Who Invited These Guys?

Posted by: Necci – Sep 06, 2011


CAPS (Community Assisted Public Safety), the well-intended but poorly utilized task force who brought an end to live music at Rumors Boutique and threatened to close down Gallery 5 two years ago, have popped up again in the Richmond arts community. Last week, city officials and Richmond police officers paid a visit to the most recent in a series of attempted warehouse show spaces, The Hospital.

Police didn’t specify where they received information about the former animal hospital turned show space, but told the space’s manager (who politely asked that his name did not appear in print) that they had been “watching them.” A story published in this week’s Style Weekly listed the Hospital’s address, and given that Style reported two years ago that CAPS likes to use them as tip-sheets for show spaces, I would have liked to see a little more discretion about printing addresses without the permission of a space. That being said, there is no way of knowing how the police got their information, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The manager is being charged with three misdemeanors and the space could be shut down. The charges are failure to pay the admissions tax, operating a business without a license, and improper zoning. City officials told him that they were optimistic about his chances at getting the proper permits.

Cut to Saturday night, just a few days after the CAPS raid of the Hospital. Four guys are sitting around a house in the Fan. They are watching Ghostbusters, and later on in the night, are planning to host one of the shows that had previously been scheduled at the Hospital. There are four quick knocks on the door, and from the couch someone shouts invites whomever is there to come inside. The door doesn’t budge, so someone answers the door and finds a Richmond police officer on the front step.

“Is [the manager of the Hospital] here?”

“Uh…no?” He really wasn't.

“I heard ya’ll were having a big party tonight, and I’m a little upset that I wasn’t invited,” says the officer. If you consider the number of police officers who chose their careers at least in part as a result of not being invited to parties throughout their lives, this particular officer’s claim of disappointment seems to bear credence.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” He really wasn't. Sorry, that is.

“If we hear any noise complaints, we’re right up the street and we’ll come back," the officer said. "If we so much as drive by and see people out on this front step, we’ll be back, and we’ll be sure to follow proper procedure with the owner of the house and [the manager of the Hospital] if he’s present.”

Richmond is trying to rebrand itself as a city of the arts. Now we get to see if the city is interested in backing itself up. Impractical zoning laws and foolish taxation have stifled countless other attempts by young musicians and artists to provide this city’s burgeoning underground arts community with diversity, so it wouldn’t be surprising if this case goes the way of the rest of them. Even if the city grants the Hospital the necessary permits, a hysterical 7% admissions tax threatens to crush any hopes of making the space sustainable. Most bands involved with the community hope only to make enough money to get to their next destination. The system isn’t profitable as it is, but for people within the community, profit isn't important. Forcing such a tax upon these artists and this space would almost certainly end any realistic possibility of survival as a space for young people to go see music in a safe setting. The Byrd Theatre is barely getting by--what chance do these young punks have? Spaces like the Hospital are a great solution to kids running the streets with nothing to do. Maybe city officials should try to learn from these spaces, rather than outlaw them. Richmond’s music scene doesn’t want to hide in basements, but the city’s current policies give the movement few other options.

Restaurants and bars such as Strange Matter and Empire, along with a smattering of others, hold shows with some regularity, but due to Richmond's curfew law, they lose the option of hosting an all-ages show unless they want to cut into their dinner hours and have the show early. However, cutting into dinner hours is rarely a feasible option, because they can’t afford to lose the dinner business to host a far less profitable punk show. Less restaurant business means less money not only for the owners of the business, but also for the city of Richmond. The few businesses that open their doors to punk shows aren’t doing it for the money, but this is another fact that policy makers seem thus far unable to grasp.

Please, Richmond, earn your title as an up-and-coming artistic destination. Prove to me that you deserve those “RVA Art” banners that are hanging all over town. Mayor Jones, I’m talking to you. Get rid of the entertainment tax and stop attacking the arts, especially if that tax money is going to do little more than pay for our police force to read Style Weekly and stare at message boards. Big Brother’s time can be better spent. Sure, Richmond’s finest may be sporting RVA stickers as they cruise around town, but that doesn’t mean shit if one of their prime directives is to shut down half the shows in the city. If you don’t want kids fucking up the city, give them a place to go.

For anyone who reads this and sympathizes—get in touch with the city council. Call the mayor. Fill up Charles Samuels’s inbox and let him know that you still hate his noise ordinance guidelines. Let the city know how you feel. Get behind the arts, and demand that Richmond does the same.

By Carl Athey