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Arts Venue for All

Group seeks to establish all-ages, all-arts Kalamazoo Collective Arts Center

Kalamazoo is a city committed to art, music and writing, but it seems to be missing an important type of arts space — an all-ages, all-arts venue

Have no fear. A group of eight local artists, musicians and writers is working to change that and put Kalamazoo on a list of cities with these venues that’s almost exclusively filled by urban areas three to six times the size of Kalamazoo.

Kacey Chaos, Russ Wagner, Rory Svekric, Chafe Hensley, Steve Walsh, Bridget Dooley, Ike Turner and John Wagner make up the board of the Kalamazoo Collective Arts Center.

The KCAC has been in the works for about five years, as these members and previous ones have been working to secure space for the center. The project lost steam a couple of years ago, although the group by then had acquired nonprofit status and funding. About a year ago, a member of the previous group approached some of the people who now make up the board and asked them to pick up the slack.

“Kalamazoo is kind of a transient town and so a lot of the people originally involved moved away or became involved in other projects,” explains member Bridget Dooley. “One thing that we’ve learned with the first life of the KCAC is that if it’s going to work as an organization in Kalamazoo, there has to be a way to pass it down through generations of board members. We’d love to get the space and get it running and then have younger people who are using it most take over in a way that would make it a place with staying power.”

Last May, the board put together a marketing push and an IndieGoGo crowd-sourcing campaign, adding to the money already raised to buy or lease a space in the city and cover all of the license, registration, permit, insurance, reconstruction, renovation and inspection fees that come with running a public space.

With $5,300 raised, the campaign was a success. Now the members of the center’s board are looking for a space, with their sights set on the Vine neighborhood. At 2 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Vine Neighborhood Association (511 Vine St.) they’re hosting a community meeting to decide where the space should be and what it should do. They want anyone interested to attend.

Although the KCAC is open to all artists, all-ages venues are especially close to the hearts of musicians because most musicians get their start at a young age, when playing a paying gig or seeing a much-loved band means sneaking into a bar or club. Often these gigs are at venues that people their age can’t attend, and these people are often the very group that  helped the musicians gain momentum in the first place. Some musicians, like Atmosphere, Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead, for example, make it a priority to offer all-ages shows on their tours.

And, says KCAC board member Chaos, underage music lovers aren’t the only people getting excluded when the only performance locations are bars, clubs and over-18 venues.

 “Don’t get me wrong, I love that Kalamazoo is a beer city — that’s great,” she says. “But some people wrestle with addiction and don’t want to, or can’t, be around alcohol. I sympathize with that because you shouldn’t have to be subjected to alcohol to enjoy good, local, live music. One shouldn’t denote the other.”

Chaos and Dooley both remember what it was like to be underage and involved in the music scene, and they say it’s “alienating” to be underage at a venue where most people are drinking. In Kalamazoo, aside from the newly opened Satellite Records and house concerts, there aren’t many options for all-ages music shows. Age restrictions force teens to look for other outlets for participating in music, and many options, like attending house concerts, can be hard to gauge for parents.

“If you’re the parent of a 14-year-old, it’s not always the safest feeling to drop your child off at someone else’s house,” Dooley says. “As much as I enjoy going to a show that’s also a party, I can also see how it can make people feel separated from the music community.”

One of the main barriers to running an arts venue is money, and that’s why most large venues sell alcohol — to make up for the cost of overhead. With community spaces that don’t serve alcohol, that money has to come from the people who want to use the space. For that reason, a lot of all-ages venues have shut their doors, including one of the main influences for the Kalamazoo Collective Arts Center — the Division Avenue Arts Center, in Grand Rapids. The 10-year-old DAAC is now in flux; last summer the building where the center was located was bought and the center was asked to leave.

These types of open venues (meaning all types of artists can use the space)  for all ages, run by volunteers and paid for by communal funding,  are called DIY (do-it-yourself) spaces. KCAC members say the group will always be fundraising to cover overhead costs and to make the space affordable to rent out, on a sliding to scale, for anyone in the community.

The mission of the KCAC is not just to be for all ages and all arts, but to be a safe space open to any person, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural background and physical or mental ability.

“I believe in these values strongly,” says Chaos, voicing a sentiment the whole board shares. “If I’m going to work on a project, I have to believe in it. I believe in the KCAC.”

For more information or to donate to the KCAC, visit

Tiffany Fitzgerald

As Encore’s staff writer, Tiffany writes — a lot. She is responsible for our Upfront, Savor, Enterprise and Good Works features every month, as well as other stories in the arts. If that wasn’t enough, she is also the editor of FYI, our new family magazine that debuted last month. When we aren’t working her to death, she hangs out with her husband and two sons and dreams of having the time to complete Pinterest-worthy projects.

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