I’ve written about DIY culture before, but that focused on individual short-term events – one-dayers, pop-ups – that kind of thing. They can be great, but do they constitute a sustainable ‘scene’ that helps shift our towns and cities away from the oh-so-hideous corporate blanding that seems to plague us? To be honest I don’t know the answer to that question, though it is something that local organisers talk about i.e. which events actually led to positive change and caught the imagination of those beyond the ‘usual suspects’. Instead I’ve been thinking about this from a slightly different perspective – that of the independent venue (or cafe, bookshop, gallery etc). I can happily admit to being massively biased here – I volunteer at exactly such a place – it’s my second home, I go to many an event there, or simply hang out. But, this also means I gain some insight into how such places are supported, or in some cases aren’t.
Now, indies don’t all have the same purpose or ethos – some are for-profit, some aren’t, for example – and we all like different things, but they are all part of the idea that as customers, volunteers and so on (or potential ones), we get to decide what type of culture surrounds us. Yes, the big chains will fill the zombie-malls, but we can choose to shun them and head for the indies. We can choose to ignore the advertising and try something unfamiliar. We may not have a lot of spare cash, but what we have can be spent in places we actually want to thrive. Liking the idea of indie cafes but actually going to Shitbucks, Costa etc doesn’t do the job. Liking the idea of a venue putting on unusual gigs and theatre, but actually sitting in front of Netflix does not magically siphon precious funds through the ether-of-good-intentions. Also, don’t forget that ‘free’ events aren’t really free – someone somewhere is paying, say via an Arts Council grant, for the performer’s fee, venue running costs and so on. So, when a not-for-profit place charges for events, it’s because they still have running costs and the performers, artists etc need to make a living. It just means there’s no boss skimming off a fat salary for a new BMW or shareholders clawing at dividends, so if they do manage to make a surplus (not easy), it goes back into improving the space, paying better wages for the staff, putting on better events – all the yay.
New bands, artists, theatre groups and so on can only exist if people take a bit of a risk and support them by buying tickets, art, craft and so on. This doesn’t mean never watching TV or visiting a chain (I certainly don’t endorse hair-shirt more-ethical-than-thou suffering, blech), but it does mean doing these things as well as not instead of supporting what we say we support. Yes, there are reasons not to go to specific events – health, finances, transport, childcare and so on – but indies genuinely value the support you can give – and if you are someone who does what they can, your indies love you. Really. If you aren’t (yet), there’s indie-love out there waiting for you to embrace it. As has been said by others before me, your wallet is your weapon, and it’s also your architect’s toolkit because the places you spend its contents are the ones that survive and shape our spaces and culture.