Permission to party

By - May 16th, 2008 02:52 pm
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Chicago dodged a bullet this week when it tabled the now-notorious “promoter’s ordinance,” which would have made it necessary for independent music promoters in the city to obtain a license to the tune of $500 – $2000 and at least $300,000 in liability insurance. The legislation, targeted at venues with less than 500 “fixed seats”, outraged Chicago’s music community, and with good reason: in any city, including Milwaukee, this ordinance would be certain and sudden death for a local music scene trying to stay on its feet. Clubs and bars that host live music are already licensed by the city, subject to building and occupancy codes and required to have liability insurance.

The potential consequences of the promoter’s ordinance are obvious: fewer shows, higher cover charges, harder times for upstanding business owners, criminalized concerts. The law is so broadly worded that even bands who book their own shows could be considered “illegal promoters.” It’s bad news. It’s narrow-sighted, fuddy-duddy lawmaking.

I cringe to imagine a city in which the only “legal” concerts are at muscular venues who can afford to host nationally touring acts. I guess I’m young and naive, but god dammit, I want lawmakers to get their faces out of my good times. I want the paternalism to stop. I want the suburbanization of the places and parties I hold dear to stop, stop, stop.

In Milwaukee, a great deal of great things are happening in groundswells of brilliant ideas, passionate people and sweaty, back-breaking, frustrating work. Even the stodgiest members of our local media have become fashionably aware that much of Milwaukee’s cultural life takes place in back rooms, basements, secret clubs, fly-by-night theaters, abandoned submarines at the bottom of the lake, etc. It’s chic, edgy and dangerous now, but THIS IS HOW THE WORLD WAS MADE. In the grand sweep of human history, we haven’t been applying for permits to make music, show art or throw parties for very long. And I don’t think that’s a mark of our progress.

The Echo Base Collective is officially defunct after a few brief but shining months in a Fifth Ward warehouse. After a cop raid and a warning to stop throwing “illegal raves,” they stopped having amazing local rock shows. Now, after weeks of runaround from the police and a handful of post-dated citations including failure to acquire an occupancy permit, their building was condemned and the Base members evicted. Now three people are homeless and more than 200 bicycles, many of them donated to the Collective by the Boys and Girls Club to be fixed up and distributed to kids for free, are going to languish as gas prices skyrocket and our transit system goes broke. Did Echo Base do everything right? No. But everyone involved was trying to better the community, and no one was getting hurt.

I went to a residential college with an extremely liberal alcohol philosophy. It was smart thinking – by allowing us to hang out and drink whenever and wherever we wanted, without any trouble, as long as we behaved like adults, the college saved itself a lot of time and effort policing its student body, and it saved its student body a lot of binge drinking, alcohol poisoning and unsafe behavior. We had to abide by a few simple rules – no keggers, no drinking games, no stupidity – in exchange for a lot of freedom. Security guards came to our parties, made sure everything was cool, and continued their patrol. No one was afraid that they’d “get in trouble” if they called for help when someone was sick from too much drugs or booze.

My naked idealism is showing, and I’ve been surprised by the mysterious ultra-libertarian/anti-authoritarian streak that the convergence of the Chicago proposal and the Echo Base’s untimely end has awakened in me. And I’m sure it will pass. But for now I’m just irked. Jesus Christ, I just want to dance at parties, and I want the man to leave me alone.

In a less infuriating act of meddling by a major local institution, Mary Louise Schumacher at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tried to stir up the pot today with an article questioning the good faith and “insularity” of the Milwaukee International Art Fair, taking place this weekend at Polish Falcons. The article alleges that the Fair, which has an explicit and publicly stated mission to bring INTERNATIONAL ART to Milwaukee, isn’t doing a just job of representing galleries from … Milwaukee. Apparently local gallerists have complained! Apparently, members of our local art community are offended that they were not asked! I guess if you’re going to throw an International Art Fair, you better take a few breaks from your calls to Japan and Cuba and make sure you invite everyone in the city who might be interested in joining the party, just so you don’t hurt anybody’s feelings.

To which I say: boo the fuck hoo. Organize your own International Art Fair. Or just plan an event that coincides with the International Art Fair! In fact, the Fair’s organizers have invited you to do so!

Remember: amazing happenings (or anywhere) only happen after TRUCKLOADS of work. If you want to give yourself a pat on the back after bleeding out of your eyes for two years to put Milwaukee’s only International Art Fair together by ceding three of your five local booths to your organizer’s galleries, GOOD FOR YOU. KEEP AT IT. And don’t let the Journal Sentinel‘s whiny reporters keep you down.

We are too smart for that in this city. Kudos to Faythe Levine of Paper Boat Gallery, who not only organizes her own wildly successful, thoroughly fabulous art party every year (yep, Art Vs. Craft), but who dealt with her frustration at being excluded during the first International Art Fair by refusing to take no for an answer and persisting with her convincing argument that Paper Boat would be a good fit for the show. She’s in this year. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t cry about it. Try again.

Categories: VITAL

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