The Silent Barn wasn’t about to wait for CMJ to do its thing before reopening. On October 14, while the music exec’s wet dream (and everyone else’s headache-inducing cluster fuck) raged on, the DIY venue welcomed show-comers back into its space, closed since a fire ripped through one of the upstairs residencies, and left behind an expensive mess a large chunk of the building. It had been less than three weeks since the fire, and after a slew of benefit shows, volunteer efforts, small gestures of support, and around $25,000 in donations, the show-space reconstruction efforts were complete.
Still, the reopening was “bittersweet,” according to Stephanie Griffin, Silent Barn’s spokesperson. “It’s kind of hard to get people to understand that even though we’re open downstairs, everything upstairs is still a mess. It isn’t a public space, so people don’t really see it and don’t really understand the extent of our need to keep fundraising.”
I stopped by the space yesterday to check out the repairs. “We’ve never painted our ceiling before,” Stephanie said while clapping her hands, coaxing the familiar giant globular moon lamps hanging from the ceiling to change colors. “I can’t tell if it makes the room look smaller or longer.” I’d go with the latter.
If you hadn’t seen the damage (Stephanie said that, weirdly, she’d spoken to some people who had no idea about the fire), the space might not look that wildly different, save for the black ceiling, runner lights, and a revamped bathroom just off the main floor. “Our bathroom will be wheelchair accessible soon– we still have to add a little ramp, but it’s wider so a wheelchair can turn around in there and enter in through the door,” she explained. And eventually, the speakers will be hung from the ceiling.
After hearing earlier this week shows were happening again at Silent Barn, I contacted the collective to figure out just how fully functioning things are, and how much left they have to do. “Everything downstairs is back to normal– we had a sold out show on Friday, the Double Double Whammy showcase, and a secret Perfect Pussy show on Saturday,” she explained. “All of our staff are able to work shows again.” Regular shows means regular income, the loss of which was one of the major concerns after the fire, but the arrival of a traveling 100-year-old Swiss log signaled the place was really vibing again.
But that’s only halfway true. “Programmatically, not everything’s the same, because our team is split up right now,” Stephanie said. “Any programs that would have been curated by the residents, it’s harder for them to get to Silent Barn now because they’re so spread out. Some of them left the city for a couple weeks because they had to.”
The residents who were living upstairs are “still displaced,” she emphasized, again and again. “Everyone upstairs is still homeless and I’m not sure what date construction is starting upstairs, but it looks like it’ll be probably maybe December people will be able to move back in, if things go as planned.” The material damages have, of course, been difficult to deal with, but the people whose lives have been turned upside down by the fire are what continues to weight on Stephanie and all the collective members. “As much as we’re all so excited the space downstairs is open and we’re open to the community again, I don’t think that the weight will be lifted until we have an estimation of when our residents can move back in,” she explained. “Until that happens, personally, I don’t feel like we’re back yet. To me, it feels like we’re 50 percent there.”
As of Monday, the collective still had not been able to have the cost of upstairs reconstruction work assessed, and as for collecting on their insurance– that still seems like a far off outcome. “The claim was started the night of the fire, so we’ve pretty much done everything I’m aware of on our end, so it’s really just a waiting game,” Stephanie said. “But everything is submitted, we’re in good shape on our end, it’s just a long process no matter what.”
In the meantime, the collective will continue to collect donations to help cover the cost of the recovery effort and get them back to where they were financially before the fire. While the Helptagon site— one that coordinated volunteers to help with demo and other immediate disaster response — indicates the Silent Barn is in “phoenix phase,” they’re still taking monetary contributions. However, “It’s definitely tapered off,” Stephanie said. “People see that this thing’s happened, press slows down, and attention spans drops, it’s only natural.”
But now that the collective has their show space up and running, they plan to revamp their fundraising efforts ASAP. “We’re gonna have to figure out new ways to fundraise that aren’t just … like, we’re not really good at just flat out asking for money,” Stephanie admitted. “We’re better at doing things like having a fundraiser show or community outreach events, so we’ll probably dive into more creative fundraising things pretty soon.” Look out for a benefit show and “possibly a banquet” coming up in November or December.
Expect the benefit shows at other venues to continue as well. This weekend Deep Cuts Record Store will host a photography exhibition at their shop in Ridgewood. The owners got started a couple years back at Silent Barn and wanted to organize a benefit, “to give back to the space that has given us all so much.” All proceeds from prints– for sale by more than a dozen photographers– will go to the Silent Barn.
Stephanie sounded a little less exhausted than the last time we spoke in the days immediately after the fire, but still drained– understandably so, the collective is far from being relieved of the ordeal, “I want to stress the ‘thank you’ to everyone who has donated, or supported, or come and ripped out dry wall,” she said. “But I feel like our residents are being forgotten by people already, it’s hard.”
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