The Brick House

A New Name and Location Brings New Life

By Sean Hoban

Growing Up

Walk through the double doors of the new Brick House at 1101 Second Street and you see a playroom on the left and a well-stocked library on the right. Further on, an art studio, a computer lab, a bike workshop; finally, there is a large garage-type room for events. Flyers pepper the walls: a dance party, a burlesque show, several concerts. To explain the new building and new focus, a few dedicated volunteers sat down with me on a recent Saturday in this homey environment.

The original BRYCC House revolved around music (the shows, the crowd, etc.) and by the end three years ago, it had become mostly a scene with little meaning behind it. Reopen just a few months now, the center has a new name, new location and a much broader mission. This mission is to become a very open and very active community and culture center for all Louisvillians. Recently they have hosted several concerts, a community bike ride, an affordable art show, a day for mountaintop removal awareness, a burlesque show and a sex talk.

The Brick House volunteers are an impressive group - intelligent, dedicated, idealistic. As we talked about music, art and ideals, it became apparent that these youth want their new center to be about more than just music; it's about life and living. Music may inspire and fill someone with a sense of meaning and feeling, but it also gives one the desire to think, love and act. Young people are now taking an opportunity to act and in just a short time, they have made much progress.

Stay "Weird"

As the 'Ville passes from a large township to a well-known city, there is much talk of potential and growth. Meg, Jaime and Josh (three members of the Brick House volunteer board) agree that there is a lot special and specific to Louisville - strong city pride, a diverse cultural scene, a park system almost unmatched across the nation. They spoke highly of our developing waterfront, a museum row on Main Street, an increasingly popular art awareness and a music scene that is at times shaky but always around.

About a dozen hardcore volunteers and countless supporters want to make the Brick House fit right in as another place that makes Louisville someplace good to live. It seems that Louisville and the Brick House do fit well together, something about the "weirdness" of each makes a good match.

Old Louisville, as the volunteers are quick to point out, is a very different neighborhood - there are "people with $200,000 homes and people who live together in one-bedroom apartments." Reception from the neighborhood has been mostly positive, ranging from odd looks to neighbors who are elated at such a great community gathering-place.

One of the reasons for this welcome is the children's playroom. On some days parents will bring five- and six-year-olds to use the place, which has no age limit. It is not a day care, so parents are encouraged to start playgroups that encourage interaction and respect between different kids, while an adult supervises. Games, arts and crafts and supplies are provided, keeping kids from playing in the street.

Other physical resources of the Brick House now include: a computer room with eight DSL computers, a library with thousands of books, a free clothing store, a bike shop with tools and spare parts, an open-use art studio with some group supplies and a large concrete room for events. In the works are an open kitchen and a radio room. The idea is that these are all excellent resources that most individuals lack, but they are resources that can be freely shared by the community.

This community is made up of a new crowd of people supporters of both the old BRYCC House and the new one. The volunteers and patrons hail from varied lifestyles and neighborhoods and want to bring this diversity together. Since its reorganization period about two years ago (when most thought the House was dead for good), the place has become less "punk rock kid" oriented and more of a resource "for the community and by the community," where anyone can do, well, just about anything.

The Programs & How It All Works

Louisvillians are encouraged to come for whatever they need. Volunteers or patrons can bring an idea before the Brick House board and start a "collective," a small group of individuals focused on a specific goal or outreach program. Current collective groups include the noise collective, which puts on concerts and the bike collective, the Brick House's most immediate and largest success. This group holds bike workshops on Tuesday and Thursday, attracting at least five people a day for bike repairs or maintenance, to replace a tire or even to build a bike from scratch parts around the shop. By pure word of mouth, pretty much everyone in the surrounding neighborhood knows that "when something happens to your bike, you come here to get it fixed."

Other intriguing ideas range from a depression support group led by former LEO writer Carl Brown to a local tattoo artist who would like to teach others his profession. Self-defense classes, role-playing games, sewing/ knitting classes and art groups may also develop. The collective idea works very well because those individuals who start a group are those most dedicated to its success. The various aspects of the Brick House can then be self-reliant and self-perpetuating.

Music

While the Brick House is very adamant about activist and community programs, there is still room for some music. Currently the venue (run by the "noise collective") is booking mostly acoustic and hip-hop acts, in addition to spoken word and performances like the grotesque burlesque. In respect for the neighbors, louder shows are being postponed until soundproofing can be installed (at a cost of $3,000). Another issue for shows is air-conditioning - as the building's tin roof absorbs heat in addition to broadcasting sound - which will cost an additional $2,000. Interestingly, bands have pledged money towards this construction and fans can match donations with their favorite performers.

Also relating to music, several enthusiasts have created a radio collective, dedicated to broadcasting a lower-power FM signal and simultaneous broadband Internet station by June 2006. The first hurdle has been cleared; the FCC has granted the Brick House a construction and broadcasting license; next, about $60,000 needs to be raised for all sorts of electronic equipment.

It Hasn't Been a Picnic

Within the first few weeks, the Brick House was broken into three times and important bike tools and other equipment was taken. Other issues include funding for the A/C and heating, the soundproofing, the radio station and day-to-day bills such as electricity and the mortgage. However, now there is an alarm system that will notifies both police and local volunteers. Also, fundraising money trickles in from a recent art show, donations, a coupon book put out in cooperation with local businesses and (eventually) government grants (the organization is an official non-profit group).

For all their dedication and dreams, recruiting more volunteers is the most pressing issue facing the Brick House. Day to day staff is low (about eight to ten hardcore volunteers) and the House is considering cutting back normal open hours for the library and children's playroom. Anyone is welcome to commit to a few steady hours a week to easy tasks like playing games with the kids, sweeping or straightening clothes and books and just being there so the doors can be open to the community. Current volunteers get back knowledge and skills from the people they meet, like those into bikes and activism.

This is what the Brick House has evolved into really: a center for learning and teaching, sharing whatever your passion is, whether it is art, film, books, activism, or, of course, music. Volunteers came to both "learn and help other people learn," and stayed because they felt welcome. "The whole point," as one volunteer said, "is to get people in to do this; start and run their own collective, put on their shows and events." This encouraging and proactive, open and welcoming atmosphere sums up the progressive community center.

The Brick House seems to be all grown up, ready to do something in a city that both needs and wants things to be done. Check them out further at their website, www.brickhouse.cc. There is a list of much needed donation materials, as well as a calendar of events. Meantime, the Brick House will continue making Louisville weird and showing that although music is an integral part of this city's life, it is also only a starting point to something much bigger.