Denver has an abundance of first-rate, historic practice spaces and vital nonprofit music organizations, says musician and educator Tyler Breuer. And he should know: Breuer is currently school director at the music center Swallow Hill Music, a job he took after serving as director of programs for the music education nonprofit Youth on Record.
“In my time with both, I have not come across any consistent nonprofit practice spaces,” Breuer says. “And just like housing in Denver, finding an affordable practice space is challenging."
So Breuer and fellow musician Ned Garthe (of the Ned Garthe Explosion) set out to create a subsidized spot where musicians could play for free. They dubbed it the Black in Bluhm Project (BiBP), a nod to their friends and landlords Chris Fogal and Dan Fox, who run the Black in Bluhm recording studio at 1501 Dahlia Street.
Between grant writing, fundraising, donations and some earned income, Breuer and Garthe got enough money together to rent their own space at Black in Bluhm Music, with a separate entrance for their two rehearsal spaces, one of which is offered to the community for free or at a discount. Breuer says participating artists get unique entry codes, then work with him and Garthe to schedule practice time in the space, which they also help take care of.
“We're starting small to make sure it's a good space,” Breuer says. “With the help of about twenty bandmates and some heroic donors, we have two identical, safe, accessible practice spaces filled with sweet gear — all provided by the musicians who use them, as well as other community members.”
Breuer and Garthe launched BiBP in mid-March, the same weekend the state shut Denver down to slow the spread of COVID-19. But Breuer says BiBP has still been able to provide musicians with a subsidized/no-cost practice space that has a full backline and is professionally sound-treated, climate-controlled, safe and ADA-accessible.
Still, it's only a quarter of the usage they had hoped to secure.
“We’ve still been able to underwrite one of the spaces through a combination of donations, fundraising events, a few grants and a little earned income, so dozens of local artists without a space still have a free, safe and consistent rehearsal option, though we have limited usage, for safety reasons,” Breuer says.
More recently, they’ve been allowing one band a day to practice, though sometimes they let two in if they can get there between sessions to sanitize the area. Rare Byrd$, Machete Mouth, and Liat and the Sirens are some of the acts that regularly use the space, all masked up, all playing at a social distance.
“We've also had music teachers unable to teach at home during the pandemic use the space for remote online lessons,” Breuer says. “We’ve done live streams for solo acts without the Internet at home. This has all been provided for free. Our expected earned income, due to restricted programming, has not offset our subsidized use, so we've turned to more grant writing and fundraising events — like soccer games for sports nuts and bike rides for speed demons — to keep the lights on.”
Garthe says the first stage for BiBP is survival, and if they can make it through the pandemic, they can make it through anything.
“Post-pandemic, the goal is to grow,” he elaborates. “We would love to put multiple locations in neighborhoods all around the Front Range. We want to create a resource that is easily accessible. Transportation can be a major obstacle for people. If we could expand and put more spaces in more neighborhoods, then we could go directly to the people, not hope the people come to us.
“I firmly believe artistic expression is a fundamental human right," he adds. "We could be missing out on the next Miles Davis simply because he or she or they doesn’t have access to a creative space. Music and art builds community; it teaches problem-solving skills. It fuels creativity and innovation. It inspires and drives us. My dream is to make rehearsal spaces available to anyone who wants to pursue music.”
While BiBP has a fiscal sponsor, Breuer hopes that as the project expands, it becomes its own standalone nonprofit.
“This is a community service provided to fill a hole we saw in town, not a commercial effort,” Breuer says. "It’s a labor of love. When we do move to a proper nonprofit and look into other neighborhoods, I don’t really see that changing much. At that point, we'll probably change the name, though.”
To donate, go to the BiBP fundraising page.
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