On April 9, after their sudden exodus from their original downtown location, the Division Avenue Arts Collective (DAAC) is finally hosting their first event in four years. One of the last all-ages drug-free DIY spaces in West Michigan, the DAAC continues the DIY tradition of cultivating a local music scene without the influence of money, corporations, religious belief, drugs or specific genre. This follows a $10,000 crowdsourcing campaign, a particularly significant amount as it drew largely from a young base of DIY musicians and supporters.
DIY (Do-It-Yourself) is the artistic ethic that anyone can make music regardless of means, background or even ability. DIY is inherently counter-cultural as it assumes that creativity, not capital, is the hallmark of human flourishing. When applied to an all-ages DIY space such as the DAAC, DIY means a supportive, creative community rich in artistic opportunity for people from all ages and backgrounds. This intentional philosophy of inclusion levels the playing field in an industry usually dominated by certain demographics, bringing many different conversations and experiences to the table. It is also highly adaptable and open to improvement, which is ultimately contingent on its members.
As of 2016, the national DIY music scene is flourishing. With the advent of cheap digital recording and independent music release platforms such as Bandcamp, pretty much anyone can become a DIY artist. Countless musicians have recorded albums in their bedrooms without a budget, and some of them (such as Youth Lagoon, Car Seat Headrest, or Eskimeaux) have garnered considerable commercial and critical success. Non-musicians are also an essential part of the DIY community, whether supporting artists through patronage, promotion, volunteering, management, journalism, visual art or organization. But this kind of community can only effectively exist around DIY venues.
In the DAAC’s absence, ‘house shows’ have successfully filled in its artistic vacuum. They do, however, sometimes run into legal problems with noise, alcohol and the transfer of money. If you’re 18 and caught at a house show drinking alcohol, you could (along with everyone else in the home) get into legal trouble. If the show breaks the city’s generally arbitrary noise laws, renters of the house may have to pay a hefty fine. Because of this, house venues exist only as long as the police tolerate their existence or however long the current tenants stay in that house.
DIY venues such as the DAAC, then, present themselves as an unadulterated alternative where people only come for the music, without the typical legal complications, such as alcohol use, present at a house show. Despite that, many people in Grand Rapids (myself included) value house shows for their intimacy, community and artistic purity: There is nothing more direct than listening to an artist play a set in a basement then giving them money for a shirt afterwards. And, as demonstrated by all-ages events such as Lamp Light Festival, house shows can be held without their typical legal complications.
Because of this, the DAAC’s real challenge in the coming months is to prove that it needs to exist when house shows present a viable alternative. While some of the DAAC’s value lies in its relative permanence and legality, most of it lies in its commitment to make events alcohol free and therefore accessible to all-ages.
Churches often argue that youth groups present a positive alternative for adolescent teens otherwise uninterested in sports, the mall or parties. All-ages DIY spaces such as the DAAC make this same argument. By making their venue alcohol free (as opposed to house shows), parents are far more likely to allow their teenagers go there. Being part of a creative community can give identity and hope for teenagers struggling to find their place in an often cold world. It can expose them not only to the positive power of music but also to a plethora of human experiences from touring and local artists. And perhaps most importantly, it can teach teenagers what it means to be part of a community.
Communities are always a work-in-progress. While never perfect, they can make clear choices over what kind of society they want to eventually be. Through fostering supportive musical communities, DIY venues have chosen to harness the creative potential of a city. As the DAAC enters this new era, only one thing is certain: As long as there are people interested in making music for its own sake, there will always be DIY.
(The DAAC is holding a reopening music festival on April 9 at their new venue, a repurposed church building, at 333 Rumsey St. SW.)