Beloved Bushwick DIY venue/housing cooperative/artist colony Silent Barn has been in a bit of a financial bind of late. The popular concert venue, which also functions as an art collective of sorts, has struggled to navigate a coldly indifferent capitalist world, and Silent Barn — technically a for-profit LLC but operating more or less as a non-profit and in the process of transitioning to one — has put out an urgent call for donations as well as paid members.
In the interest of transparency, the collective has also decided to completely open its financials, reasoning that it is unfair to ask people to give money unless they can see how that money will be spent. At Silent Barn’s benefit concert tonight at Brooklyn Bazaar, audience members will also have an opportunity to ask Silent Barn’s financial director, Jordan Michael Iannucci, “WHATEVER QUESTIONS YOU WANT.”
Those interested can also see the detailed slide deck Silent Barn has prepared, which shows that last year it had a (negative) net income of $-33,947.
The deck is also accompanied by a “director’s commentary” Medium essay by Iannucci. First some good news: the belated acquisition of a liquor license should help the venue be more profitable. Progress has been made, according to the Medium piece:
Earlier this year we hired in-house bookers to manage our events calendar, and attendance has been on the rise. Our full liquor license came through, albeit 6 months late. A law firm has done amazing work counseling us on the proper way to transition from an LLC to a 501(3)c, so the fundraising that starts with this presentation can soon be headed by a real nonprofit. For so long we have been at sea hoping we are heading towards land, and for the first time we can not only see it but I can smell the grass and see all our friends waiting for us on the shore, and they’re all totally partying.
The piece breaks down the lessons learned — chief among them, that relying almost entirely on volunteer workers doesn’t work. The move to paid employees, of course, increases expenses. But while the previous model — figure it out as you go along, and rely on community spirit and can-do to get it done — may have better reflected the DIY ethos, it was utterly unsustainable:
I call this the Lemonade Stand Model. You need 10 dollars so you spend 7 to make 8. It is certainly a lot of work, and it might even feel like you earned close to your goal, but it the end you are still 9 dollars short.
Largely due to the fact that I have no education, taught myself accounting on the job and only have experience in the fledgling lemonade industry, it took us years to have proper actuals or any sort of budget. All payments — all investments — were made by glancing at our bank balance and saying, “Yeah, this should work, right? Right? This is going to work?” We didn’t know where we were going, and we weren’t even sure where we had been.
“The lemonade stand needs to close, and in its place we need to open a Jamba Juice franchise, essentially,” concludes Iannucci.
That might not be the most punk thing I could say, but I look forward to the day when we can worry about the future, not the present, and feel relaxed because we’re not in a state of panic. When that moment comes, I will gladly sip my stupid Jamba Juice in defiance of all the things that almost prevented us.