.Independent Arts

Blazing Ahead

Independent Arts Coalition paves its own way

By Gretchen Giles

Lounging on chairs and couches, a group of new-style punks sit around the Higher Grounds Café in Santa Rosa. An old octagonal coffee table between them bears the high milky relief of several empty glass coffee cups, a scrunched 7-Up can, and a sticky grape-juice bottle. High-laced Doc Martens boots are crossed over torn-out denim knees patched with old plaid. Hair is chopped and cropped, twined with duct tape or dyed various colors. Rings puncture eyebrows and ear cartilage and lips and noses. A swastika patch droops impotently off the arm of a flung-off jacket, and a small galaxy of star tattoos bedazzle the shoulder of one young woman. A man with a Guinness bar towel sewn onto the back of his jacket turns to the woman next to him and says, “I can pick my nose again.”

“Good,” she answers appraisingly, looking at the ring that is pierced bull-like through his septum. “It must be healing.”

It’s 7 o’clock on Sunday night, the usual time for the Independent Arts Coalition to meet. Despite the rain and the cold, about 18 people ranging in age from middle teens to mid-20s have shown up, ready to talk business.

Founded in October of 1993 when the owners of the now-defunct Café This in Santa Rosa allegedly banned the local punk group Siren from playing their club, the IAC is a grass-roots coalition of musicians, artists, friends, and fans who have come together to establish their own alcohol- and drug-free all-ages community center. Envisioning a venue where punk bands can play, artists of all disciplines can create, and the young people of the county can get together without being molested and misunderstood, IAC members have set themselves the goal of raising $10,000. They’ve already amassed $7,000, mostly by throwing benefit concerts at which the maximum admission charged is $5.

Sitting incongruously among them–looking as though she has just returned from a Young Democrats rally–is Erin Mayer, the IAC’s secretary. In a blazer and slacks, with her long brown hair pulled back in a clip, and her face naked of rings, Mayer–who manages the local punk band the Invalids while she studies to be an elementary school teacher–is a punk without the overlay of regalia.

“Does anyone have any agenda items that they would like to talk about?” she asks, leaning forward to sip from her cup. The meeting has begun, and for the next hour and a half, while one member takes the minutes and Mickey Fitzpatrick of the band Mickey and the Big Mouths recognizes each speaker, these punks plan for a Feb. 9 benefit concert and discuss such issues as taxes, insurance, their upcoming non-profit status, and alcohol problems at recent shows–all the while maintaining the proscribed decorum of a city council meeting.

Except that the members of the IAC are more polite.

After the meeting, Mayer and IAC president Robert Sutter, a member of the band Foray, agree that on-site drinking is one of the biggest challenges that an all-ages venue can surmount. “It’s not like we’re anti-whatever,” Sutter says, running his hands through his hair. “It’s just that it’s something that attracts the authorities really fast, and that can really destroy all that we’ve worked so long to achieve. That’s what we’re against. We’re against the destruction of this thing that we’ve created.”

“People who go to our shows have a different motivation than someone who hangs out in, like, a bar or whatever,” Mayer says, stressing the sense of community felt at local concerts. “It’s just a different thing . . . [when] you go out and see your friends’ bands play or have your own band play.”

Both Sutter and Mayer are excited about the prospect of a center that welcomes diverse artists and of establishing an in-house library full of alternative music and books.

“In our purpose statement it says that the goal of the Independent Arts Coalition is to open an all-ages non-profit community center for the local arts,” Mayer avers. “And that’s the difference between being a community center or just being a venue for the local punk bands on Friday and Saturday nights.”

Sutter nods. “What we’re looking for is kind of a balance between entertainment and education.”

The next IAC benefit concert on Friday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. features Allegiance to None, the Process, the Wobblies, Headboard, Foray, and Duh Big Dorks. Phoenix Theatre, 21 Keller St., Petaluma. $5. 578-5865.

From the Feb. 1-7, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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