HOMEWORK: In Every Town – An All-Ages Music Manualfesto

In Every Town: An All-Ages Music Manualfesto

There’s no real blueprint for arts on a grassroots level. That’s what makes it such a big, dynamic snowflake. Buuuuuuuut if there was, it’d probably be In Every Town: An All-Ages Music Manualfesto.

This is a pocket-sized guide– if your pocket was an oblong rectangle (and if your pants go well with green)– to every step of the process in starting your very own all-ages music venue. The book exhausts the venue process from every angle. And it’s still somehow easy to read. Organizational structures, promotion, production, getting space, fundraising, community-building, conflict resolution– it’s all in there, and prioritizes an all-ages philosophy as a front-facing concern.

in_every_town_lgThat’s one thing to note about the book; the content targets an exclusive focus on all-ages, legal, music venues. Many of the 60 venues interviewed have other arts offshoots within their walls like screenprinting or poetry workshops. Music was chosen to make the book a snapshot, not an encyclopedia– though it definitely is close. “Identifying with a genre, artist, or particular fan group is often the beginning of a young person forming his or her identity,” author/compiler Shannon K Stewart writes in a section titled ‘Why Just Music?’

This was written by a veritable Justice League of all-ages music people. Shannon founded the iconic Vera Project in Seattle (which she told me just celebrated its 14th birthday! Happy birthday, iconic and inspirational place and people, you!) along with nine other co-authors from organizations like Hip Hop Congress, The Holland Project, Department of Safety, Elementz- The Hip Hop Youth Arts Center, IdleMindz Media & Entertainment Group, Positive Force DC, Neutral Zone, and Youth Movement Records. Allow me to go on about how much this book rules in three more pointed categories.

It lights the spark, and sets some of the fire. It’s a toughie to cover all corners of a subject in manual-style compilations like this. In Every Town nails this by doing a light-graze in some areas, and deep-dives in others. This makes for a choose-your-own-adventure style of learning. You’ll find a bulleted list on community relationship building that ticks off notes like ‘Identify the people you want/need to support your organization’ and ‘Approach them before there is a problem (if possible).’ Flip forward a few pages, and you’ll find a full-on case study of Batey Urbano, a volunteer-run non-profit in Chicago focusing on performance and stewardship of local Puerto Rican youth. It’s these changes of pace between quick drill-downs and in-depth narrative that make this such an informative read. It’s a quick reference guide. It’s a companion manifesto. It’s a sit-down, good read.

It demystifies big talkin’, small spaces. I remember so many of the best spaces in my youth as the tops of flowers, not the roots. Not the work it took to get there. How are you supposed to do it yourself if you don’t know how to? The importance of drawing the curtain back to reveal the grittier (or boring) aspects of venue-building is necessary to the ethos of DIY. Shannon and her team hope “to demystify some of the less sexy, glamorous, or talked-about aspects of engaging in music promotion and production: the laws, permits, regulations, and social issues that get in the way of people being able to come together and share music freely.” This extends to sections where they break down word-by-word, dictionary-style ‘Booking Vernacular’ or legal lingo. The below passage is especially striking in thinking about legal confrontation for small, radical spaces. When we are unarmed with words to defend ourselves, to play the game, we are left defenseless.

At the DIY and community level, some of this lingo can be really off-putting to some people, because it seems to be more business-oriented than relationship-oriented. Other people will value this sort of professionalism because it demonstrates a level of commitment to the success of their show. Whatever way you choose to communicate at these different steps, just make sure you and the artists are clear about expectations on both sides.

“Closing the gap” 125 all-ages music spaces were approached in their interview process. 60 completed surveys and interviews. Nine participated in deep case studies. The act of shepherding like-minded organizations under one big, loud umbrella is important work in lesson sharing. One downside is the inevitable defunct-ness of some of the spaces explored here. It happens. Websites are down, links are broken. Even the book’s home for resources itself is no longer available. What seriously resonates is a closing statement titled ‘The Graveyard.’ In documenting defunct spaces, it is crucial to “do an autopsy and tell the rest of the world what choices were made in those lives that brought them to an end. While the physical spaces have long since been replaced by commercial clubs, retail shops, condominiums, or parking lots, memorialized spaces live on in coffee-table books, Myspace profiles, and blogs.”

You can buy the In Every Town: An All Ages Manualfesto here. What are some other resources you use to inspire your work? Share in the comments below, puppies!

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