I'm currently writing this on an airplane flying over the vast expanse between Chicago and San Francisco that is dotted with so many small, medium, and large communities and local cultures. Each of these communities is situated in a specific geography, with a specific local history, and is home to a specific group of people. These aspects help define what life is like in these places and what sort of cultural events, movements, and interests swell and succeed or fade and are forgotten.
I've spent quite a bit of time in the past two weeks thinking and talking about what makes my hometown (South Bend, IN) special and what differentiates it from other similarly sized Midwest cities. One conversation was in the company of two friends who run local non-profits in preparation for the Indiana Arts Commission's Homecoming 2019 event in October. We spent a fair amount of time talking about a collaborative presentation but we mostly talked about these South Bend characteristics, some big and some small, that make our experience with the South Bend arts community so distinct and interesting and compelling. The same pros and cons, resources and shortcomings came up in a conversation I had with a local professor who is making a documentary in light of our Mayor running for president and how his history and his campaign affect people around the city. We noted how it's difficult to gain perspective on what's going on in our community when you've got your head down trudging through the ups and downs of community work. Each of us has had the opportunity to work with people traveling to South Bend to attend or take part in events and to hear their comments which gives sight into that outside perspective. It's often this outside view that helps us be encouraged by the ways that we stand out to artists, and to think about the things that we've become quite good at.
For the things that we've been specifically successful with, some people might see a perfect storm of resources, motivated people, and specific guiding limitations. I've been thinking about this idea of the 'perfect storm' of resources that come together to support and sustain DIY venues that have longevity or staying power in the historical context of show spaces that have an average lifespan of less than two years. My mind is constantly occupied by putting into place plans, policies, and programs to ensure the local DIY spots last longer than me, but it's hard to ignore the fact that large aspects of venue longevity are out of our control depending on neighbors, police attention, violence, etc. Spaces that are well-known and legendary and historic (like 924 Gilman, which I'll be close to this week) have achieved that sort of status by letting their local resources guide their visions or goals. Rather than forcing a certain vision by bending the resources you have, imagine letting the resources show you how your local scene can be most effective and allowing that to guide the vision rather than trying to recreate something that you've experienced elsewhere.
I've heard these beautiful stories of localized resources serving touring and local artists in really creative ways. Maybe you've got a special pool of generous cooks or chefs, maybe it's auto service help, laundry, merch resources, video/audio production, photography, a sweet hotel hookup, an especially attentive crowd, or whatever it is. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what little things might make your area special, even if it may seem silly. Consider the foundation that others have built in your area and how you can continue to innovate and contribute to that growth. Listen to the feedback from those who visit your area and try to pick up on that perspective.