By ANN RICHARDS
- Drug and alcohol free concert venue gives young musicians and artists a place to shine
- Club builds community and a sense of place in downtown Flint
- Reorganizing as nonprofit helps sustain longtime arts venue
It doesn’t surprise founder Joel Rash that the Flint Local 432 is enjoying an encore.
“It’s always been about music,” he said of the club, created in 1985 in downtown Flint, Michigan as a performing venue for young musicians. Reopened in May 2012 in a former storefront in the heart of the city, the club used a $200,000 grant from the Mott Foundation to the Foundation for the Uptown Investment Corporation to create performance and meeting space for young artists of all kinds.
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“The music will continue to pay the bills,” said Rash, “but now we have the space to showcase theater, film, poetry, art, dance — all the cool things that kids are doing in Flint.”
During its first 20-years, the smoke and alcohol-free concert hall hosted thousands of bands, attracting mainly high-school and college-age patrons to the central city. At the height of its popularity, the club brought in about 20,000 paying customers a year, said Rash.
“But we were always on the razor’s edge in terms of paying the bills,” he said of the challenges involved in managing and promoting a commercial club. In 2005, after moving from one downtown location to another, the Flint Local 432 hosted its final concert.
“The music scene was changing, and no one really wanted to run it,” said Rash, who with partner Chris Everson, made the decision to shut down and move on.
But the “Local” as it was best known, was never forgotten by patrons or by the musicians who played there.
In 2010, Tim Herman, president of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce, approached Rash about resurrecting the Local as part of Red Ink Flint, a nonprofit arts organization established to encourage and support young artists.
“For the Chamber, the real commodity that the Local provided was young people — they come for the music, but they’re willing to spend time downtown because they have a real appreciation for what Flint has to offer,” said Rash.
“A lot of big-ticket revitalization projects had drawn attention back to Flint’s downtown,” he added. “The Chamber wanted to maintain that positive momentum by offering events and seeding small, grassroots projects that would attract people and give them something to do.”
Reopening the club would have been impossible without the revival of Red Ink and a new board of directors, said Rash. A hard-working board and nonprofit status has enabled the Local to engage with a number of community partners that help program the club on weekdays as well as weekends.
“We have a safe, clean, insured facility — and it doesn’t cost much to turn on the lights. We have a real opportunity to populate this building seven days a week, to offer a space where youth are welcome.”
Having retooled the club several times in the past, Rash was positive that performers and audiences alike would return. During its first three months of operation, the Local put on 27 concerts featuring 116 different acts.
“We’re on track to bring about 10,000 people through this year,” said Rash. “What surprised us most this time around was the range of music and the diversity of performers — the talent that’s on stage — the technical proficiency — is greater than we could have anticipated.”
Day-to-day operations are managed by Dan Moilanen, a Flint native who returned to the city with experience managing and promoting musicians.
“Right now, I guess you could say my role is as an unpaid manager,” said Rash. “I’m at a point in my life where the musicians are telling me their moms and dads know me. It’s time for me to pull back and help new people take on the running of the club.”
What’s most gratifying about having the chance to reopen Local 432 are the numbers of young volunteers, artists and performers who are taking advantage of the club, says Rash.
“The number of teens and 20-somethings I’m meeting now have a real commitment to Red Ink and to Flint. It’s been great.”