On Friday night, deep underneath Old Town Fort Collins, a crowd congregated to listen to the sounds of local bands in a dimly lit space that’s part art gallery, part music venue and, overall, aims to be a community asset.
The concert of self-managed solo musicians from groups the Morning Clouds, Lonelyhearts, P@4P, and Sour Boy, Bitter Girl typified the personality of the space they were playing in — GNU: Experience Gallery.
GNU proudly exhibits the DIY (do it yourself) ethic, one which germinated during the punk movement of the 1970s, and grew into a scene of home-grown arts in cities across the country.
“I like being involved…but also in DIY it’s all about music,” said Benjamin Buttice, the vocalist and songwriter for Fort Collins band Sour Boy, Bitter Girl. “Where in legitimate venues, they try to market you to sell beer and make money.”
And although the DIY aesthetic provides freedom and control for artists, it also comes with its fair share of challenges.
Earlier this year GNU was faced with the prospect of closing due to lack of funds, forcing owners Brandton Manshel (janitor in chief) and Tomas Herrera (chief video renderer) to rework their strategy.
Manshel and Herrera created a new call-to-action and new events to match their changing space.
One example is their partnership with a new organization called Transitional Creative Arts & Mentoring Program (TCAMP).
The organization provides at-risk kids an opportunity to find activities to do after school by providing drawing, painting, sculpture, writing, acting, guitar, music production, and other classes.
Herrera is also heading up an actors workshop that happens every other Tuesday beginning in September.
“The people in the community, that’s what saved us,” Manshel said.
But, according to Herrera, there was a period of time when too much responsibility rested on Manshel’s shoulders.
“There was a time when Brandton felt he wasn’t getting any help from the community,” Herrera said.
Herrera explained that Manshel was responsible for almost single-handedly booking more than 200 shows since August 2011.
“That’s almost maniac behavior,” Herrera said. “Epitomizing the DIY theme, there is a time when you need to ask for help.”
In addition to continuing the music shows, Manshel and Herrera are working to add video blogs, housing interviews with the artists, more working studio time to be available for artists, and an extension and possible move to the California DIY scene.
“We want to work with people we know in the DIY scene out there. We want to be a DIY agency,” Manshel said.
Though it’s the most prominent, GNU is not the only DIY space located in Fort Collins.
Dawn Putney, co-founder and self proclaimed fairy godmother of Art Lab, also located in Old Town Fort Collins, wanted to give artists a place to create.
“Art lab became a broad blank palate. You can approach us with an idea that you want to do with a big open space,” Putney said. “There’s a pretty good chance we’ll have space for it.”
“We jokingly, but honestly, only have two rules,” Putney said. “Don’t burn the place down and don’t get us arrested.”
The importance of the DIY scene, according to Putney, is to give artists a space where they can express their work exactly how they want to without judgement.
“We’ll take anyone who walks in the door,” Putney said.
DIY venues have a strong connection all throughout the state including Rhinoceropolis, a music, art and film venue in Denver.
Chris Westin, Rhinoceropolis’s current lease holder, said that their only goal is to have fun.
“The scene isn’t necessarily important. The important thing is really just having a place for interesting people making interesting music…it’s not always the kind that can be bought and sold,” Westin said.
Westin argues that the only difference between Fort Collins and Denver is that Denver is a bit more populated, and there are more things happening, but Westin sees Fort Collins as having a healthy music scene.
“The support to others, and mutual support (of DIY), that’s not a music genre,” Manshel said. “That’s a lifestyle.”