Among venues there are few as special as Gilman in Berkeley!
At 924 Gilman Street you will find the Gilman Street Project. This is a collectively run, D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) venue that has been home to bands, painters, fans and rehabilitation services since 1986. Highlighted in this article is the collective effort that keeps this place alive.
Increasingly, venues in the bay area are trying to host the biggest name acts that their facility can accomodate because big acts mean big profit. Also, club owners tend to keep a large portion of the ticket sales for themselves. But for everyone who volunteers at Gilman, and the fans that are loyal to this venue, ‘Gilman’ means something greater than profit. Gilman is not a thriving venue because it has been profitable. On the contrary, their ability to keep their doors open has been threatened by large rent increases. Gilman thrives because people appreciate what the Gilman does for art and community, as well as for their own enjoyment; hence, they donate their time, effort and money to keep it up and running.
Why aren’t there more D.I.Y. and not-for-profit venues like Gilman?
One can speculate many reasons why there are not more not-for-profit music collectives. Given my own prejudices I will provide a few reasons that seem to explain their rarity.
- Finding volunteers. It is difficult to find enough volunteers on a consistent basis in order to keep a venue running week after week. There must be a gathering of people who continue to find value in what the venue offers.
- Paying rent. In a sense, it is easier to pay rent when workers are not benefiting financially from their labor. But because the events that the venue hosts are provided at a minimum cost, the money must be managed extremely well. Also, this leaves the venue vulnerable to property owners who raise the rent, property tax increases, or when people just generally don’t have money to spare for an event.
Despite the difficulties that D.I.Y. and not-for-profit venues face, the Gilman perserveres. This is a sign that Gilman still offers something valuable to its many visitors. But most importantly the Gilman is the people who return year after year to participate in the management and upkeep of the club as well as the spirited performances that they host.
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