Hey, Bonita!

Times They Are A-Changin’

Hey Bonita,

How do you cope with Athens slowly losing the businesses that made it the Athens you loved? Over the last several years we’ve lost a lot of “iconic” places, and there are plenty of rumors about more on the way out. A few special places have gotten upgrades, but in general it feels like our local spots are getting traded out for large chains without the same spirit and personality. I know this is a thing that just happens to cities, and it’s a side effect of raising rents and prices in general. But how do we hold on to the creative DIY side?

Lost Townie

Hey Lost Townie,

I think it’s important not to get too bitter and dig your heels in about being pissed at all these recent changes. Your city has changed, and perhaps for the worse, but you’re still here, and this is still your city. I’d taken a long sabbatical from downtown bar-hopping and going to shows until Derek Wiggs died—he and I were friends, and SlopFest was my favorite thing about summer in Athens. His sudden passing was a slap in the face for me, and for lots of townies, I suspect. What we do here is special and finite, and it must be continued and preserved both for ourselves and for future Athens artists.  

I wasn’t pulling my weight as a spectator and local writer. I’d stopped going to shows and being present when we are at our finest and most unique, and that presence is so important. The size of crowds can make or break a scene, so I started going to shows again recently, and several times I’ve gone out just for a drink and a chat with friends, like old times. I used to take my laptop downtown and post up with a bourbon and spicy Blenheim (always with a lime, never lemon), then write this column in between conversations with other barflies. Well, I recently got a new laptop, and I look forward to starting this tradition of mine again soon. Yeah yeah yeah, I’m a writer and not a performer, but writing is an art form, and being in public was once essential for my creative process. It felt good to tap these words out while people buzzed around and distracted me at Hendershot’s or Hi-Lo. I felt like I was part of this.

Are you creative in any way? If so, I strongly recommend you find your way into the local arts scene and contribute what you can. If you play an instrument, start a band. If you’re a writer, start a zine or submit something to the myriad local small-press publications in town. If you are a visual artist, seek out local galleries and show spaces like tiny ATH and Flicker—have an opening night with live music! Be part of this, and invite other artists to be part of it with you.  

If you’re more of a spectator and benefactor, then you have to seek out the cool local spots and support them in every way you can. There are still house shows and guerilla venues in town—find them, and go! I’m aware of some, but I’m not going to share them here. That may sound like gatekeeping, but anyone in the DIY scene knows that the best audiences are the ones that seek out this kind of renegade art themselves. The best DIY spaces start to suck and get raided when everyone finds out about them, so we always want people in these spaces to be of the right mindset about them. If you’re serious about your interest in outsider art and the local DIY scene, then the scene will find you and welcome you. If you’ve already got a foot in the door, come on inside and be a positive force in what makes Athens so attractive to gentrifiers in the first place. Give your money to locally owned businesses and artists. I try my best not to patronize the chains that have moved into the most beloved storefronts of Athens, and that’s a personal choice that many locals don’t share with me, but that’s OK. They’re probably squares.

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