Is the Vera Project Punk Rock?
I guess we made a controversial choice this week, when we suggested to give money to the Vera Project in our Stranger Suggests for today. If you look to the comments on that link, you will see an argument raging on the punk rock legitimacy of the Vera Project.
I am a board member of the Vera Project, which usually prevents me from speaking about it at my job, due to conflict of interest. The position is non-paying, and I have never taken any money from the Vera Project for any reason, but I have my career to thank them for, and I will forever be in debt in that way. However, my conflict of interest allows me to be an especially well-informed participant in any debate about Vera.
The debate started with this comment from RTM:
Someone explain to me again why kids need a million dollar palace so that adults can facilitate their rebellion. What ever happened to forming a co-op and renting a piece of crap space in a marginal area of town, throwing up some sheetrock and paint, and having bands play. Vera is a bunch of gatekeepers who want you to fill out paperwork to do a show. About as anti- rock and roll as it gets. Sheesh. It’s such an obvious subversion of punk. Might as well have Journey sponsor the whole project.
There is a common misinterpretation of the Vera Project as a punk rock venue. The Vera Project isn’t, and never was, a punk rock venue. The Vera Project is a radical DIY all-ages performance space run for and by young people. This is an important distinction.
Many people equate the terms punk rock and radical. Whether you believe political radicalism to be part of punk rock is your own personal view, but it’s certainly not the other way around. Vera has made it part of it’s mission to be supported by the city and involved in local politics, which is also not part of the punk rock ethos in the view of many. Our city involvement is intentional, not institutionally necessary: the Vera Project is working for government support for music and youth involvement. This has been part of our mission since we were born.
This is a nitpicky point that I shouldn’t have to defend, but I will anyhow. 1.8 million dollars, the cost of the Vera Project’s new permanent venue, is incredibly inexpensive for a 9300 square foot space in central Seattle. 1.8 million dollars will barely buy you a house in Ballard these days, it seems. We are doing a huge amount of retrofitting to the space that by law cannot be done by us, as it is a government owned space. If we could do it ourselves, we would, but we don’t break the law at the Vera Project, since we aren’t punk rock.
The Vera Project is a space that provides support, resources, and respect for young people to make programming to show to other young people. There is a degree of indirect mentorship involved, along with education (our skill classes, like sound and silk screening). Most of our education is experience-based, i.e. someone wants to do something so they try it out. Someone bringing this up in the comments ilicited this response from our misguided commenter:
I’m just curious. How in the world were Green River, the U-Man, etc. able to exist without those nurturing mentors? Oh, I forgot, they learned how to do it from the people’s prefab co-op, owned and operated by adults, but “driven” by the ideas of the kids. The education analogy doesn’t hold water. I think it’s entirely possible that a lot more kids are learning a lot more about music, promotions, and goal setting, on a much smaller budget, in the few remaining high school jazz programs in this city. Obviously, I am an old man. Oh well. I just don’t remember the city of Portland helping Poison Idea and the Rats (and the Wipers and Sado Nation, etc etc) build a showcase for what they were doing. The scene just moved from Pacific Academy to Clockwork Joes and so forth. It’s entirely possible I don’t completely understand how Vera works. Perhaps someone with more information could get ahold of the 14 year old with check writing authority, the 16 year old who is managing the construction project, and the twin 17 year olds who selected the architect and contractor and have them join the conversation.
We will barely bring up how much times have changed since Green River ran around (let’s just say I was around 3 years old at the time). There are, of course, not many more cheap spaces in easily accessible (by bike or bus, since kids don’t often have cars) parts of Seattle. With all the condo conversions and nightlife issues, it’s hard to get even a storefront in which to open a small venue, much less anything established. Vera needs to be publicly sanctioned so it can continue to exist.
And yes, RTM, you have no idea how the Vera Project works. I could actually produce for you the committee of 14-24 year-olds who picked the architect, contractor, and monitor the construction project. They are called our members, and they have as much authority as I do as a member of the board of directors. A 14 year-old doesn’t have check writing authority, but a few teenagers helped hire the people who do. The Vera Project really is driven by young people, which differentiates it from the spaces young people usually are forced to hang out in, like school and traditional teen centers. A school jazz program may force a young person to learn more about jazz music than the Vera Project will, but it is unlikely that it focuses any energy on teaching those young people how to make decisions as a team, how to work towards consensus, or how to be respectful to your peers in a decisionmaking process. The Vera focuses on that intensely.
In the end, it is important to remember that Vera is not filling the spaces traditionally filled by punk houses and DIY venues. It is taking some of the skills that are often learned at those spaces and making them available to young people who might be intimidated by that institution. It is also making these skills available to people of all races (punk houses are traditionally quite white) and for people who don’t like rock music. The Vera Project is not punk rock, but it is still radical and important, and it is filling a need that desperately needs to be filled.