Operating as an all-ages music venue, art gallery, and DIY project incubator, the Division Avenue Arts Collective (DAAC) has had a difficult history.
And this month, as they prepare to celebrate their 20th anniversary, the Grand Rapids collective is at a new crossroads.
In an open letter to the community posted online last month, they explained that their “current operating model won’t be enough to keep going,” and that “The DAAC will stop existing if we can’t find a better way forward.”
Pushed to the brink before, The DAAC lost its now-legendary original location on Division Avenue in 2013, after nearly a decade of serving as a creative hub for the community.
Without a home for the next three years, The DAAC reemerged in 2016 when they shared a property on Rumsey Street for two summers with SiTe:LAB and Habitat for Humanity of Kent County.
Operating as a not-for-profit, The DAAC fiscally has worked with Fractured Atlas, a New York-based fundraising and arts service organization, since 2014.
The DAAC moved into their current location, 1553 Plainfield Ave. NE, # 4, Grand Rapids, in 2019 after DAAC Board Member Lizzie Grathwol and Gaia Café owner Andrea Bumstead purchased the property.
Guided by a core committee of volunteers, the collective said that the crux of the inflection point they face now is a lack of new volunteers.
“The core committee is a group that has a larger level of responsibility and focuses on the overall health of the DAAC,” Core Committee member Lorenzo Aguayo Jr. told REVUE. “This is a passion project and volunteers have other jobs and commitments, so it’s difficult to try to run every event with the same rotation of people. The limited number of volunteers we have are burning out, and so we’ve had to reduce the number of events we put on. We raise funds during these events to pay rent, utilities, and anything else to keep the building running. We have more funds going out than coming in and it’s not sustainable at the rate we are going.”
Serving as a finance and fundraising specialist for The DAAC since 2021, Aguayo actually came to the collective as an artist, performing in the band Casa Blue during an event held at Creston Brewery called “Pack The Pub.” The event helped raise funds for the building’s mural, and to pay the artists. The passion of other volunteers he spoke to about supporting local art and music inspired him to join.
“The DAAC gave my band an amazing opportunity to express ourselves and show our talents,” Aguayo said. “I felt validated, I felt like I had a community, and I felt supported during that event. I wanted to help others feel like I did in the local GR music and art scene.”
Joining the core committee shortly after deciding to volunteer, Aguayo has since worked on grants, finances, and taxes, developed processes, opened music shows, helped onboard new volunteers, and assisted in other planning activities.
Currently the core committee consists of Aguayo, Bridget Brenneman, Alison Christensen, Ellen Doornbos, Yoseph El-Ali, Bek Graham, Charity Klein-Lytle, Esther Mitchell, Harmony/Huong Nguyen, Mika Reed, and Josh Rood.
“We have a passion for music and art, so that keeps us going, but there is a delicate balancing act with maintaining our personal and professional lives along with the DAAC,” Aguayo said. “We love the DAAC with all of our hearts, and we are looking for the community to help usher in a new generation of volunteers and core committee members.”
Citing “gracious, incredible, and kind donors and partners,” Aguayo said they have been able to keep the DAAC running for now. He explained that those looking to volunteer can go to thedaac.org, or contact the collective via Facebook, Instagram, or their email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The DAAC is made up and run by the people in our community who love music and art,” he said. “Nobody represents the DAAC other than the community. We don’t have investors, board members, or gain anything financially. It’s special to have something that the community can help directly shape. If we want a 100 band music festival, we can make it happen. We have the tools to make the DAAC whatever the community wants. We have a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach and spaces like this are quickly fading away if we sit by idly and let them. The DAAC is here to make Grand Rapids a better place for local music and art.”
With an emphasis on creating a safe and inclusive space for all artists and forms of expression, The DAAC currently hosts everything from live concerts to art gallery openings to yoga and meditation events. The collective plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their first-ever show, with a music event that Aguayo said will include other artists, on Oct. 21.
“Art and music is what makes Grand Rapids so special,” he said. “The DAAC wants to break every single barrier that artists may struggle with in terms of getting their art out in the community. There are so many talented artists in our community, and we want to give them the opportunity to be seen and feel connected.”
The Division Avenue Arts Collective (DAAC) 20th Anniversary Show
1553 Plainfield Ave. NE, # 4, Grand Rapids
Oct. 21, More info TBA