“Buy the cheapest space you can find and split that cost with your friends. Then do whatever the fuck you want.”—Devin Lilly

Devin Lilly + Lani Combier-Kapel: Chefs, The Silent Barn / New York NY

“buy the cheapest space you can find and split that cost with your friends. then do whatever the fuck you want.”—devin lilly

Can you briefly describe the genesis/development of the Silent Barn?
Lani: Before Silent Barn’s current formation and address, it was an underground music and arts venue for about seven years. The venue is now a collective model, run solely by 60+ volunteers, aka “chefs.”

Chefs are like project managers: they each have a small area of the Barn that they are in charge of. Some of these chef roles change over time, but the point is to have someone responsible for every little part of the organization. The chefs meet regularly with their working groups, which represent larger areas of the Barn. For example, the shows working group consists of many chefs related to shows: staffing chef, host training chef, calendar chefs, shows accounting chef, etc.

Silent Barn

courtesy of silent barn

Collaboratively speaking, how is the Silent Barn made possible?
Devin: The Silent Barn would not be possible without collaboration. All administration is done on a volunteer basis, but the amount of hours any one person can volunteer is limited. Since New York is an incredibly expensive to live, all of our volunteers have day jobs, and all of our volunteers are passionate people who have a million other projects up in the air. Thus, administration is carried out according to a post-Occupy model of working groups (art, shows, legal, bar, facilities, studios, etc.) who have autonomy over their domain, but communicate between each other for decisions that affect the space as a whole.

Lani: I’m part of the booking/calendar team in the shows working group. We take requests from internal and external bookers and place the events on the calendar. We also brainstorm ways to make events possible.

Development Without Displacement

courtesy of silent barn

In a completely volunteer-run organization, especially one in NYC, it’s extremely hard to get volunteers to donate so much time to something that they’re not paid for. We figure that the most amount of time people may have to volunteer for something is about three hours, so most chef positions only have a requirement of three hours per week, but some people do more. Chefs are important because they build the foundation of Silent Barn, but no single chef has control over too much. Working groups make decisions together. All of our volunteers work for Silent Barn because they believe in the project, and I think that’s what makes it such a great place. You can feel the warmth.

How is the Silent Barn a playground or sandbox for collaborative creativity?
Devin: The sandbox metaphor is very apt because of the amount of tools available, both physical and digital. If you need something like a screw gun or a keyboard or a ladder or a recording mechanism, you can always find one somewhere in the space. This includes both spacial tools—like a recording studio, screen printing shop, performance space, gallery space, garden, barber shop, a bunch of art studios, and AV center—and “human tools.” If anyone is looking for a projectionist, screen printer, muralist, drummer, or builder, the odds are that someone either is one or knows one. There is always a predictable amount of playground squabbling over how to best share resources, and how to promote a culture of treating these tools respectfully while putting them back in good condition. But for the most part, this seems to happen organically.


courtesy of silent barn

Lani: There is a lot of space. The Main Space, also known as the Manhattan Room, is a large multipurpose area used for nightly performances. We sell beer, wine, sake, and colas. We’re still working on regular daytime hours, but we do have some events and classes.

What is the impact of the environment on collaboration?
Lani: When artists have a space to work with, they start imagining creativity on that scale. The Main Space is pretty big, with murals everywhere and flashing colored lights. It’s super colorful in its general state. However, I’ve also seen it transformed into many other configurations, like a dark space with one light, foggy with only a strobe light, and sectioned off into small viewing rooms. Moving through the space, the other areas of the barn will sometimes be used for the event, to create a full experience.

Everyone is in such close contact all of the time. Because of this, we constantly know what everyone is working on, and thus, can help each other flesh out projects. Aftermath, a used supply shop within Silent Barn, has helped me with various items that I’ve needed for shows and art projects. When we have “holistic barn events,” people will work together to create something very Barn-centric. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s easy to collaborate with each other, because we see each other all of the time and talk frequently through emails.

Grrrl Fest

courtesy of silent barn

Devin: Because everyone is working in such close quarters, with only a few doors separating the studios, artists are constantly exposed to one another’s work and become implicitly involved in each other’s processes. People get inspired by what other people are doing and organically develop ideas about how work can fit together to create something more involved and interdisciplinary.

How did Brooklyn support collaboration?
Devin: In Brooklyn, everyone is so physically close together, and everyone is so used to putting their work out there and promoting themselves. The energy flies around. Both in Silent Barn and in Brooklyn, there is definitely a culture of collaboration. People are very open and excited about working together. There is a fluid exchange of opportunities.

No Regrets: New Years Resolution Book Swap 2014

courtesy of silent barn

How do you define the link between interdisciplinary, collaboration, and warehouse?
Devin: Interdisciplinary work is endemic, because everyone is coming to this from such a wide range of backgrounds, both artistic and administrative. Collaboration benefits from interdisciplinary approaches because any one person only has access to a limited amount of knowledge. But when there are a lot of people, the amount of shared/accessible knowledge increases exponentially.

Lani: Interdisciplinary = mixing media; collaboration = mixing people; warehouse = mixing space.

What’s an example of a collaborative project at the Silent Barn that was distinctly impacted by the space?
Devin: On Halloween, we had a music event where people had to come in through an interactive haunted house. The installation was put-on by our theater group. The same theater group also put on a William S. Burroughs event, where they had a marathon reading of Wild Boys in one of the upstairs residences, while another residence served as a room for a Dream Machine, while another space was used to serve food aesthetically tied to the event. They also did a Twilight Zone event, where artists put installations up in the yard, Rod Serlings were scattered throughout the space, the barbershop gave out Rod Serling haircuts, and our AV room broadcasted Twilight Zone episodes all night, both on the mountain of TVs in the AV room itself, and projected onto the yard wall.

Bright Nights

photo: tod seelie

courtesy of silent barn

The space is not a warehouse; it is a residential space with apartment structures on top of a big room that used to be a contacting space with a series of garages and a yard. This makes it labyrinthian to navigate, especially for someone who is not familiar with the space. Different spaces can be used to stage different experiences.

We never get 100% participation in any event, because different things are exciting to different people, but even when three or four studios agree to collaborate on an event, fun things start to happen.

Lani: The 2013 Halloween Show was a great example of collaborative performance within Silent Barn. There was a covers show, where bands such as Celestial Shore did renditions of classic songs. The theater group, Title Point, did an interactive haunted house right at the entryway. When you entered through the door, you had to go through a terrifying journey before entering the show happening in the Main Space. It caused a few shrieks!

Why is collaboration important to a community of artists?
Devin: Artists are inspired by novelty. Working with other people is an easy way to get inspired by new ideas. Artists disperse work through community and collaboration strengthens community. Community leads to collaboration. Artists put so much of themselves into their work, so it makes sense that if people are close together on a human level, they will want to continue that relationship on the level of their work.

Bright Nights

photo: tod seelie

courtesy of silent barn

Lani: Collaboration is important because artists can support each other’s work and help take the vision further than what either artist could have done on their own. It’s also more interesting for spectators.

How does the Silent Barn promote collaboration?
Devin: We function as a collective, so all of our decisions are made as a group. Based on our current system, we couldn’t function without each other.

Lani: Someone will propose an idea, usually to the calendar team first. Then, there will be an email that’s sent around asking if anyone else would like to collaborate on it, either with their space or their ideas. Having an open calendar that everyone at Silent Barn can view is an easy way to have collaboration happen, but it also helps to be in frequent communication via email. It’s fluid and never forced. I think that’s what makes the collaborations natural and interesting.

Bright Nights

photo: tod seelie

courtesy of silent barn

What advice would you give to a community wanting to kickstart their own creative space?
Devin: Be patient. Make concessions. Accept that you will not always be in control. Reach out to people you are inspired by. Be open to new ideas. Destroy the fascist inside you. Be grateful. Buy the cheapest space you can find and split that cost with your friends. Then do whatever the fuck you want.

Lani: Let the community transform the space without force. Fluidity is key.