Taking Up the Slack

Paul and Leilani Slack provide opportunities for Napa's underground


Bloom Creative Hair Design shares a block in downtown Napa with the Napa Valley Opera House and Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio, but one step inside and a visitor knows that Bloom is no ordinary wine country destination. A current exhibit of tattoo and tattoo-inspired art hangs on the walls; at night, underground bands might play among the styling stations.

Across the street, at Bloom salon, even rawer, more political art adorns the space. Through a back hallway is Slack Collective Studios, where 13 different artists rent studio space for just $150 a month, and where canvases, silkscreen equipment, custom shoes, zines and sculptures pack every square foot. Stapled high on a loft is a T-shirt that says it all: “Shut Up and Make Something.”

It feels a million miles away from the Napa of wine country weekends and tourist magazines, and that’s just the way Paul and Leilani Slack like it. With their downtown endeavors, along with underground events held outside of town at their Slack Ranch, the Slacks are changing the status quo in Napa in the best possible way—not by complaining, or fighting, but by shutting up and making something. A lot of things, in fact.

Throw their upcoming InDIYpendent Culture Fair into the mix, and the jury has reached a consensus: it’s time to give these people a Boho Award.

“When I moved to Napa, it wasn’t a very solid artistic community, where people are really into what each other are doing, and making something bigger out of the individual perspective into something collective,” says Paul. “That’s a goal of mine, where people can come together.”

Come together they have, and often under the umbrella of some Slack-related project or in a Slack-related venue. Both Paul and Leilani cite the formation of the group Wandering Rose several years ago as an inspiration to keep opening doors for the younger generation; as Paul says, “it was really exciting for me to see some young people, for the first time in the whole 17 years I’ve lived here, to see those young people stepping up and taking initiative to get things happening.”

Leilani herself knows what little opportunities for teenagers exist in a city geared specifically for those over 21, having spent her formative teen years in Napa. “If you wanted to do anything, you had to go out of town,” she says. “I’m surprised more people didn’t get into drugs and become alcoholics, because that’s all there was to do for kids in Napa back then.”

Paul, a bassist in the band Planets, moved to Napa from Sacramento to live on land that’s been in the family since the 1860s. (“It’s three acres that are left out of literally hundreds of acres of property,” he says of the homestead, “99 percent of it is all vineyards now.”) That same night, upon arrival, he held a show at the ranch, walking through downtown Napa beforehand and inviting strangers to see live music.

Last year, the Slacks decided to take the reins of the InDIYpendent Culture Fair, a day-long event in a warehouse with live painting, bike repair workshops, craft workshops, belly dancers, fire spinners, baby goats and a taco truck. This year, the InDIYpendent Culture Fair on Oct. 1 will be held on the 950 block of Pearl Street, near the Slack Collective Studios, with the street closed to traffic. So far, interest has been massive.

“I was thinking I would have to go to these businesses on the block and explain the whole theory of DIY, and the punk ethic, but they were already in—just like that,” Paul says. “It’s amazing. I think that everybody has some sort of that ethic in them.”With their continued support of emerging artists and their open-door policy to nearly anyone wanting to use their performance spaces, Paul and Leilani Slack are improving their city not simply by making the best of Napa, but as Paul pointedly says, “building the best of it.” Here’s hoping their construction is ongoing.

Sonoma County Library