In December 2016, a fire at the Ghost Ship, an Oakland warehouse that doubled as a living and arts space, claimed 36 lives. In the tragedy’s immediate aftermath, DIY venues from Baltimore to Nashville began to face heightened scrutiny, closures and harassment. How can venue owners, artists, and people building communities and opportunities through art expect to survive when impossible obstacles – such as mysterious task forces and resource-depleting citations – get in the way? “DIY in NYC,” a new short documentary produced with Rolling Stone, explores the bewildering process of attempting to open a “legit” venue in one of America’s cultural hubs, and why people often go underground.
The short film travels through venues that have recently shuttered, ones struggling to stay on their feet, and ones that are working to carve out spaces specifically for young people of color. It focuses on New Yorkers who believe in the life-affirming potency that these spaces have for individuals and communities alike, and who will fight to ensure that they not only stay afloat, but also that future generations are empowered to keep them alive, too.
It also covers two crucial efforts that this community has rallied behind for years: One involves the repeal of a draconian “Cabaret Law” that, until very recently, forbade dancing in the city; the second involves a bill, introduced by Councilman Rafael Espinal, that has instituted an Office of the Night Mayor. The role of the Night Mayor (drawn from a model used by other cultural epicenters like Amsterdam) is to act as a liaison between the city, the community and venues. As Espinal poignantly noted at a June 2017 city council meeting: “Night life in New York City has been under attack for a very long time, to the point where we’re losing [it].”
At its core, this documentary is also the start of a conversation. As Rachel Nelson, an artist and business owner in the community, states: “We aren’t a small band of ruckus-makers. We are a constituency of owners, workers and voters with a loud clear voice searching for clarify of the law from our lawmakers.”