Sawdust Collector is Kicking Up Some Seriously Cool Stuff
Weekly performance series curated by Barbara Adler, Cole Schmidt and James Meger with frequent help from Debra Jean Creelman, Megan Stewart and Kyla Gardiner
VANDOC: Sawdust Collector started Sept 2016, correct? What does the name mean?
Sawdust Collector: Yes, our first show was in September, only about a month and a half after we first decided to work together and join the Gold Saucer collective. At the end of February, we’ll have been running weekly shows for 6 months.
The name doesn’t come from anywhere literal, at least in terms of what we do artistically. James suggested it. He had a photograph that he’d taken on tour, of a beat up old sawdust collector. That’s the vacuum system used by woodworking shops and industrial spaces to suck the dust and wood particles out of the air, basically so it doesn’t catch fire. The one that James came across had “sawdust collector” printed on the side of it, in very matter-of-fact type. I like it because it carries the idea of ‘collecting’ different things together, and comes close to the word ‘collective’, without quite going there. I think we also all liked that it sounds a bit scrappy.
What is the mandate of SC? From your tumblr, it says you wanted to create a space for artists to perform their work somewhere where they’d actually be heard, rather than drowned out by epic screens showing UFC. Is this vision/mandate still the same or is it evolving? Is there anything you’d like to add?
Giving artists a warm space to perform, where an audience will be able to focus on the experience is still core for us, as well as a certain disgust with the reality of performing in Donnelly Group-style spaces. Related to that, we’ve always been interested in building and crossing audiences for art that’s outside of the mainstream. One part of that is striving for eclectic programming — we’re hoping to create crossover between audiences and scenes, and to connect emerging and veteran artists. The other part of that is we try to pay attention to the things that make an event feel warm. We fuss over details, like introducing artists and decorating the space, documenting the work and doing special things like giveaways. Transforming the Gold Saucer studio for our events is actually a fair bit of work, and I think our willingness to do it every week is somehow part of our mandate — the idea that the art we love deserves and demands effort, and that presentation counts. I think a new draft of our mandate says something like, “we earnestly, stupidly, stubbornly believe that anyone can get into anything, if you set it up right.”
It seems this idea has become a reality, from the rave reviews from audience and artists alike.
That’s nice to hear. I have the feeling that we’re onto something — which I definitely don’t always feel about the work that I do. I think there’s something really special about committing to something and then doing it over and over again in a series format, and I feel like that energy is something the audience can share in. It takes commitment to show up to an underground venue, but if you do it, I think you’re rewarded by a very direct experience of how you, as the audience, are totally essential to the art.
(In Sept 2016, VANDOCUMENT’s Tara Flynn photographed Not Yet Yeti/Mine Agente. Check out the incredible series of photos here.)
What can people expect to see & hear & experience at SC?
It varies, because we aim for eclectic programming. We book different genres of music, dance, film, theatre, and run the nights a bit differently depending on who’s up. I would say that the best way to get a sense of what a given week will be like is to sign up for our mailing list, which gives a weekly send-out about individual shows and also collects links to documentation of past shows. Because of our personal connections, we showcase a lot of artists from the creative and improvised music community, as well as artists connected to Simon Fraser University. In terms of the rest of the experience… that’s harder for me to pin down. We booked a songwriter once, who described it as “some serious Berlin shit”.
That’s a rad compliment. What have been some of your favourite night at SC?
Some of my favourite nights have been when out of town acts have come to perform with some of the fabulous already existing local talent in Vancouver. The very first show that sawdust collector presented was a group from Montreal called Chronicle Infinitas which plays a beautiful yet slanted style of acoustic chamber music featuring a rotating cast of improvisers. A couple weeks ago, a duo (also from Montreal), called Thus Owls, performed two nights – once doing their own debut of some new material, and another night that featured different improvising formations of solos, duos, and trios with Vancouver musicians.
Cat Toren, who is originally from here, but has lived in New York for the past 5 years played some brand new music from her latest recording with a Vancouver band at the beginning of this year.
One of the true kicks from these nights is observing some of the different crowds blend and maybe discover some new sights or sounds that they might not usually come across. That might be our big hope with this series, and something we feel we’re starting to achieve.
What types of artists are you interested in showcasing?
We’re not looking for a particular genre or even disciplinary focus. I think we’re most interested in artists who can relate to our overall ethic, or vibe, which is also something I’m a bit reluctant to pin down too specifically. I think, basically, we value experimental and challenging works that care about communication. In other words, we want to support artists in chasing down their personal interests, while building support for difficult or under-recognized art. It’s an intimate space and the audience has to do a bit of work to get there, so we especially appreciate artists who can balance their own preoccupations with a level of care for their audience. The other thing I’d say is that the ‘challenge’ of an evening can come through the programming: something that seems ‘mainstream’ might hold new interest if you experience it in proximity to something very different.
Do you accept submissions?
Yes. Artists can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some things might not be the right fit for the space and other things might take awhile to program, but for now anyway, we’re open to considering anything. Even better though, artists who want to submit can come to a show and chat with us in person. We’re really not running this like a traditional venue or series. I have a feeling it would be a bit disappointing for someone who just wanted to add another gig to their calendar. But, if people feel a connection with what we’re doing and want to be part of the community around this, or, better yet, to expand the community around this, then perfect. I realize that potentially sounds a bit culty, or exclusive, but it’s more about playing to the strengths of what we’re doing.
Listen to tracks from January’s Solos/Duos/Trios Night
Do artists get paid to perform?
Yup. The standard arrangement at the regular series is that we take the door and split it evenly between everyone who performs or shares work. Other shows might have slightly different arrangements. I know that in the future, we’re planning to write grants for special concerts and those would have a budget for artist guarantees. That said, this series is resource poor and people rich, so the value we offer to artists who play Sawdust Collector is a bit more weighted to the intangible.
What do you think about artists “winning” the chance to play at venues/festivals, but not get paid? What’s your take on performing to get exposure vs demanding payment?
I’ll answer from the perspective of a performing artist: I think it all depends on context. There are some shows I do for my personal practice. I might have a curiosity that I want to try out, or there’s a community I want to support, or to be part of . In a perfect scenario, those personal practice things would also line up with pay, but I know they often don’t, so I’m willing to view the value there differently. In other situations, I’m providing a service and I expect to be paid the same as the administrators, technicians, staff, etc. are being paid.
Deciding which situation you’re in can be tricky, but I’ll say that the offer of ‘exposure’ is often a red flag to me. If a venue or a festival can afford the professional publicity required to be able to ‘guarantee’ exposure, then it’s running like a business and part of the business of programming artists has to be paying artists. I can’t tell you how much anger I feel toward business models that cynically exploit the precarity of most artists’ careers.
At Sawdust Collector, we don’t guarantee pay or exposure, so the ‘payment’ to artists is primarily in intangibles. We try to be thoughtful in our programming, which hopefully translates into shows that are fun to play. So far, we’ve been getting great feedback on that front. In the best scenarios, we’ve managed to program people who were excited to meet each other. The other factor to consider is that James, Cole and I are all working artists, with fairly limited time to spend on this. We’re also all personally in the hole from this series, because of the rent we pay to access the space and material costs. Our labour as organizers is unpaid. I don’t have any resentment about that — it’s more to underline that in reality, we have a lot in common with the artists we’re booking, in terms of economic situation.
The events are weekly; that a challenging programming schedule! How’s it working out? Do you see that regularity changing at any point?
When we first began, I was introducing the shows with the line, “Sawdust Collector was started in September 2016, and will continue until we get evicted or lose our minds.” That’s still pretty much true. It is a hectic schedule, and this takes about as much of my time as any other committed art project. I think Cole and James would say the same. I feel good about it though. I really believe that it takes time to get a point across, and repetition. The chance to practice our programming, and to speak to people on a weekly basis feels like a tangible way to develop something we care about very deeply.
Your “Valentine’s night but totally not Valentine’s show” on Feb 14th; You’ve called this one “a doozy” – why’s that?
Did I actually use the word “doozy”? Ugh. I hope people don’t get the wrong idea about us. It’s because this is one of our most eclectic nights of heavy hitters:
Giorgio Magnanensi – composer/sound artist/AD of New Music Vancouver
Kelsey Savage – poet/intern OPT sex educator
Horsepowar – read more about her in Verve magazine – Desi rapper doing a “performance art” set
I’ve heard there’s a backstory to how you booked Kelsey and Horsepowar, something to do with the Cultch’s Ignite mentorship program. Tell us about that.
I met both Kesley Savage and Jasleen Powar (aka Horsepowar) when I was a mentor in the Cultch’s spoken word intensive program. Both were obviously rad as ‘youth’ poets, but they’ve gone onto these amazing careers that feel a bit especially magical and surprising. On top of her work as a writer, Kelsey runs a regular poetry series, teaches poetry and sex ed, and has competed internationally in Lindy Hop. Jasleen’s rap career is taking off, and she’s landing all of these big deal spots in Indian magazines. It’s pretty great to see these two creative, smart, oddball women doing so well. Be warned that I might have sentimental old person-tears at this show.
SC has been happening at Gold Saucer, but you’re starting to branch out to other venues, is this true?
Yup, we’ve taken the show to the WISE Hall and are exploring a few other possibilities for the future.
After the Feb 14 show, there’s a big one (literally, with a 9-piece band) happening in March, isn’t there?
On March 28th, we’ll be presenting Peggy’s Echo Painting project. This is a suite of music that was commissioned for the 2016 Vancouver International Jazz festival. It’s about an hour long, and is performed by a 9-piece band made up of established and emerging players in the creative music community. We’re working on pairing it with something equally amazing. Stay tuned.
Where do you want this to go? Share your biggest dreams for SC and your most minute little adjustments you’d like to make too.
I want an accessible venue that we can afford (!), with all of the legal in place to be able to promote broadly. I’d also like to meet a starry eyed production manager whose life’s ambition is to join us and help run these shows. After that, the giddy communications major joins us, and helps us put together an up-to-date website and a weekly newsletter that mixes documentation with the odd artist interview or feature. On a smaller scale, we need to start a spreadsheet to better track our costs. Thrilling!
What’s the typical duration of a SC night?
About two, to two and a half hours.
How much does it cost to attend?
Most shows are $5-10, sliding. For special shows, $5-$15, sliding. No one turned away for lack of funds..
Is there a particular type of listener you’re trying to attract?
Our ideal listener is open-minded, curious, and loves telling their friends about weirdo underground art shows they’ve attended.
Listen to tracks from November’s Couples Night Vol.1
Anywhere they can sign up to keep in the loop?
Sign up link to Newsletter facebook.com/sawdustcollector/app/100265896690345/
On Facebook facebook.com/sawdustcollector
On Bandcamp sawdustcollector.bandcamp.com
Thank you Barbara, James, and Cole!
Founder of VANDOCUMENT. Photographer, illustrator, lover and supporter of arts & culture.