Like a lot of panel discussions about art, Saturday’s Silent Barn Public Meeting #2—a talk and concert sponsored by the currently on-hold DIY space in the carpeted and wood-paneled upper room at Ridgewood’s Gottscheer Hall—had a lot of talk about community engagement. Unlike a lot of arts panel discussions, however, the community was actually there to talk back. In a way, it’s a mark of success: here are a dozen young arts entrepreneurs basically spinning theoretical yarns about how, eventually, they’d love to involve people from the community in what they do. As it turned out, the community was already there. And they didn’t always appreciate being talked about like some foreign body, loosely orbiting the artistic world.
Longtime DiY impresario Todd “Todd P.” Patrick outlined a vision for his current project, the revamped Market Hotel (set to re-open, Patrick says, sometime this year, possibly as soon as August or September), where each week it would host “two or three days of buzzy indie rock bands and another five days of Ecuadorian Cumbia bands and another night of Polish acts, and another night of Dominican Bacahata bands.” Nat Roe, representing Silent Barn from inside his floppy oversized polo shirt, said the people involved in planning the new venue wanted it to be “a space for socioeconomic and political integration.”
Eventually, Robert Hobson raised his had. A twentysomething African-American Ridgewood native, he felt he had to speak up. “You keep talking about Ridgewood as a place people are coming to,” he said. “But, I mean, people are already here… Like you talk about you want to integrate things a lot, but I’m the only black person here.” His comment was met with thunderous applause. Hobson stormed out, briefly, obviously unsatisfied with the answers he got. (Ray Cross of Bushwick Print Lab cited a small budget and long hours: “We’re doing the best we can… cut us some slack.”) “I didn’t say anything to try and be a martyr,” Hobson told me later. “I just really care about my neighborhood.”
As it turned out, he was far from alone. Hobson’s comment sparked something of a miniature revolt in the room; at that point the assembled had spent about 60 minutes listening to a dozen alternative-leaning upper-middle-class Caucasians operating music or art spaces in Bushwick and Ridgewood talk about enticing their audience to make the trek to Ridgewood, or the strategies they would employ, at some point in the future, to reach out to “the community.” What the panel perhaps hadn’t noticed was that “the community” had actually shown up. (The event doubled as the end of the Actually, It’s Ridgewood art crawl, organized and promoted by the Queens Museum of Art.) And they had plenty of suggestions.
“I’d like to point out that there are great facilities in this neighborhood for artists,” said 68-year-old retired journalist and data processor Tom Dowd, whose son is the fourth generation to live in the same home in Ridgewood. “First of all, the Ridgewood library. It’s got a wonderful outdoor space, we’d love to have poetry readings. The Onderdonk House… and don’t forget The Ridgewood Times.”
“The Times Weekly, it’s now called,” his wife, Donna, corrected him.
Other popular suggestions included fliering at local laundromats and coffee shops, as well as putting posters up on the street. In short, the sort of IRL promotion that anyone who grew up with iPhones likely thinks is a thing of the past. But if you’re serious about reaching a new group of people, it’s not a bad idea to find out how they actually consume news and then getting yourself in those mediums.
One thing there wasn’t any mention of during the panel session was the fate of Silent Barn itself. The Silent Barn-related signage and handouts were much diminished from the previous meeting, which was a veritable explosion of DIY energy and artistic expression. It was as if Silent Barn felt it had made its case about its efforts and the fate of their $40,000 Kickstarter fund, and were now content to let events like these be their sole public face.
Still, I sought out current Silent Barn search committee member G. Lucas Crane after the event. Would Silent Barn exist any time soon? “Sure, it exists,” he began, waving his hand to indicate everything around us, as if to say that its spirit lived on as long as scruffy young people got together to hear music somewhere. Fair enough: but will it be hosting shows at its own space any time soon?
“We had a very close shave where we thought we were going to occupy this old ice cream store” in Ridgewood, he said. “We got all the way to closing the deal, it was like ‘we got the lease, we’re signing it tomorrow.’ But it turned out that they were lying to us and one of the apartments was full of people,” whom Silent Barn didn’t want to be in the position of either evicting or building their calendar of “fucked up, awesome rock shows” around. So, the search continues, both for a permanent home a temporary space that Silent Barn could “immediately occupy and start throwing shows in” some time this summer.
Despite that setback, it’s hard to look at Saturday’s event as anything but a success. Young arts entrepreneurs were looking for ways to reach a new audience, and they got plenty of new ideas. Now, it’s up to them to put them into action.