Talking RIP DIY With Curator Nicki Ishmael


Last fall, when wandering through the expanded space of Death by Audio during that venue’s last week of shows, I caught sight of a wall featuring photographs taken at a host of DIY spaces. They featured bands in motion and crowds watching the action; they brought back memories of venues that no longer existed; in some cases, they brought back memories of buildings that no longer existed. That turned out to be the prelude for RIP DIY, a show of photos documenting defunct Brooklyn DIY spaces. The show opens next week at Cloud City, and I checked in with curator Nicki Ishmael to learn more about it.

Where did the idea for the show first come from?

Jeff Seal and I came up with the idea during the Impose Magazine Photo Show at Cloud City. Seeing all the great music photography made us want to do more of a comprehensive showing of all the DIY spaces. Jeff and I had both been part of the now closed space Dead Herring and with all the closing spaces and changes happening in Brooklyn, Williamsburg specifically, we thought it would be interesting to concentrate on the closed spaces.

Does this show feature some of the same photos that appeared during the last few weeks that Death by Audio was open?

The RIP DIY wall during the Death by Art show was an amazing way to start this project. We are lucky enough to have eight of the photographers from that show and some of the same images will be back.

How did you go about selecting the work that appears in it? Were you looking towards particular photographers to take part?

I put out an open call to photographers and I asked all of the participants from the wall at DBA. I was hoping to connect with photographers I didn’t know yet but were part of the DIY scene.

What was the first DIY music space you felt a part of?

The very first was 924 Gilman in Berkeley, CA. I was lucky enough to start going to shows there when I was 15. In New York, I had the amazing opportunity to live at Dead Herring. I always say Dead Herring made my life in New York and it’s true. It introduced me to local music and spaces, helped me meet a ton of friends and gave me a way to contribute to the scene.

When organizing the show, did you seek a balance of images from particular venues?

I tried to get as many spaces as possible. I knew a great deal from 285 Kent, Death by Audio and Glasslands would be submitted because those spaces are so fresh in people’s minds.

The venues featured in RIP DIY are in New York; had there been any thoughts about expanding it to a larger geographic area?

It would be amazing to learn about other people’s experiences with DIY spaces in other areas. I am still working on Brooklyn; I am hoping I can grow this project further here first.

What do you think of the current state of DIY spaces, both in New York and in the northeast in general?

DIY in New York is still amazing, there have been a vast number of changes but something new always rises from the ashes. My friend Josh Intrator said this in the living tribute that was put out by Impose for DBA, ”By nature, DIY spaces are born with an expiration date. At best, they represent a snapshot in time—something specific that one can hold on to”. This show is not saying DIY is dead; it’s never going to die because people will always need spaces of creativity and figure out a way to make them happen. This show is our opportunity to honor and remember our experiences with these now closed spaces.

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