For a very long time (at least since 2008 I believe) I’ve thought it would be really great to run a performance venue. Anyone who’s been around me at all since then has probably heard me talk about it at least once a year. Well, it’s that time again!
The Short Story
Basically I am interested in opening a space geared towards promoting various kinds of original art and performance. The space itself would be a cafe, bar, or something along those lines, and would double as a gallery for (mostly local but not limited to that) artists (paintings, sculptures, jewelry, etc.). Performance would include (pretty much any genre with a slant towards more experimental things of course) music, poetry, possibly dance and theater if space allows. The primary criteria for booking would be that the work MUST be original (no covers, no replicas, etc.). A special effort would be make to make sure the space will allow under 21 patrons as well. Also, the process of setting this up, how it’s run, basically everything that is not “sensitive” information would be open source and freely available to help others who might be attempting a similar venture (hence this post).
The Long Story
I recently performed at an awesome space in Guangzhou, China called Loft345 which is owned and operated by a fellow American. The space had an awesome vibe (open atmosphere, couches and such for lounging, pool table and other general bar things) and of course a stage and pretty good sound system. The guests were very chill. The overall feel was just really nice.
The first night I got there, a local DJ was playing a live drum and bass set and the next night I performed some noise, drones, and algorave sets with Glitch Lich. Some of the same people came both nights and everyone really enjoyed both. I was starting to think that Guangzhou must be a happenin’ place for people into experimentalism. Well according to Loft345’s owner: it isn’t. There was a scene around five or so years ago but this it basically disappeared. In fact, Loft345 is the only space he knew of in the area that was anything like it. And what’s more, he owns a similar venue out in Rock Island, IL called Rozz Tox, a location not particularly known for experimental art either. Now, not everything they book is experimental, but the fact that both of these places exist and have audiences who are supportive of it all, even in locations that don’t already have an existing scene, was quite inspiring.
Talking with the owner, I got a sense of what to expect if I were to attempt to open such a venue myself. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been thinking about this for quite a long time already and this experience has renewed my drive to actually make it happen. I also mentioned the idea of open sourcing the process of opening and running the place, to which Loft345’s owner replied “I wish someone had done that before I opened this place!”
Now for some of the main ideas.
Originally I thought that to have a place like this, you had to be in an area that already had similar venues (Oakland, San Francisco, New York, etc.) but as I saw with Loft345 and Rozz Tox that’s not actually the case. This is actually good news because, although places like the bay area have an existing audience, a well known fact is that it’s difficult to get people out to your shows there because they are all at other shows. It’s also quite expensive of course. The flip side is that I obviously want a place where there is actually potential for patrons and performers. This lead me to thinking about places that have a vibrant artistic community but currently lack this specific kind of outlet for less mainstream things.
So, my current first choice is in or near Boulder, CO.
Having lived there for three years while completing my doctorate, I have a pretty good feel for the area. There is a great deal of creativity and a very supportive community centered around (but not limited to of course) the University of Colorado. In fact, many of the things I would love to present at this space happen at CU already.
“So why would we need somewhere else?” you may be asking. Well, although CU itself is a great outlet, there are currently no other options in the area. As I said, I lived there for three years and was always looking for small places not affiliated with the university to perform at and there was nothing. Denver in theory has one or two venues that book “weird” things but a) I was never able to get booked there and b) Denver is too far from Boulder to just go without really wanting to see a specific group. I also know from many conversations with my fellow experimentally minded musician friends that I was not the only one wishing there was such a place in the area.
My second choice is around Monterey Bay, CA. This is for a lot of the same reasons as Boulder (the bay area is too far to go on a whim, there is a university, etc.). The main difference is that I personally do not know that area as well and don’t have the same connections as I do in Boulder.
I’m open to further suggestions and contacts of course!
The Space Itself
One of the most attractive aspects of all the venues like this that I’ve seen over the years is that the owners typically live on site. The Totally Intense Fractal Mindgaze Hut in Oakland for example is a warehouse with the main floor being a performance space and the “attic” being living quarters. At Loft345 the owner lived across the hall from the bar and owned a few additional units used for housing artists in residence. I’ve always though that was a really cool idea (yes it would probably get old quickly, but still). This isn’t an absolute requirement BUT it would also help cut down on my costs since I would not need to have a separate apartment as well.
This has led me to be mostly looking for “mixed use” spaces like warehouses, farms, etc. The more modular, the better. Really as long as can support utilities it would be great. The main area should be large enough for a modest crowd (100ish people?) and of course have enough space for various size performance situations (from solo computer up to 15 piece chamber ensemble or so). It would be great to have local painters, sculptors, and the like exhibit their works too (for sale of course). The general feel would be casual with a slight leaning towards strange/grunge/post-industrial or something like that.
I’m torn between trying to pick something in a convenient location and having enough space to make everything work. Working with the Boulder idea, something around Pearl or the Hill are great for foot traffic but a) have insane rent and b) would likely have issues with loud music. Something out in Gunbarrel or a similarly sparse area would have lower rent and fewer noise issues but would be more difficult to get to (and certainly have fewer random passers-by drop in). Very much looking for input on this front!
As this is primarily a performance space, the goal would be to have live acts every night we are open (Tuesday through Sunday?). This could range from solos, small groups/bands, larger groups/bands, acoustic, electric, whatever. As stated earlier the most important thing is that the work be original (cover bands have plenty of places to play already). The next part of the selection criteria be that whatever it is, it is well rehearsed/presented. Want to do improv? Great, make sure you do it well though! What is “well” you ask? That’s up to me since it is my space after all (although I’m pretty accepting).
I am not trying to book only one style or genre either. Yes, I have a bias towards noise, experimental, drone, and -insert random classifier here-, but I will happily book singer/songwriters, jazz, EDM producers, you name it, as long as it is original. The goal is however to create an outlet for artists who have few other local options. Basically if you could easily get booked elsewhere, you will still be in the line, just further back than those who couldn’t.
This is not limited to music either. Dance, poetry, theater, any kind of performance is possible as long as it can work in the space while still allowing patrons to do their thing.
I also very much want the space to be all ages and generally family friendly. If there is a performance that is not, that would be heavily advertised in advance.
This is all well and good, but how will it be paid for? Good question! Honestly this is the part that still needs the most work but here are my current thoughts:
Like any place like this, the main money maker is drinks. I don’t know all the details but I believe a place can have a beer and wine license and still allow people under 21 (as long as they card and don’t serve alcohol to minors of course). So probably no hard liquor. Many breweries in CO work that way and have Izze Soda (a Boulder company) and other such drinks available as well.
Limited food would probably be available as well, though this will NOT be a restaurant. Once again, I am not totally clear on the legal requirements but I believe you must have some form of food available if you are serving drinks. I would however love to do what Wild Woods Brewery and some others do and have a food truck nearby. I also would allow any/all outside food, much like Gravity Brewery.
One more key goal of this endeavor is that I want to guarantee that performers always get paid (although I can never guarantee how much). Acts would get a percentage of bar sales for sure. If they would like to have a door charge, 100% of that goes to them (they of course need to think about how that would affect their turn out). If they want to have a tip jar, that also goes straight to them.
This will need to be worked out more but that’s the current state. My main goal is to be able to keep the place open and not need a second job.
Licenses and Legal Things
Currently I’m very unclear on exactly everything that would need to happen legally for this. I know I would at least need a beer and wine license, probably a food license, and would need to make this a company. I’m not sure if an LLC is best or if this sort of thing would qualify for a non-profit if it were run correctly.
These are all things that would be awesome but are not critically important to the over all concept. Being a home brewer, I would love to be able to brew and sell small batches of beer on site (draft only). I do not know if this is covered under the beer and wine license I would need or if it would require an additional license.
In the same vein, if this ends up with on a farm it would be great to grow hops since I would at least use them and there is a perpetually impending hop shortage. It was suggested that in that case it may also be a nice idea to have a community garden at the space. This would help the community building side of things but I don’t know the legality of it at all.
It would be great to partner with as many local entities as possible to really make this a part of the greater community. A big part of why I want to do this is to give back and support the next generation of people who may wind up doing the same thing eventually.
That’s it for now. Any/all feedback would be greatly appreciated!