Sound & Vision: Saving DIY Venues Amid Covid-19 Closures

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

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The Vera Project is on a mission to save DIY art scenes in Seattle amid the coronavirus. The nonprofit, all-ages venue recently hosted a benefit show called Live from Our Living Rooms to support Washington's DIY Community Relief Fund. It was a telethon of sorts, streamed live, and raising money for a coalition of DIY venues that have been struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We figured we should lean into our DIY ethics the only way we know how, we just do it all ourselves and raise that money with our community,” says Ricky Graboski of the Vera Project. “So, we built up a little coalition of about twenty-five spaces, set a pretty modest fundraising goal of $25,000, to begin with, and held this big sort of DIY telethon stream.”

The event raised $37,000 and more live streams are planned,

Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with Graboski and James Clackey, also of the Vera Project, about how nonprofit and community-focused venues are vulnerable to long term closures but also important for the future of music scenes in Seattle.

On the impact of COVID 19 related closures on DIY spaces:

DIY spaces, while they're scrappy and resilient and directly serve the community and can adapt really quickly to nightmare situations like this, they're also the most vulnerable because they are built on community. So, it's the people that are affected immediately. Some of the time there's kind of a shield in between when it hits people or when it hits the artist, whereas with DIY spaces, they're run by the artists and they're run by the people in our community directly with no barrier of money to fall back on.

On the challenges facing DIY venues before COVID-19:

We had one on one conversations with pretty much all of these spaces that we invited to be a part of this DIY coalition. Rent was the biggest thing, Seattle is an expensive city.  You know, some of them are like we weren't making it before and now we're really not making it. And that's just the reality of a longer conversation about affordability. But we sensed the urgency very, very quickly from every conversation that we had. And so that kind of sprung in the idea that like, okay, the Vera needs to be able to support these efforts as a fellow DIY space and nonprofit who can advocate for bigger change.

On the importance of community-centered venues:

You know, 20 years ago, queer and trans folks, even the punk scene was not at the forefront. And then you start seeing that evolution, seeing these bands come out and you see these changes and now you're starting to see these changes at a more mainstream level. But I think that incubation is from community spaces where the goal is not necessarily to make a lot of money, but more to just find space and community and places where people can belong to. You know, [DIY venues] work on such a scarcity model, what are we worried about other than making sure that people are happy, feel comfortable, safe and are able to meet their goals and needs as well collectively?

On the outlook for DIY venues in the future:

Because they are community spaces and the main focus is, first and foremost, community, that means that if we can all help sustain these projects, then they're going to be the first to open because they are smaller. There's more harm reduction in having smaller gatherings. And obviously, with a lot of community spaces, too, there's a lot of attention paid to how everybody in this space is going to feel because they're D.I.Y. spaces–the first places where you have the conversations about safe space policies, safer space policies even. And these are the first conversations where, a lot of things that we find happening more in a mainstream culture now, in our music industries and our art industries, that were dialogs that happened 10 years ago in the punk and hip hop scenes. Things that do need a little bit of time to incubate before the general public really gets on board and gets going with it. And that is a really important thing.

You can listen to the full interview on the KEXP archive.

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