Great communities come from the shared local culture of its residents. But as the City Paper notes this week in an article on local rock schools, we don't always make it easy for kids to participate.
In the story, a teenage band from Bethesda called The Black Sparks are thwarted in their attempt to organize a concert series in a local community center:
Erickson helped Ray set up the series Bethesda Youth Shows, but from a distance; the project is almost entirely Ray’s baby. However, the series — set to premiere last week at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center — quickly ran into municipal resistance. Montgomery County officials wanted Ray to do an online presale, and not sell tickets at the door. Maybe that wouldn’t be a big deal to adults, but for Ray’s purposes it sucked: “You have to be 19 to have a PayPal account.”
Whether because of its lefty residents or proximity to the District, Montgomery County has long had a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture, from Silver Spring's past as a skating mecca to our small punk scene. These things make set our community apart, give us a common identity, and overall make this a much cooler place to live.
But no matter where you are in Montgomery County, kids can't do or make anything when they don't have places for to go and community leaders who are either disinterested or openly hostile towards their needs. The difficulty that the underage Black Sparks had in securing a venue for their shows is just one part of a bigger problem.
I was particularly drawn to quotes from Kevin Erickson, director of the All Ages Movement Project, a nationwide organization that encourages the creation of spaces where young people can make music. He certainly gets the connection between giving kids something to do and having a more interesting community:
“If a city is interested in making their community more livable and interesting and creatively vibrant for young people,” says Erickson. “One thing they can do is get out of the way and eliminate some of the regulatory barriers that can hinder young people from participating in culture or running a space . . . Once we start to recognize young people’s creative contributions, it can be a step toward treating them as humans in the rest of civic life.”
Not that Montgomery County's such a terrible place to be as a young artist. We've got organizations like the Gandhi Brigade that teaches young people to make films and other media, along with places like Bach to Rock and the School of Rock, which are discussed in the City Paper article. And next door in the District there are groups like Positive Force that push for youth empowerment and expression through events like the yearly Positive Youth Fest.
That said, we could do more to promote DIY culture. The best place to start is by providing venues where kids can hang out, from organized events like Councilmember Nancy Navarro's "youth cafés," to unprogrammed spaces like Veterans' Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. We could also make it easier to reserve space in public buildings for concerts and other events, particularly the Fillmore, which is supposed to be available for community use.
And it would've helped if the county hadn't just condemned the Corpse Fortress, a Silver Spring punk house that's existed under various names over the past decade, and instead given its residents a chance to bring the building up to code first.
Kids making music they're passionate about isn't just good for them. It makes our community a better and more unique place, and we should encourage it whenever possible.
Pictured: the School of Rock in downtown Silver Spring in 2007.