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The Future Of Silent Barn: The DIY Venue's Next Home, Its "Energy," And Where Those T-Shirts Might Be

"Scary Mirrors": A suggestion for the new Silent Barn space.
"Scary Mirrors": A suggestion for the new Silent Barn space.
Karen Piemons

"Dog Farts," the official minutes of the committee working to find a new home for Silent Barn's February 20 meeting, outlined some of the concerns leading up to the first Silent Barn Public Meeting, a sort of combination student council meeting, shareholder information session, panel discussion on the nature of DiY, and concert. That session, which would focus on the future of the pleasantly bedraggled Ridgewood live-in show space that shut its doors for good last year, was scheduled for March 2—a little over a week away—and things weren't totally in place. Who would put the mics in the flower pots for the sound installation? Who could print the zines ("Jordan thinks maybe he can print them at work (what will they do, fire him?")? Who would convince the owners of Gottscheer Hall, the Queens bar with intimidatingly sized European beers and sedate German-expat regulars that had been booked for the event, that the Silent Barn crew wasn't some kind of "freaky devil cult"?

By Friday, though, Gottscheer Hall had been transformed: sculptures covered the heavily trodden burgundy carpet; a map of Brooklyn and Queens showing the over 100 spaces the Silent Barn crew has investigated as new homes was pinned to the wood-paneled walls; and a table laid out with dozens of handouts asking for help ("Can you help us with soldering irons?") also showed a few of the suggestions received through the online survey on the future on the space, the Barn Exam. (An entire poster was dedicated to one suggestion, "scary mirrors.")

This combination of well-meaning let's-put-on-a-show enthusiasm and open-source fretting is typical of the current state of affairs at Silent Barn—or "Silent Barn," as it was referred to, as if it was more concept than place. Indeed, as G. Lucas Crane—a wild-eyed and bushy-bearded lifelong Brooklynite who's emerged as something of an unofficial spokesman for the space—put it, since its move from 915 Wyckoff last year Silent Barn is as much "energy" as anything else.

That "energy" raised over $40,000 last year via Kickstarter, and Friday's event sprang, at least in part, from a certain nervousness on the part of the Silent Barn crew to show that they're actually doing something with the money. (In addition, Ava Luna, which had held all their previous release parties at Silent Barn, badgered the committee into organizing another for their proper debut, Ice Level). "I think the idea is to show people what we're working on, that we're not just, like, sitting around," said 23-year-old real estate search committee volunteer Kristen Berry, who explained that everyone currently affiliated with Silent Barn was "tirelessly working on different projects, trying to bring this thing into being." One of the pamphlets put it more bluntly: "WHERE THE FUCK IS MY SHIRT?"

The fundraising project had been titled "Rebuilding the Silent Barn,"; its goal was to "ensure the viability of The Silent Barn as a permanent all-ages venue for independent and experimental music, games, and art." Not everyone was happy to learn that that money wouldn't be going toward refurbishing the original venue; in a comment on a donor update in which Silent Barn announced its move, one donor, Michael McGregor, wrote:

"OK, thanks for the response. Not all that informative, or insightful. Would be great to know where you are moving, and how the funds will be used. After all, the project wasn't to relocate the silent barn. This is essentially something totally new and different."

 

The crowd at Gottscheer Hall on Friday.
The crowd at Gottscheer Hall on Friday.
Karen Piemons

Crane, whose name is signed to several of the 16 of the fundraising news updates and who was the longest-term resident of Silent Barn, understands their frustration. When the fundraiser succeeded, raising $40,595 from 753 different supporters, he says the people of Silent Barn were ecstatic. "We were like, 'We did it! We're going to bring it up to code! We're gonna do it!' And then it just became impossible."

Raising the money, it turned out, simply opened a whole new set of problems. "We could spend all the Kickstarter money, doing all our dreams, making it safe and bringing it up to code," Crane explained, "and then because you can't change one legal designation on the lease or because of your relationship with your landlord, you just get kicked out again, and you wasted everyone's money." To Crane, the money wasn't to be used specifically for improvements to 915 Wyckoff—fixing up its walls and floors and "backed-up toilets"—as much as it was "to revitalize our live-in performance venue. That's a very specific need. Now we're going to go out and look for somewhere we can be that won't waste everyone's money."

After looking at more than 100 venues, the core committee doesn't say they're any closer to actually finding a new permanent home. But they try to emphasize the positive. "It's been a real learning process for us," says Berry. "Because what we're trying to do is have a space that's legal, because we've gotten all this money from the community, and we want to find a way to use it responsibly, and have a space that's going to be more long-lasting... Like, I'm not a real estate broker, but I've been talking to brokers, I've been figuring out what zoning is appropriate is, I know what a C of O is, how much it costs to get one." It's a DiY approach to building a DiY space.

The one conspicuous absence last night was Todd Patrick, one of the original founders and longtime operators of Silent Barn, who told SoTC via email that a last-minute flight to Mexico had prevented him from attending. In a way, it's possible to look at this entire above-board, by the letter-of-the-law approach to DiY spaces as a rebuke to Patrick, whose style of interacting with the city establishment Crane somewhat affectionately referred to as "You can't catch me, because I'm moving around too much." Crane and the entire Silent Barn organization seem eager to shake off the semi-legal, underground nature of Silent Barn, even though some might say that it was tied up in the space's essence.

"I don't want anyone to be embarrassed about what we do," Crane says. "Yeah, I live somewhere, and we have shows. I want to be able to say that anywhere, to go in front of a community board and say 'I live somewhere, and we have shows in the kitchen,' and have it not be weird." And he wants to get to that space by working with a small group of dedicated people.

It's an admirable goal, although with no new home in sight, its effectiveness is an open question. In the meantime, "Silent Barn" will host more events and public meetings, putting their energy out into the universe. The right place could be the very next one they look at; that, of course, brings its own problems. As the minutes of the committee's February 13 meeting (titled "Qwop, Qwahhh") ask, "What do we say to brokers that ask for 'preapproval'?"

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