Silent Barn is closing after 12 years at the forefront of New York City’s avant-garde music and art scenes. The collectively run venue– once named Best DIY Art Space by New York magazine– will pull the plug at the end of April, according to a message on its Facebook page.
While the Bushwick venue has managed to keep up a cavalcade of cutting-edge programming, its financial woes have been known for some time now. Back in July, it opened up its financial books to show that it had lost $33,947 in 2016. That transparency was in part a last-ditch effort to raise funds and encourage membership, but subsequent donations were “only enough to cover one month of rent, payroll, utilities, emergency repairs, bar stock, and other overdue expenses,” according to today’s announcement. Despite subsequent efforts to run a tighter ship, “the clock has run short,” the announcement reads. “After a prolonged assessment of the financial realities of this project, the leaseholders have decided that the most responsible option left is to end operations at 603 Bushwick as of April 30.”
Silent Barn’s closing will displace its artists-in-residence and users of its art studios. It’s uncertain what will become of Disclaimer Gallery, the gallery within Silent Barn that showcased artists representing marginalized groups. Also displaced will be Educated Little Monsters, the arts education program for local underserved youth. According to an announcement on its Facebook page, ELM will be launching a $50,000 fundraiser to open what it describes as “an all-ages venue for the community.”
ELM says “it was never comfortable or easy to build inside the largely white, transplant-run DIY space that is Silent Barn,” but last month it managed to converted a garage space there into a recording studio and spaces for instrument lessons, photo shoots, and more. ELM called Silent Barn’s closure “beyond devastating.”
Silent Barn’s closure hardly comes as a shock, since it follows the demise of 285 Kent, Death By Audio, Aviv, and Shea Stadium. (So many local DIY venues have shuttered that they’ve been the subject of an art show and now a documentary.) But it is no doubt a disappointment to those who had hoped that the opening of a cafe in 2014 and the acquisition of a full liquor license in 2017 would financially bolster the venue. In July, a few months after it started legally selling booze, the venue’s financial manager, Jordan Michael Iannucci, seemed optimistic. “For so long we have been at sea hoping we are heading towards land,” he wrote in a Medium essay. “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 venue now acknowledges that “opening an above-ground, up-to-code space in NYC (or anywhere) comes with limitless challenges– financial, structural, emotional. Attempting to run as an open, non-hierarchical, and collectively-directed project only complicated those challenges.”
Silent Barn has certainly faced challenges over the years. Its original location, in what is now the Trans-Pecos space in Ridgewood, was shut down by police and other members of the MARCH task force in 2011, and days later an estimated $15,000 in sound equipment and other belongings were stolen from it. The venue reopened in Bushwick, but in late 2015 the new location suffered a fire that necessitated costly repairs.
Silent Barn’s 2013-2016 financial review cited other challenges such as volunteer burnout, and estimates that it could’ve made $163,488 more if it had charged its tenants market rents. “Rent income is fixed while expenses slowly grow, leaving a hole that needs to be filled by Programs which is still in the process from recovering from growing pains,” the assessment read. Among those growing pains: “Running our booking on volunteer labor showed diminishing returns and trended toward being socially exploitative.” The venue tried to fill the gap with fundraising efforts and loans, including $45,000 of loans from musician Thurston Moore, but it wasn’t enough to get it to the end of its lease in 2022.
Today’s announcement assures that “the end of the current location does not mean the end of Silent Barn as an organization, but we will first be taking time to reflect on our experiences at 603 Bushwick Avenue.”
The next weeks of programming are filled with the kind of eclectic events that made Silent Barn such an utterly unique cultural destination, not to mention one of the city’s sole bastions of noise and experimental music. There’s an Iranian New Year party that includes “burning of Esphand to ward off evil spirits” and an “Islamic geometric pattern coloring station + egg decoration station.” There are some Drink & Draw events, priced at a sliding scale to ensure that no one is turned away. There’s a free, all-ages goth night that promises “no cops.” There’s one of the hardcore matinees that Silent Barn has been hosting while ABC No Rio renovates its Lower East Side home. The final night, dubbed “Last Rites,” will entail a “Silent Barn funeral service” and “Barn family DJs + drinks,” according to an event page that says, “Come say goodbye for now.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the estimated value of property stolen from Silent Barn in 2011, the timing of the burglary, and the financial manager’s name.