DIY or die: Why Denver needs under-the-radar, all-ages arts spaces
Last month, Denver DIY house venue and show space Mouth House was shut down by the cops for good. As far as house venues go, it had a good, three-year run. Undaunted by surrounding gentification, Mouth House sat in the midst of Five Points, minding its own business in a surprisingly busy neighborhood that didn't seem to mind or even notice the dirt yard -- which was often teeming with people either taking a smoke break from the noisy interior sweat box or waiting to get in to see whatever band was playing (or sometimes, whatever guy was writhing around on the floor pouring windshield-wiper-fluid-blue soda all over himself while screaming into a microphone).
Dean Keim Japanther and its crowd become one at a show at Denver DIY show space Glob.
When I heard that the coffin lid on Mouth House had been nailed shut forever, all I could think was, fuck. Another all-ages performance space in Denver gone for good.
Part one of Pete Bell's 2012 documentary on the still-thriving DIY Denver venue Rhinoceropolis.
I guess the cops were looking for drugs when they set up an undercover sting at a Mouth House Halloween party. From talking to some people who lived at Mouth House, it sounds like they didn't find drugs -- but they found enough violations that they shut the place down. The current tenants of Mouth House have been asked to leave, and given less than a week to do so -- which sucks for them. If you've tried to find a decently priced place to rent in Denver lately, you know it isn't easy. These tenants -- some of whom are my friends -- are effectively homeless. And two of them will be in court today, as I report in this Backbeat story.
But there's more to the Mouth House saga. The situation isn't a one-dimensional issue of some kids losing an affordable housing situation that also doubled as a venue for shows and, often, parties. With the closure of Mouth House, Denver has lost yet another space where people of all ages, demographics and incomes could gather to see art and music, as it was happening, for free (or whatever they could afford to donate).
With these DIY or Do-It-Yourself venue ventures, the house, warehouse, gallery or space is run by a community of musicians and artists that operates it as a place to showcase art and music while interacting with the larger community. And like Mouth House, sometimes these venues double as living quarters for those who run the place. That in-house investment is not seen in a "normal" tax-paying, business-minded venue venture: Living in a venue also means that you'll most likely do a lot of work there for free. Booking shows, providing sound and other equipment, operating and staffing the venue, cleaning up and finding places for out-of-town performers to stay are all things that tenants of DIY show spaces do on a regular basis.
But all of those are also the inherent benefits of running a DIY show space. You're in charge of everything, which means you can see performers you like getting a chance to connect with an audience (and possibly get some money), make lasting connections with touring acts, offer affordable performances in a space that is welcoming to all, have a really good time doing what you love and experience art outside of the realms of what is often considered socially acceptable.
I'm not knocking the business behind legit performance venues; I understand there is a place for all types of show spaces. But I see a lot I disparity in those places that are supposedly devoted to showcasing art -- namely, the artists often getting ripped off and the audience being completely separated from the performance and in essence, the full experience.