Author Archives: sfcalbear
Modes of Outreach
There are several modes of outreach that are used by the venue including zines, posters, and maintenance of a Facebook, website, and updated event calendar. The venue has been widely recognized in the punk scene, where its reputation has attracted international bands and visitors. The incorporation of pre-sale tickets, which are often available online (particularly for larger shows) has allowed for greater accessibility to those who are traveling to the area.
Although Gilman has an established status and is recognized in the music world, particularly in independently run venues and in punk culture, there is not a whole lot of outreach toward including people who are not already immersed in the culture. Our plan aims to link various communities and reach out to a wider audience — one that is not exclusively affiliated with punk culture. To reach a wider audience, we are placing our project online and using accessible mediums to increase awareness and interest in 924 Gilman as a historic and significant site within communities that are not already or necessarily invested in the cultural center.
There are several resources that have been published about 924 Gilman including a documentary and a book, 924 Gilman: The Story So Far. In addition, there are a number of videos that are available on sites such as YouTube that document live shows at Gilman. Our interpretive projects are mainly honing in on training and education — whether it is educating the public about the various aspects of the Gilman community that are in fact, cooperative, helpful, and invested in social/political matters (verses the stereotype of the Gilman/punk community as being deviants) or creating videos that will walk team members through various volunteer positions. By demonstrating aspects of Gilman volunteerism, this interpretative management plan will increase sustainability by spreading awareness that one can volunteer at Gilman. People who may not have considered or even known about volunteering might consider it. Gilman will then be able to operate more effectively and for a longer period of time with more volunteers. Our goals are ultimately to increase the music club’s sustainability, and our main contribution to this matter is through the training and education projects.
Assessment of Values
Multivocality is very important; the underground/counterculture music scene varies drastically within sub genres which each have their own discrete cultural values and ideologies. As a community space, 924 Gilman allows for the inter-cultural flow between these groups which allows for people to freely connect with both like-minded and unlike-minded people. The different waves of the Gilman community, and their associated collective will, are often in many ways representative of either a reflection or reaction to larger social and cultural circumstances occurring within the Bay Area and in the music scene as a whole. It’s Gilman’s community basis which allows it to be a space wherein these circumstances might be negotiated. As such, Gilman is characterized by a certain impermanence. The art on the walls constantly gets painted over and reimagined by people who gather there. Which bands that are allowed to play and the values they represent are consistently being mediated by the collective will of the community as it exists at a specific time and space. Gilman is a living entity, so there’s a sense of being in constant flux, but it’s paired with the stability indicative of a sense of unity and comradeship.
924 Gilman Street is a place of universal value due to the fact that it is a site of significant cultural heritage for the counter-culture associated with punk rock. Both as it relates to the Bay Area as well as attributing to a musical legacy on a global scale, the venue holds substantial human meaning for the following reasons:
● As an all-ages community based venue, it does work to keep the punk music scene viable by allowing non-discriminatory access.
● As a not-for-profit institution, Gilman is inherently community orientated. The
venue functions in the ways it does because of the collective will of its community. There is no single leader or owner, but rather every decision that is made is deliberated and voted on within the membership meetings held on the first and third Saturday of every month.
● Gilman works to remain open and accessible to the widest range of cultural gradient possible, while holding firm to its zero tolerance policy concerning “bullshit behavior” such as that related to homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny.
● Gilman represents a safe haven from normative culture wherein people are allowed and encouraged to express themselves freely. They are always concerned with the ways in which they can support the people in the community and allow them access to the help, assistance, or protection which they need.
Threats to the Venue
Throughout its existence, 924 Gilman Street has encountered frequent financial difficulties. The venue was originally opened on a $2,000 per month rent. It is currently $4,500. Many members blame gentrification, pointing to the recent opening of a nearby Whole Foods as the beginning of the yuppie invasion. In the past few years, many locally owned establishments in the area have gone out of business which speaks to the instability of the real estate and housing markets of the local area.
Additional financial threats to Gilman are structural in nature because financial management of the club also relies on the volunteer corp. This represents a problem because managing the business side of a nightclub requires a certain quality of economic knowledge and a significant time commitment, both on a daily and annual basis. As a non-profit organization they have a Chief Financial Officer who oversees the condition of their budget and funds, but he does this in addition to his full-time real job.
The ever-present threat which Gilman faces, however, is simply keeping the community that is fostered around the venue viable. The members and volunteers who actively participate in the daily function of the club are the true linchpin in this regard, because they are the ones doing all the grunt and behind-the-scenes work so that the bands have a place to play and the kids have a place to mosh. However, among the collective there is an uneven distribution of dedication, both personal and professional. Anyone is welcome to get involved, but nobody is going to force you to make a commitment that you cannot or will not keep. The ultimate fear here is that with a significant decline in member dedication, the club would become centralized under an elite that might then restrict open participation.
It is difficult to talk about the culture of 924 Gilman because, in a sense, it is deliberately volatile and undefinable. In many ways, the venue is a living, breathing entity which is consistently and progressively experiencing changes through the ebb and flow of the community that surrounds it. It is significant that everybody has a different story concerning Gilman and that there is no centralized narrative because individual people engage with the experience in different ways.
That being said, the most dominant cultural value, what could be called the paramount piece intangible cultural heritage is the community which the club fosters. The aspects of this community range from the intimate and personal to the structural and symbolic: the volunteer corps, the patrons, the artists, the bands, the neighbors and neighborhood (both commercial and domestic), and even the music and art scene at large can all be considered as taking part.
Historically speaking, Gilman has acquired quite a bit of symbolic capital as it relates to the global punk rock scene. Some attribute this to the venue’s ability to stick to its core values of being an open, all-ages, community and volunteer-run establishment. Others attribute this to the simple fact that they’ve been able to keep the doors open for almost 30 years (1986-Present). Groups such as Green Day, Rancid, NOFX, and the Dead Kennedys put the location on the map as a go-to destination for their fans across the world. The venue also engages the larger music scene outside itself by supporting other DIY businesses and establishments, such as local record companies and printing presses.
Politically, there is no power hierarchy. Every decision goes through a vote at the membership meetings, democratically. They decide which bands are allowed to play, who can hold a key to the venue, who gets “86’d,” or banned from the venue. Our ability to conduct this project was put to a vote. Everyone has a voice and gets time to speak their piece; your opinion is welcome but your respect is required. By virtue of the diversity of the community, a whole variety of voices make up the collective will expressed by the venue. These opinions, of course, change as the community itself changes.
Gilman is not profit orientated, but rather driven from the shared experiences of the show or event that brings the community together. As one informant, Sam Smash, remarks “we found our families at these shows” and this is reflected in the active community participation of the volunteer collective because there is a sense of social responsibility to give back and contribute to that family. Profits are split between the venue and the bands. When something needs to fixed, improved, or replaced, it is done by the members, often through donation. For many, Gilman is a safe space to escape from normative culture, a space where people can freely express themselves and as such its members are consistently focused on ways in which the community can be supported because “there’s not gonna be any support for us unless we help ourselves” (Sam).
Multi-Sensory Experience/Community Narrative Video Zine
(Poster inviting Gilman members to share their experiences with the team. These are still hanging in the venue as of this writing. Posters designed and posted by Danielle Belanger.)
This interpretive plan will create a video zine, which will not only aim to explore the idea of ephemerality and the mutually dependent relationship between the venue and the community, but also the reasons for which attending a live concert or show are privileged over experiencing a concert or show through secondary media and recordings. The physicality of the environment as well as the community at shows and concerts largely contribute to the differences between a live experience of a performance and one that is recorded.
The goal for this video zine will be to depict a sense of community, but it will also include themes of Gilman’s ethos and mentalities. Because the audiences and members of Gilman are constantly changing, this video will embrace themes of ephemerality. In addition, the video zine will contribute to sustainability by capturing a digital log of varied perspectives and views of Gilman at this moment in time — future generations of Gilman members will be able to look back on this video to see what the community of Gilman is like in 2015, perhaps even to reflect on whether the community or the venue’s ethos has changed. I am interested in fashioning the video zine so that it appeals to a wide range of audiences — people who have never heard of Gilman before, people who are curious to learn more about the venue, and people who are fully invested and want to get even further connected to the Gilman community.
Key Players and Interest Groups
(A very packed 924 Gilman Street. Professional photo acquired online.)
924 Gilman Street’s primary stakeholders and interest group is the punk rock community of Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. The youth of Berkeley have played a major role in shaping Gilman, as the venue was one of few places where they could express their identity and ideals without fear of repression from authority figures, such as parents, teachers/principals, and the police. At the time Gilman was founded, the punk movement had not entered the limited mainstream contact it currently has, and punks were viewed as deviants. The venue was a haven to these people (to the point where some people slept there when homeless). It was and continues to be a scene for musical experimentation and expression of ideas and ideals. The venue is known for being a safe space. Any sort of discrimination is not tolerated, as is violence and consumption of drugs and alcohol.
(The venue’s rules board, seen immediately upon entry. Photo taken from online source.)
The venue has a “do-it-yourself” mentality, and is run by the community as volunteers. Those who are invested in the punk scene treasure the venue highly. The stewards of 924 Gilman Street are the volunteers and community members who sacrifice their time and efforts to organize and continuously provide an outlet for the Bay Area underground punk rock scene. Some of these stewards are long time members who have witnessed the many faces come and go while others are relatively new patrons who have found their place within the culture. The venue focuses on booking lesser known bands and those not supported by major record labels. Successful bands such as Green Day, Rancid, and The Offspring got their start at Gilman. In fact, bands affiliated with major record labels are not allowed to play there, to avoid a sense of allowing “corporate music” to gain a foothold. Green Day was banned after 1993 for signing with a major label, and only recently was allowed to come back to Gilman to play a benefit show in April. Their return was significant, because Gilman agreed to bend its rules to allow Green Day to return to support the community instead of making money. However, despite Gilman’s anti-establishment mentality, it has become famous in the punk community for being a launch pad for successful punk bands. Bands make a great effort to secure a show at Gilman, even international groups. Gilman has helped contribute to many other DIY establishments and projects related to music. Some project following Gilman’s non-corporate ethos include record labels and publishing companies like Tankcrimes and Pirate Press.
The city of Berkeley is also an interest group. 924 Gilman Street has had trouble with the law and the city due to noise, unrest, and general suspicion of the punk scene and the general public. The city has tried to shut the venue down multiple times, and one city council member infamously described Gilman as a “festering sore” during a hearing in the 1990s. The punk community has had to carefully balance relations with the greater Berkeley area in order to remain open. Gilman’s members have had to demonstrate they were capable of keeping order. In an interview with former security member Sam Smash, eventually an unofficial, unspoken agreement came out with the Berkeley Police Department, agreeing that 924 Gilman Street was capable of self-policing, and that any 911 calls were something to be taken seriously. However, there have been productive interactions. The community worked to oppose the opening of a restaurant and brewery nearby, fearing the availability of alcohol would impact Gilman’s principles of an alcohol free space. This are just a few examples of these different interest groups interacting with each other, something that this project aims to continue.
(Back of the card all Gilman members carry. Photo by Tait Adams.)
(A long line of people waiting for the doors. All photos on this post sourced from online sites by Silas Jones.)
In recent years, the 924 Gilman community functions less like a community or an organization and more so as an organized family of volunteers who share a similar vision, values and goal for the present and future of Gilman. There’s been ownership change and waves of volunteers over the decades, but ultimately, the venue has outlived overcome many obstacles to become one of the longest surviving, nonprofit, volunteer-led organizations in the Bay Area and beyond.
The venue continues to serve its purpose of being a venue for underground punk rock bands. Shows are held Friday and Saturday nights, with shows usually running from 7-11:30 PM. Shows are sometimes held on Sunday nights. While punk remains the most popular genre at Gilman, the venue is officially open to all genres of underground music the community wishes to see. The Bay Area heavy metal scene become increasingly tied to Gilman. In addition, some hip hop and “psychobilly” shows have been played. Gilman has also very recently started a “game night” on Thursdays for members to play various board games.
(Another view of the entryway).
Speaking with Gilman members has revealed that the community is in a state of transition, and that Gilman is a lot less “crazy” than it has been in the past. Many members are “growing up” and settling into full-time careers and relationships/families, and thus have less time to spend at the venue, and thus show attendance and revenue has been dropping. At the same time, as kids become teenagers, they discover their identities, one of which could be punk, and thus discover Gilman, and attendance might rise again. This state of transition ties into our defined theme of ephemerality. Gilman is constantly changing. Gilman veterans note that this is not the first time such change has happened, nor will it be the last. In five years, 924 Gilman Street may achieve its previous level of punk rock mayhem.
As a venue that hosts underground music and celebrates the arts, 924 Gilman is linked to the larger artist community of the San Francisco bay area. Although primarily involved with DIY punk culture, 924 Gilman can speak to a number of varied interests and subcultures. From politically involved individuals to board game buffs, 924 Gilman can be a destination for a range of local and international people. With better publicity of events and ethos, the organization can reach out to a wider and more diverse audience.
The immediate community of 924 Gilman consists of the musicians and their fans, particularly the Bay Area punk music community itself, both in and outside of Gilman. Besides the primary stakeholder of the Gilman community (which is auditing our work in order to avoid misrepresentation), there is a wider Bay Area punk community that can have a greater awareness of Gilman and greater consideration of what it represents to them. In addition, there are people who are just beginning to enter the punk community through friendships or discovery of music. This project would make them aware of the venue, and the emphasis of Gilman’s values of tolerance, nonviolence, and a general safe space for interaction can make the venue more attractive to these “prospective punks.”
The second audience is the neighboring area surrounding Gilman. The venue has had a history of tense relations with neighbors and the city of Berkeley itself. Gilman attracts a following that tends to be loud and has in the past attracted trouble causing violence outside the venue. Combined with the popular stereotype that views punks as deviants, Gilman has not had cozy relations with the surrounding area, and there have been anti‐Gilman interest groups trying to shut the venue down through city action. This plan presents a positive interpretation of 924 Gilman as a site that is connected to a rich and diverse cultural heritage in opposition to the common misconceptions of the music club and subculture.
The third and final main audience is the “casual/curious onlooker” that has heard the name “Gilman” and wants to know more. By presenting our material in as much of an accessible format and medium as possible, we hope that we can maximize appeal and interest in 924 Gilman to a wider audience. This interpretive plan aims to show as complete of a picture of the venue and its community as possible — not only drawing from aspects of cultural heritage in North Berkeley, but also in the greater Bay Area. By opening its doors to the public and providing a safe haven for marginalized peoples, Gilman has naturally cultivated a creative and energetic community. In addition, the community is quite productive in maintaining the operational aspects of the organization (which depend entirely on volunteers), and in becoming involved with a issues that do not directly relate to art and music, such as politics, social awareness, and offering help to those in need.
Short Term Goals:
(A shot of the entrance to Berkeley’s concession stand, known as the “Stoar.” Taken by Silas Jones.)
Fundraising for the organization, buying the building, and shared ownership would allow Gilman to continue its collective mission. Improved noise containment during band performances could improve the venue’s potential for longevity and its relationship with surrounding neighbors. Also, increased outreach, such as canned food drives or LGBT awareness events could help the venue gain greater recognition and respect in the public eye raising awareness of Gilman as a center for a culturally rich and progressive community.
To cope with rising costs, 924 Gilman Street has raised prices. Membership cards, costing $2, were originally for life, and were initially credited with helping keep the venue afloat for its initial period of existence. Looking at old fliers and logs shows the policy was changed to a $3 per year membership in the mid-1990s, although it is current only $2. Shows were originally always $5. However, ticket prices have increased, therefore, some shows now cost $12-17, which was “unheard of” until very recently in the venue’s history. The community has expressedfrustration over this rising cost. There has been debate in the past about having shows on more days of the week to boost income, as the venue pays rent by the month, and is only active for a few days out of each week. However, the availability of manpower is a concern.
The Alternative Music Foundation, the nonprofit that runs 924 Gilman, is nowconsidering buying the building outright to ensure the venue’s long term survival. On the website under “Support 924 Gilman” there is an option to donate funds electronically: “Your donation istax-deductible and supports two specific goals: 1) to try to own the building, 2) to lower the doorprice for shows.” Donations are also accepted via personal check made out the Alternative MusicFoundation. The purchase of the building would present a further issue for the Gilman community, as one person or group would own the site. This goes against Gilman’s collectivenature, and includes the fear that the owner may leverage their influence to cause change. Gilman’s members are also debating the idea of collective ownership.
Long Term Goals:
(Some of the posters detailing Gilman’s ideas in the main entryway. Photo by Tait Adams).
In the long term, keeping the community accessible to active participation and involvement is highly necessary. Our management plan seeks to preserve the community participation by means of volunteering, donating or any other means that would perpetuate this vision of “a melting pot of cultures,” as the venue has practiced thus far. It would be better that Gilman close down sticking to their guns, so-to-speak, than it would be for Gilman to remain open under a purely profit based system with zero community involvement. This is the only relevant plan of action because the community constitutes the heart of this organization. In other words, 942 Gilman’s success over the next couple of decades should be more of the same with a heightened emphasis on fundraising in order to combat economic distress. Additionally, the organization should attempt to reach out to a larger range of people by directing their methods of outreach to a more diverse range of issues/populations. Gilman could sponsor volunteer based events which would be open to the public and which could reach out to more diverse social/political arenas. By including a more diverse range of individuals in the community, Gilman can become an increasingly rich cultural center, which would not be limited to just one or two subcultures.
As was recently brought up at a Gilman membership meeting, new generations of committed volunteers will need to be more involved with the organizational aspects of the club in order for it to maintain a democratic ethos and status as a non-profit organization. We are taking the initiative to increase awareness of the venue through training and educational projects, with the hope to increase numbers of participants from younger generations. We would like to see more members who are willing not only to join in on membership meeting discussions but who are also willing to volunteer their time. By encouraging younger generations to step up and join in, we can contribute to long-term sustainability of 924 Gilman, ensuring that the music club’s values and ethos are upheld, but also that the venue’s policies and operations are kept up to date.
It could help the subculture be understood less as a “subversive” stereotype, and more as a group of committed individuals with a willingness to contribute to current and important issues. This knowledge would improve levels of hostility toward the subculture and institutions which are of service to the subculture. In the end, educating the public about Gilman as a volunteer based, community rearing success would help the organization secure its location in an area which is only becoming increasingly gentrified. Conventional understandings of punk need to be expanded and understood by a larger population in order for “punks” to be accepted and tolerated in the changing social climate of North Berkeley.