Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flashback: What Is Art?

What Is Art? was a tiny, 50-person-capacity venue run by a collective of people from the Santa Cruz art and music scene. It ran out of a North Pacific storefront from the mid-90's until 2000.

"I was flooded out of my studio and needed a place to sew," says Lopie LaRoe. "I started to have the Anarchist Coffeehouse here, which turned into open mic. Hardly anyone showed up at first, except for this annoying guy with a box on his head."

Performance by Lopi LaRoe, filmed at the 418 Project in Santa Cruz, California. 
Lighting assistance by Matthew Shyka. Shadows.

It offered a Wednesday open mic that sometimes had more empty seats than performers and audience. Other times, there were people sitting in the aisles, and standing room only in the back.

Poetry by Lisa Radon circa 1998, What Is Art? Santa Cruz, California.

Heavy Wood Music by Paul Sprawl recorded live at What is Art? Santa Cruz Art scene late 90's.

Gabriel Brody Folk Rap performed live at What is Art?

In 2000, developers condemned the space to make room for a building project. The space sat tantalizingly empty for years until wreckers tore the entire block down along with the original Bike Church and Ped-X space and numerous art warehouses. For ten years, the empty lot, former location of What? was an empty blight. Finally, just in time for the worst economic era in memory, developers built an entire block of ugly condos that no one could afford to buy.

A short clip from an open mic held at Santa Cruz's own "what is art?" circa 1999 - ish. 
Kaya has since passed away in 2005 from Leukemia. He is sorely missed by all who knew him

For a few years after the original space was torn down, What Is Art? operated out of the 418 Project on Front Street again featuring a weekly Open Mic.

Live performance at "What is Art?" by songwriter and pianist Matthew Embry 
circa 1999 in Santa Cruz California. Filmed by Lopi LaRoe.

While What Is Art? no longer exists as the unique performance space that it was (the whole block was demolished), it still serves, like any former cultural hub, as a sort of looking glass that can magnify the strengths and weaknesses of the current local scene.


Wes Modes on December 8, 2009 at 2:19 PM said...

Flashforward to the present: SubRosa hosts an Open Mic every Thursday, a taste of old skool Santa Cruz.

Years ago, What Is Art? held down the north end of Pacific Ave. Now, SubRosa holds down the other end. Participating in Open Mic is one way to support art inSanta Cruz as well as this all-volunteer radical space.

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