You can’t DIY when you don’t feel welcome
by Elise Granata
At this very moment, in a big room in Santa Cruz, California, there are four walls covered floor-to-ceiling in art. Plot twist: it’s a museum. Okay not very plot twist. Here’s a plot twistier thing: That’s 158 pieces of art, from 158 people, who responded to an open call to contribute any kind of art. What? In a museum? No, I’m serious! Lap up that tea you just spit out! Pick up that monocle! Pull it together, my liege!!
Northern Californians submit their art for a new exhibition called Everybody’s Ocean at my poorly-kept-secret-headquarters of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH). The guidelines? You could count them on one hand. Even if that hand had three fingers.
- You have to live in central/northern California.
- The piece must be ready to hang.
- Somehow, in whatever way you could justify– it needs to be about the ocean.
The result was three full days of locals trucking in giant paper squids, fluorescent neon whales, photorealistic bathtub paintings, and 155 other pieces. It is a total tribute to the big blue thing in the ground that surrounds us all.
There is power in an open invitation like this. There is power in a piece hanging in a gallery that was never intended to leave someone’s living room.
I want to say something like “Pfft. This here’s a problem grassroots arts spaces never touch. Oh how we are so open! Oh how we are so accessible! And even sometimes safe!” This is stuff of the multiverse. We bask in the romance of DIY ideals, calling it safe when it’s racist, fun when it’s violent, and open when it’s inaccessible. But we have spaces. We have platforms. And that is room for empowering voice.
How can this happen? I bring you two ways.
Restructuring as opening up decision-making
Let’s open up how we make decisions. Spaces like Flywheel Arts Collective are. Every single person participating in Flywheel is considered a volunteer, and thus a member of their “Hub” (voting board) or “Spoke” (non-voting board). Volunteers can then fast-track their way to booking a show in the space by either paying a $40 fee or completing a job from the job board. Here’s a sample of their language from their ‘Easy Assimilation Guide’:
HUB BOOKERS VS SPOKE BOOKERS
The collective shall have 2 types of bookers: Hub Bookers or Spoke Bookers
A Hub Booker is defined as those who have fulfilled all requirements for becoming a booker at Flywheel (see below), plus make it known to the Hub that they would like to be involved in the decision making process. They must also fulfill all requirements for becoming a Hub member. (see Collective Membership Policy for requirements).
A Spoke Booker is defined as those bookers who have fulfilled all requirements for becoming a booker at Flywheel (see below), but are not interested in being a Hub member
- BOOKING REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL HUB AND SPOKE BOOKERS
All potential bookers must
Attend an initial new member orientation meeting
Complete step by step mentorship process (see below)
Sign up for a job from the job board and earn Booker Bux, or alternately, pay a $40 fee for each event booked at the space.
Attend at least one (1) General Body Meeting before first show.
This might read like bureaucracy, but actually paves the way for content to be far more open than if it existed in the insular, ad-hoc, “I know a guy” fashion most spaces function in. By laying this process out in clear terms, Flywheel makes it easier to debate, adapt, and stick to. The small bars to entry as a booker– that $40 or odd job– exist to “raise the bar a bit to deal with people who either weren’t serious about being a part of the collective or were ‘waltzing’ into the organization and hijacking things to some degree,” says long (long, long) time volunteer Jeremy Smith. Seattle’s The Vera Project also moves volunteers through a similar fast track: you put the time in, you can join their silkscreen committee, audio/tech committee, or Veracity committee— that’s their free show that folks can book.
Jeremy continues to say Flywheel is structured “to be as open as possible to truly make people feel welcome and have a sense of ownership. It is also in our mission that art should be “open and accessible” to all people. I think the inclusive membership structure contributes to that mission.”
Active invitations to participate
Even if your space aims to be “for everybody,” it can’t do that on its own. What if we created more active invites to join us in creating? What if we all became our aunts and called, e-mailed and sent letters pestering everyone to come over?
An opportunity like that was in ‘NEW BAND NEW YEAR’ earlier this month. This was a submission-style showcase for new bands to play their first show in San Jose, CA. The language for the invite, shared via social media, was warm and inclusive; it stressed that this was a benefit for Think and Die Thinking, an annual festival highlighting queer, trans, people of color, women and youth in music. Inspired by First Time’s The Charm in Philly, organizer Jenna Marx aimed for this to be a point of entry for newcomers: “As a person who plays music but had A LOT of feelings of hesitation, anxiety, and cold feet, I definitely depended on the encouragement of my friends to start playing music….I wanted to put on new band new year because I wanted to make it a little easier for folks to try it out – either for the first time, or with a new group of people, or on a new instrument, or whatever.” The result was 12 bands playing their first show with each other. Some– including JR Adelberg and Great Hart– even have shows coming up together soon.
“I recall one artist saying ‘I’ve just learned that I’m an artist,’” remembered MAH’s Curator of Collections Marla Novo about Everybody’s Ocean. “She said ‘I’ve been making art for awhile now but didn’t do anything with it. I didn’t even know I’ve been waiting for a show like this.’”
How can we create more opportunity for folks to do it themselves in a community that supposedly prioritizes this?