The leaders of Communication, the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood nonprofit space that celebrates its one-year anniversary this week, can think of plenty of events, moments and developments from the past twelve months that have helped shape the budding arts venue.
For director and arts manager Jennifer Bastian, there’s been the success of the Teens Open Art Studio — a workshop held every Wednesday that gives young artists access to art materials for free. In recent months, instructors gave participants lessons in needlework and printmaking.
For Mollie Martin, the space’s retail manager, there’s been the strong turnout at Communication’s store, a vibrant nook brimming with pottery, prints and paintings that helps raise money for both the space and the artists themselves.
For Spencer Bible, the programming manager, there are the approximately 100 concerts that have happened at the space, many of them featuring innovative young performers. Shows have ranged from cyberpunk to folk, from hip-hop nights to electronic musicians writing computer programming live onstage to generate music.
“Communication is a platform for me, and for all of the founders, to promote a lot of the art that we feel is really exciting,” said Bible.
The space will celebrate its year in DIY, all-ages arts programming this weekend with a two-day fundraising party featuring music and visual arts this Friday and Saturday. The schedule includes a Saturday morning kids show, music performances by the local artists including M. Martin and Julian Lynch, and the unveiling of a new mosaic mural at the front of the venue.
Communication first opened last summer after its four co-founders — Bastian, Martin, Bible and the musician Tessa Echeverria — bought and renovated a former warehouse and retail space on Milwaukee Street. Their goal was to create something that had been missing from Madison since the closure of the eastside venue Project Lodge in 2012: An all-ages, sober space for music and the arts.
“Our main goal was to have a space for all kinds of artists and creators to connect, to be together,” said Bastian.
“I grew up performing at all ages spaces in Madison,” said Bible. “Having a place where teenagers can go and perform with each other is important.”
The space’s arts-first and inclusive mission manifests in a variety of ways. For one thing, programming is typically on the early side.
“A lot of people can’t access a lot of really late content. And a lot of bands are like, 'Oh my God, what a joy … I’ll be out of here and on my way home by 11,'” said Bible. “That’s our contract with our audience. If you all show up on time, you’ll be in and out in two hours.”
The space has also put a premium on highlighting art by those who don’t always get venues to flex their creative muscles. One of its first galleries featured work associated with ArtWorking, a local nonprofit that works with artists that have disabilities. The space also has close ties with Half Stack Sessions, a collective of women, LGBT, and non-binary musicians in Madison.
Communication also has a record of making sure artists get paid for their work.
“One thing that was important to all of us at communication was that when we have musicians playing, they’re getting a fair cut. When we have artists selling their art, they’re getting a fair cut,” said Bastian.
Now, the venue’s co-founders say they want to expand on their programming, while figuring out how to grow community and financial support for the endeavor.
The team says they have already established some valuable partnerships in the community, including with the arts and culture journalism outlet Tone Madison. They’ve also managed to land a handful of grants to help finance some programming.
Thus far, the space has primarily relied on donations, as well as small cuts from shop and tickets sales, for revenue. Currently, the staff is all-volunteer. The team said they hope to refine their financial strategy in the next year of operation, while also building up a bigger network of volunteers and supporters in the community.
“We’re pretty scrappy, and we do the best we can,” said Bastian. “We’re trying to focus less on what we don’t have and more on what we do have.”
“We’ve been doing it on very little sleep and a shoestring budget,” said Bible.
Martin said that she also hopes to see the space expand even more with its programming, “just in the amount of shows that we do, and the kinds of shows that we put together.”
A full schedule of programming for this weekend’s fundraiser can be found online.