board members that have to keep all the minutes and everything in terms of our paperwork for the non-profit. Any decisions we make all work internally from core members that have taken this seriously, that have taken the time to take it seriously. But everybody has a certain avenue that they would like to pursue. So really behind what we are is a production company where a lot of us produce as artists but a lot of people also learn, because in an environment where you’re around a lot of people with different talents it also becomes an educational environment. So I try to be able to supplement these denominations of core members or board members or volunteer members to be able to have the opportunity to do whatever. If you want to take it seriously, you can be in conversation with us about serious stuff. If you want to take it lightly and volunteer, you can have that kind of conversation too. We leave conversations open depending on what the individuals want out of it.
That’s super wise. To lock people into one level of participation is a lot to expect. It becomes a barrier, honestly, in recruiting new people. If they see this three to four hour long weekly meeting as the base for how they can be involved, it doesn’t appeal to them.
I definitely agree. As much as I am transparent about everything I do– I really try to abide by everything everyone else wants– the only difference is I do take the burden of having the responsibility of the legalities of everything. So if things shall fall, I have taken that risk of being the one to take care of that. That allows me to be able to focus on the longevity rather than the smaller problems, or conversations that overextend and never really go anywhere. I’ve been in meetings that are three hours long. One time, we were trying to set a policy where police shouldn’t be allowed in the space because weapons shouldn’t be allowed in the space. But police are there to protect, so what situations do we allow them in? It was just this long meeting. It really went nowhere. It becomes a really big barrier for people who don’t have the mentality for these conversations. It definitely draws the line for people who could be curious.
With spaces like The CHE being threatened as well right now, I am interested in these moments where you decided to rally. There’s major elements of self-care and rebuilding within this moment. When you were shut down, why did your brain immediately go to “Ok, we’re reevaluating what’s next” versus “fuck it, let it burn?” Why do you feel like your brain went there first?
I think my brain went faster than my heart. I believe there are three parts of you: the spiritual, mental and emotional side. There have been many times I reevaluate myself because before I did any of this stuff, especially in high school, I was really anti-everything. I was only about my band, and about myself, and about my success. It was a very selfish mentality. Realizing that to have a career in doing all of this, you have to be able to open your arms for other people. I can’t tour if I don’t have friends. And I get to meet those friends here and on tour. I really feel like I was put in this position because when shit gets real, very real…I react. I just react and I think that just probably goes along the lines of how I was raised. I react really well under pressure. So when all of this happened, I instantly started creatively trying to problem-solve in that moment. But I did have a total meltdown for a moment last week when it all hit me. We moved out, we had the film fest right away. We were intransition of moving to a new space, moving three other shows to a new space, and making sure this cop wasn’t going to come out to get us. We were all fearful from that incident. I felt like I just reacted. I just moved. I just worried about everybody else and breaking the news to them more than how I felt about it. I think my emotions caught up with me a little too late, so now I’m just recovering and really trying to get this conversation out because I don’t think this conversation is real for most people.
I think it’s a sad thing when you have adults or people from outside looking in and saying “Oh, it’s just a warehouse for kids and open mics.” It’s just an open mic. What’s he big deal? To me, it’s such a big deal. Take this kid who took the risk of going to this very strange place with many strange strangers; I’m sure it’s already hard enough to get out of the room as a creative, and to share this very emotional, personal thing for this room of random strangers. And every single time those people perform you get a room full of people clapping like you were the next big thing. And that encouragement is the most powerful thing in self-identity these days, when we’re reflected in our digital devices that give us this false reality of what the world is for. And I think that through this depression, through this crisis, that sense of identity is more important now than ever. And I don’t think we should dissolve all digital outlets, but I think there needs to be a balance. The fact that the scariest thing that someone could think of is confronting someone in a conversation is bonkers to me. For most kids to prefer texting over a face-to-face confrontation is crazy. I really want to shift that mentality around. I think the space sort of showed it. I met countless people who told me that they had social issues. Socializing was the greatest fear for them. And I never knew how they had such a hard time communicating to other people. You can be diagnosed with all these problems they create now and pump you full of chemicals, or maybe you’re just not in the right environment. Maybe the environment you’re in makes you feel crazy. Maybe you need to be around people that don’t make you feel crazy.
Everything we talked about in the first half of the conversation– sustainability– there’s a real epidemic of not learning from our past at all. There’s not the resources to continue, so when it burns out, it burns out. It just ends. And then there’s a new space again. There’s no real learning that happens. I think it’s inspiring that you’re carrying this philosophy into a new space. How many people are in the collective? Who are you supported by right now?
There is a collective, a main core of 15-16 people that either have been there for the last four years, or have been there in the last year. But those are the people who have shown exemplary dedication to whatever it is we’re doing. They chose to take the higher ground in spending more time at the space and helping people. Those are the people I want to be in a conversation with, because those are who I’m worried we’re making the right decisions for.
I can only see it from certain perspectives, so I do need this group of people right now. They all run different departments. Some of them run the shirt printing department, some run graphic design, publishing. We have a publisher who does zine workshops. We have another guy who books our gallery events. Those are really the collective core. And then there’s a group of 40-50 volunteers who come in and out when they can. I think there’s a group of about 200 people who help us out for general stuff. I always say just talking about us or sharing a Facebook event and inviting people is huge. Those little things come a long way. As long as we can make people feel like they can have a real impact in some way– even if it’s just inviting someone to a show– it’s huge. I love meeting people there, I love meeting families and other people. To me, it’s a huge compliment to take that extended invitation to other people and hoping that they also enjoy themselves. That’s important to us. There’s a lot.
How do you feel like you’re translating this new phase to them– the reevaluation– without a physical space?
Recently I just finished five seasons of Friday Night Lights, so this is a perfect time than any other to take on the spirit of Coach Taylor. Do you watch the show?
No, but I can imagine what you’re talking about.
Oh my god. It’s amazing. I only like sports if they’re theatrically portrayed, like Miracle or Mighty Ducks. But Friday Night Lights is basically about this football team in high school trying to make it. There was this transition phase where the coach who reached the pinnacle in his career got fired and had to move to another school. This story might seem insignificant, but I draw upon inspiration from any means I possibly can. *Laughs* When it comes to songs or anything I have to extract any kind of inspiration. The coach will always play the strong figurehead and perserveres even through moving to a different school and to a different team. For me, I try to translate it in that mentorship way where I really try not to treat the environment like a business or some kind of workplace, because then you’re not enjoying yourself. You’re not having fun with the people you’re with. There’s really no point in being there. And this is just the way I can teach myself, but when I tell everybody some kind of speech, I learn from them. My education is from what they do after. So, I always try to make sure that any time we feel comfortable or too complacent, we think of it as a scary environment because then we’re going to get stuck with one mindset and that’s going to stunt us from change. I get preachy sometimes, but I support that we as human beings are intended and are made for vehicles of change. If we are not participating in this constant flux of change, we’re not really participating and engaging in life. As artists, we have that power to engage others in life. And in these transitions, hardships and changes we can learn a million more things about it than we could in being complacent.
Can you tell me about tomorrow? Your meeting?
So this isn’t the first time we got shut down. We got shut down the first year and the second year. This was just the final nail in the coffin. Every time we got shut down, the community rallied and we were always able to come back. Tomorrow is basically going to be our reevaluation meeting. Now that we’re moving into another space, what do you– everybody there– what do you guys want? What do you want it to be? What expectations do you hold? What are the big goals you have in mind? If we’re not looking towards the future, and are only looking for tomorrow and the next month and the next weekend, we’re only looking at the smaller picture.
Do you already have a space figured out?
Yes and no. We’re trying to attack it differently this time. The way I”m looking at it is this: We have a second chance to do it right. Now we know how to do it right. We know the poeple, and we’re in conversations with the right policymakers in the city. The biggest problem I said last year was that when we do become a non-profit, we were going to be making a lot of relationships that would take us from this underground space to above ground. And that can be very scary, and that can be very risky. And that’s exactly what happened. Through the process we went above ground, and now we have to deal with the consequences. Usually through these evaluation moments, I try to give the biggest speech I can to remotivate everyone. I think this is what I’m going to say tomorrow: There is a difference between linear success and inspirational success. Linear success is this path that has already been chosen and bestowed upon us by our predecessors, that A + B = C. In reality, we don’t live in that time. Any great mover and shaker of the world didn’t follow the status quo. I believe that we have to look at success as inspirational success.
There are so many moments where things could go wrong, but I try to make people realize that everyone has an instinct. To react on it or to feel it is the difference. And people have learned that: anyone can run a show, but how you react to certain things is the biggest difference between how you keep a show alive and totally taking the place down. To me, inspirational success is realizing it’s not about A to B, it’s about the journey from A to B. Realizing that every moment like this, and everything else that’s going to happen is success on its own. If we don’t draw inspiration from these moments to take us to the next level of where we want to be, we’re going to focus on all the wrong things. We’ll focus on money and everything else that’s going against us. Those are things we don’t need to be thinking about. There are so many better things that we should be thinking about rather than this, and that’s the big picture.
When you went above ground, were you running illegally?
Oh, totally, totally illegally. I don’t think any spaces can run legally. Do you know the legal barriers they put up for just playing music? You have to go from a $3,000 to $4,000 license to just run these events. The city thinks you’re making money off these events. And if they think you’re making money, they want a piece of that money. And then alcohol gets involved. And music and alcohol just attract the wrong crowd of people. So I knew from the beginning that there is nothing to be made from doing it, we had to take our values and understand what it was. There becomes this point where people get comfortable, they start keeping to whatever is in that standard. That standard starts to create this elitist mentality that what is now should be now and forever. I really hate that. That to me is the biggest sign that it’s going to be a “cool” space– it only became cool that when people started thinking community engagement is cool. Those mentalities that keep spaces underground keep spaces stunted. The underground is only a phase of where you are. Most spaces are very self-preserved. They think the policies should be inside their world. But I think these policies we hold and we carry should be shared and allowed to grow. Through that growth, you’re going to go above your means. You’re going to go above ground at some point. For us to force ourselves to stay underground because we wanted to be cool or relevant or hold these internal policies that others might have opinionated to be cool is something I don’t want to ever be a conversation.
I really try to have a logical conversation with these ideas of what makes spaces cool. As long as we keep the idea of making it a safe space, and keep it so people can be inspired forever– that’s the goal. Cool is only a momentary thing. We’re uncool now because we don’t have a space. We’ll be cool again once we do. So that opinion doesn’t matter. Going above ground means that you’re going to take the risk of having society tell you what you’re doing wrong, and how they want you to fit the standard within their community. But the problem is that within these countercultures you need to be supported properly. We lose some of the most innovative kids, you know? I can’t stop talking about the kids there because they’re just amazing people. One kid gave me a 17 page paper for his college term paper about The Dial’s internal society and what we’re doing for our outer society and what it means culturally. It was this very beautiful evaluation. Someone saw all of these intentions without me having to even speak to them. That was a huge thing for me, because I always assume that no one gets it or no one cares. That’s my expectation bar. To hear kids and other people get it to the distance that they see the picture that I see– that’s extraordinary. That’s amazing. How could you not support those people?
Do you have specific ideas for how things are going to be different in this next space?
Yes and no, because it really comes down to whatever we all decide. In terms of how we believe the space should be? Pretty much the same. Bigger and better. We want to be in a position where we can help all throughout the day, and take in a lot of things that we really want to do because we believe it matters. I don’t think we can successfully do that in the space that we were at. In terms of our policies– yes, it’s going to change and I can assure people only for the better. It’s very hard to have people trust you when you only have good intentions. Have you noticed that? If you do something nice for someone, they’re more sketched out than if you stole something from them. It’s hard for me now because so many people are helping out and I’m like “What am I going to owe you?” and they say that I’ve helped the community, what else do I need to pay them back for? And then I remember that it’s just hard for me to accept help. Anyway, the ideas that we had will be regulated better. They will reach a wider audience. We’ll actually be able to make and define change rather than hide away from real change. I feel like when you’re underground, you hide away from your immediate community. The difference is I want to help and create spaces that communicate with their community. There’s an actual dialogue being had and actual conversation that’s happening, rather than ignoring these spaces and shunning these people out because they’re misunderstood. These spaces that happen in backyards, or houses, they’re all misunderstood. They have to be looked upon in the proper way: most of these are very at-risk people. For them to have to push just to have a backyard to share music? How can you possibly deem that illegal or disastrous in any kind of way?