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Another one bites the dust: RIP Silent Barn

So as of Sunday, April 29th, another one bites the dust, and by that I mean New York is losing another DIY venue with Bushwick’s Silent Barn shutting down. Silent Barn was especially unique in that it wasn’t just a music venue, but also a true community center—it offered residential and studio space for artists, and hosted regular exhibits and panels, a zine library, a synth shop, as well as the grassroots arts program for young people of color, Educated Little Monsters (which is now raising funds to open a new community space—read more and learn how to help here).

Silent Barn began its life in Queens in 2005, and then moved to Brooklyn in 2012. It was cooperatively directed by over 70 volunteers (known as “chefs”). According to its website, Silent Barn defined itself as a “continually-evolving collective” and was committed to creating a safe space for people of all ages, backgrounds, races, and sexualities, especially for those who might feel unwelcome elsewhere. It attempted to broaden horizons, open conversation, and unite all who visited through art and education in many varying forms.

But ultimately, Silent Barn ran into the familiar struggles of venues of its kind—we got our first taste of the end in the closing months of 2017, when the collective had an emergency fundraising drive. Even after hitting their goal of $30,000, the money only covered one month of expenses, so the collective eventually made the decision to officially close their current location.

In a message on their website announcing the closure, Silent Barn asks “Opening an aboveground, up-to-code space in NYC (or anywhere) comes with limitless challenges—financial, structural, emotional. Attempting to run as an open, non-hierarchical, and collectively-directed project only complicated those challenges. How do we all work together? What does it mean to provide a safe(r) space? How can we responsibly serve a neighborhood while contributing to its rapid gentrification?”

These questions linger in our post-Shea Stadium, post-Palisades, post 285-Kent world, and I think the ultimate question is: are all of New York’s DIY venues essentially doomed? Is the best we can do is acknowledge them as ephemeral by definition? Is this a natural progression or is the NYC climate just inhospitable for these types of ventures to thrive—and if so, is there anything we can do to help it?

We still have some survivors: Secret Project Robot, Trans-Pecos, Alphaville, to name a few. But keeping DIY venues afloat in this city can kind of feel like a sick game of Whack-a-Mole—every time you might breathe a contented sigh of relief that your world is balanced and secure, a new crisis arises to plague another much beloved haunt. (Currently, the Glove was forced to close temporarily, and is raising funds to re-open.)

One thing is clear: these venues offer something that fully legal, commercial venues can’t, something antithetical to their official structure, a sense of community that feels unobstructed and unregulated and breathing room for something that feels genuine to grow freely.

Maybe part of the problem is that the scene that some of these venues helped create—or at least facilitated—seems to have dissipated. But really, it just evolves into something else (kind of like how energy is never created or destroyed, just transferred to a different form, if you want to bring the laws of thermodynamics into this). Because every time another venue closes, there’s always a group of refugees left reeling its wake, who wax #r.i.p. on Twitter and mourn the better days. The communities still exist after the venues close their doors, and that means there’s still hope somewhere, if we direct our energies towards longevity rather than sentimentality.

But in the meantime, here’s to you, Silent Barn. Thank you for everything.

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