Beatnik City Council is a group formed by Ty Herman, Brie Ripley, and myself, three twenty-somethings determined to bring an all-ages venue to a midwestern city whose leaders would rather pursue interests of industry and commerce. (The mayor, a real estate tycoon, once said in response to a question about youth leaving the city, "If millennials want to move because Billings is boring, I'll sell their home for them.") While parking lots and strip malls have sprung up like dandelions in west Billings, downtown has been left to largely fend for itself.
After the closure of the treasured Mule Skinner, the last remaining independent and all-ages venue in Billings, we decided that the best way for us to encourage the city's artistic and cultural development would be to open a venue ourselves. Drawing from our experience in house shows, garage shows, all-ages spaces, and other DIY venues, BCC is organizing to foster a robust culture of the same to Billings, giving all people but especially youth a place to perform and practice.
You can follow us here on Waste Division as we work toward a legitimate venue, starting with "pop-up" events to raise funds and public awareness of our goal. BCC will do our best to provide details of the trials and tribulations we find in the process of opening this venue, aiming to inspire folks who might want to do something similar in their own cities and towns. See below for our first installment!
See deets on the first pop-up event here.
For other updates check out our social media BS:
Our Process Thus Far
We started simply by meeting once a week, talking and writing to refine our goals and boil them down into the following mission statement:
To provide a communal space in which all people, especially youth, can express themselves through art, whether that be in the form of a music concert, art exhibit, or other medium.
To provide a space that encourages individual growth and expression, as well as that of the larger community of which the individual is a part.
To provide a safe and sober space, especially for youth, in which members of the community can learn creative and practical skills ranging from sound engineering and meditation to reading and fermentation.
To provide the space and the tools necessary for people to express themselves through any art form they’d like. This includes the provision of practice spaces for bands, learning spaces for workshops, or simply a space to discuss ideas and plans.
To provide passionate youth an outlet and space to hone their craft, bringing fresh blood into the Billings art community. We see a lack of these spaces in the Billings area, and think that the health of the larger artistic community hinges on the willingness of individuals, particularly youth, to stay in Billings and feel invested in a project they care about.
To create an artistic community in which artists can challenge and improve themselves and their craft alongside their peers.
But we soon realized that we needed more than ideas. We needed to do stuff. But we didn't have the social, political, or financial resources to really get going. We used our meeting time to brainstorm who in our community might be interested in helping us by serving on an advisory board, particularly older adults with connections who could help us further organize and promote our vision. Many of them we already knew from our involvement in the creative scene, so we'd just email them, telling our story and presenting the mission statement.
One of the people we met with, Anna Paige, a local writer and teacher, was working on getting an Artspace established in Billings and agreed to meet with us to see about our common goals. Artspace is a national group that helps communities build affordable work-live spaces for artists. Prospects did not look great for Artspace; their project had been trying to get funding from the city for almost ten years.
Ty and I testified in favor of funding the project in front of city council as a gesture of solidarity with the Artspace folks--and also because I was tired of hearing old people grumble about young people "not being involved." I wanted to make an appearance as a member of the creative class and remind the council that we still exist. I also hoped it would be good to get into the public eye a bit.
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Artspace did not receive approval for the $500,000 they had requested. Shortly after the city council meeting, a newpaper article came out detailing the evening's discussion, giving the council some flack for being backwards in their priorities and for one council member's remarks about "beatniks" on social media after the meeting. I was not surprised by the reaction of the council: many of the members are old white men--people with the time for a four hour meeting on a Tuesday night and little patience for something as impractical as art.
But the article helped us get in touch with a professor in town, Dr. Aaron Rosen, who asked to meet with us and talk about our plans, as he had plans of his own for an industrial sculpture garden or warehouse space. We decided to collaborate on a "pop-up" event as a way to garner attention and support (and some $$$) for future events, with the larger goal of opening our own venue ASAP.
Our first event featured international and local talent in two different locations. Visual artist G. Roland Biermann designed an installation in the stairwell of a parking garage. Four local poets, including state Poet Laureate Michael Earl Craig, read their work on the near-roof of the garage. At the second part of the event, four local bands played at a nearby art venue. We served snacks and NA beverages, and estimate that nearly 200 people attended both events.
These events will hopefully serve as solid grist for grant-writing, demonstrating to a potential benefactor that youth in Billings are hungry for spaces where they can comfortably express their autonomy through art.
1. Ask for help from (cool) people with connections and clout in the community. Usually, they'll be happy to lend a hand, or at least recommend someone who can help you more directly.
2. Be proactive and creative about developing your goals and getting the word out. If you're new to organizational meetings, just dive in. Make a point of simply showing up at a coffee shop or kitchen to talk and make plans to actually do things. By emailing older folks for help, we found the opportunity to testify as artists at a city council meeting. From that came a newspaper article, connection with Dr. Rosen, first pop-up event, etc.
3. Just do it, even if you don't quite know what you're doing. You'll refine your goals and methods for achieving them as you work.
We only recently got what seems to be a must-have book for anyone looking to organize like this, In Every Town: an All-Ages Music Manualfesto. Shannon Stewart recounts her own experience founding Seattle youth space VERA, but also includes oodles of others' accounts in doing similar work around the country. This book is out of print, so a little rare and expensive--about $65 bucks. But we got a cheap one that popped up on Amazon for $20. Either way, the book is well worth the money, especially if you can pitch in with some friends.
If you would like to help out with organizing any future events or just want to be a part of the cause please email us. Stay tuned for more photos and announcements!
-Phillip Griffin, BCC
In terms of our initial goal of opening our own DIY venue, we have largely tabled the idea for the sake of getting going with what we really wanted to do all along: put on shows. We have realized that with our measly artists' budgets of time and money, we don't yet have the gall to do the dirty work of scoping out spaces to rent/buy, scraping together finances to fund said spaces, etc.
Instead, we have begun what we hope will be a long-term relationship with a local record store, Smiling Dog Records, which happens to have a nice albeit small show space in a room next door. Incidentally, the owner, Mike Ludlam, ran a teen venue in town about 20 years ago, and shares many of our views on all-ages shows. We have already held one event there, and got around 50 people to show up, which we considered a success--especially given that it was one of the first times the venue held a show.
We have another show there tomorrow, the 9th, which includes free pizza, my homemade kombucha, and the crucial NA bevy, La Croix sparkling water. After that, we will host another show mid-July, and to cap off the summer, Richard Dreyfest, which will include around 50 bands, comedians, poets, and visual artists performing in unique all-ages venues downtown. SEE YOU AT DREYFEST.
Phillip Griffin, BCC