DIY, aka do-it-yourself, spaces are often born out of a perceived lack. An absence of gathering places, exhibition opportunities, whatever—all of these are calls to action. DIY spaces offer the exciting possibility of discovery and experimentation through diverse and unusual programming, and the chance to become involved with a group of people who share similar interests and a common goal. The opportunity to join or start a space is there, it just requires you to grab it.
My first DIY experience was at a vegan restaurant and venue called Sluggos in my hometown of Pensacola, Florida. The lineup was Kimya Dawson and Paul Baribeau (this was shortly after the movie Juno came out) and I remember being dropped off and picked up by my mom. Everyone sat down to hear Kimya sing, and after the show I was able to meet Paul and get a screen printed poster signed (it still hangs in my teenage bedroom, though the tape is very weak). It felt like the coolest thing in the world, and six or so years later when I helped book Kimya and Paul at my college I couldn’t help but think that the show would never compare to the one I saw when I was 14 and had absolutely no idea what DIY was. After I graduated from college, I lived at the Brooklyn DIY space the Silent Barn for nine months. I came away from my residency with a wide range of thoughts and responses, many of which I am still processing, but also with the distinct awareness that at its strongest, a DIY space can be a community unlike any other.
DIY spaces across the United States are constantly closing due to rent, legality, the fluctuation of volunteers, and just the large amount of time they require. If you are interested in starting a DIY space, consider creating a guiding manifesto of your intentions and values with your accomplices. Here are some ideas to help.
What purpose will the space serve?
Basically, why are you starting this space? What community will it serve? Will this space fill a perceived lack or will it build off of existing organizations? Would you like your town to have more queer craft parties? How about a place your high school band can play at that’s not an auditorium? All of these things are possible, they just require the effort. Los Angeles artist Faye Orlove began the community space Junior High after observing that her peers needed a physical place to display and share art. Orlove began a Kickstarter campaign and in June, Junior High officially opened! Since its launch, the space has hosted art exhibitions, concerts, pop-up shops, workshops, and a karaoke night.
Where will this space exist?
As the name suggests, a DIY space can occur anywhere. Figuring out the logistics of renting a permanent physical space is beyond many people’s schedules/finances, so it’s often best to imagine your community occupying a pre-existing place. One of my favorite examples of an out-of-the-box DIY space/booking organization is the Mountain Shows series that takes place on the trail up the Hudson Valley’s Mount Taurus. The performers and audience travel together from New York City and then spend the day hiking the mountain, stopping intermittently for performances.
Does your living room have an absurd amount of beanbags and a stage-like fireplace that would be perfect for poetry readings? Could your weirdly spacious bathroom be the perfect place to host your favorite punk band? And then of course, backyards are an option during the warmer months. Just make sure you talk to your parents and neighbors and know the noise ordinances of your town. If you are booking DIY shows at a public space, like a coffee shop, rec center, or bowling alley, be aware of your responsibilities as a temporary host.
Who will run the space?
A healthy DIY space is not a dictatorship, it requires collective leadership, a multitude of opinions and backgrounds that come together beneath an umbrella of shared values and intentions. In many ways, deciding how to run the space can be the most complicated part of creating it. Most collectives meet weekly or biweekly to discuss booking and logistics. DIY spaces require many, many helping hands to clean, take tickets, promote the shows, and everything else. How will these volunteers be organized? Can outsiders join your collective or host events in the space? That’s up for you to decide, but having a diverse team creates meaningful collaboration between disparate parties. Which leads me to the next point…
How will the space handle inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility? Will it be all-ages?
No matter how large or small your space is, the question above should be at the forefront of your space’s brain. DIY and diversity are not synonymous, although they should be. A DIY space always carries an air of utopianism (like I said at the beginning, what gap is it trying to fill? What problems is it trying to solve? How can you create the perfect solution to these issues?). It is easy to be sucked into micro-communities within established DIY spaces, which can lead to harmful Mean Girls-esque social structures. When running a space, try to mentally step outside its confines and examine your place within the group. Are minority voices being heard? Are you taking up too much space? Is the space serving its purpose? If not, maybe it is time to take a break and re-evaluate.
While your intentions for your DIY space may be to create a show space for your immediate community, it’s also good to think about the opportunities you can offer others. Underground DIY spaces can serve as secure platforms for the creative projects of those who do not feel comfortable sharing their work with the general public. Consider creating a safer spaces policy, a declaration of the space’s values regarding oppressive language or behavior, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and discrimination of any type. You can curate a diverse calendar, consider the difficulties your space poses to those with disabilities, and constantly challenge yourself and your expectations for the space. A DIY space is for a community, not individuals. Remain enchanted but stay alert and you can create a space that grows and evolves as you do. ♦