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Feature Stories November 16, 2012  RSS feed

Silent Barn Ready To Get Loud Again

Preparing Stew Of Art & Culture
by Sam Goldman


This building at 603 Bushwick Ave. in Bushwick will be the future home of Silent Barn. This building at 603 Bushwick Ave. in Bushwick will be the future home of Silent Barn. Silent Barn, one of the city’s up-and-coming cultural institutions, is coming back and stepping out of the shadows.

The art collective, which had lost its Ridgewood space in July 2011, has signed a 10-year lease on a threestory, 10,000 sq. ft. building at 603 Bushwick Ave., near the Myrtle Avenue Broadway J/M/Z train station in Bushwick, it was recently announced. The upper floors of the art center will be used for artists’ studios and as homes for eight individuals, while the ground floor will be used as a fully legal concert space.

G. Lucas Crane and Lani Combier Kapel of Silent Barn sat down for a Monday, Nov. 12 interview at Spolem—a Ridgewood café that the group has often used as an impromptu meeting location, according to Crane—to explain what Silent Barn is, where it came from and where the group is headed.

What is Silent Barn?

“It’s a collection of people that are just coming together to create a space that is not so defined that it can’t let anything happen in there,” Crane explained, adding that he wanted to avoid the stark definitions of art spaces he believed are common in New York City and instead allow its collaborators the freedom to subtly reinterpret and redefine the space and their work, creating what Combier- Kapel called “an everything space.”

According to Crane, Silent Barn was an outgrowth of informal collaborations of art and music between him and his roommates in their home at 915 Wyckoff Ave. starting in 2007. The name itself came from previous incarnations of the space; rather than create a new name for the space as many DIY venues do, Crane wanted to keep the oral history and “lore” of the location intact, and use it as a home for art.

“A place tells you what it’s useful for,” he explained.

The space became a DIY art and concert venue, gaining a following from New Yorkers as well as from local artists and art groups; in fact, Crane noted that Silent Barn had planned to collaborate with other venues and cultural institutions.

Along the way, more people joined the group, including Combier- Kapel, who began to volunteer and eventually got involved with one of Silent Barn’s many related projects: Showpaper, a printed guide to events in the New York metro area.

“I grew up in the city, so I’ve always been into trying to find out what was beyond Starbucks cafés and Irving Plaza,” she explained.

Now, the group includes 25 to 30 collaborators, using a “chef system” named after the kitchen area that served as a place for the project leaders— the “chefs”—to show what they were cooking up.

Keeping the lore going

Despite its success, Silent Barn was not an officially legal venue. In July 2011, Silent Barn was dealt a crippling blow, with burglars stealing thousands of dollars in equipment followed by a crackdown by the city.

“We were shut down in the craziest way possible,” said Crane.

Many venues, when faced with such a blow, tend to vanish into thin air, with its members possibly starting similar DIY venues elsewhere (Crane called it “apocalypse-style”). “This time, we just didn’t do that,” said Crane.

“What we were doing, while illegal in this concrete sense, it was not bad. It was a good thing, and we don’t have to be ashamed of it,” Crane insisted. “Landlords allow stuff like this to happen.”

At the same time, Crane stated that “I don’t want to have to hide that I’m living somewhere and having shows,” leading to the decision to start operating legally.

An “emboldening” campaign on the online donation site Kickstarter raised over $40,000 from over 750 backers; while Crane and his compatriots originally planned to use the money to reopen at Wyckoff Avenue, the group then decided to “keep the lore going,” as Crane put it, and find a new space.

In the meantime, the group ran a series of shows and forums throughout the neighborhood, which Combier Kapel called “kind of an experiment.”

Most recently, the group organized an Oct. 27 concert at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) when the youth center reached out to Silent Barn asking if they would organize an all-ages show. The partnership led to Combier-Kapel accepting a position at the GRYC.

“I really respect that place a lot,” she stated. “I think that’s the reason why we decided to do something there, because Silent Barn really respects their work and their community involvement.”

“It’s very in line with the ethos …. of our transition to our new space,” Crane added. “I think it’s about us not hiding anymore, and that’s where these [events] come from.”

Brewing up something new

After scouting 25 to 30 locations (most in the Ridgewood/Bushwick area), and coming close several times to choosing a site, they decided upon the new space and signed a lease after a five-month negotiating process. Crane noted that the new Silent Barn has a target opening date of Jan. 1, 2013, following an extensive renovation of the building.

“It’s kind of amazing how we were able to get that space,” said Combier-Kapel, with both artists noting its more central location and access to public transit.

The renovation will use the Kickstarter funds—and the group has promised to be accountable for the money raised—but Crane noted that Silent Barn will need more funding to set up the infrastructure it needs to reach its goals. To that end, the group is applying for grants from several organizations.

The new, expanded home comes with some other new challenges, Crane noted, as some artists will have the ability to work at Silent Barn’s studios without living on the premises, and to become one of the new “chefs” of the center.

“What we’re literally trying to do with people is make a big stew out of different projects,” said Crane. “You cook it a long time with lots of different elements, and it doesn’t really matter what the elements are; if you create a balance and get it in there, you can take everything out of the fridge and make a big stew, and it’s delicious and hearty.”

The Silent Barn is continuing to look for more people to join their “kitchen;” for more information, visit http://silentbarn.org.

When asked what they see 10, 15 years down the road, Crane refused to look too far ahead.

“I’d like it to still be around in 10, 15 years,” he said. “The greatest coup for New York now, for us, would be to endure.”