Updated Fri, Sep 7, 2012 1:30 pm
Central Venue, owned by the Central Avenue Church and located at 29 East Carpenter Street, is Athens, Ohio's newest music and arts performance space.
For the past two years, the church's small army of volunteers have been working on an intensive, messy renovation of the space, which was previously an auto supply warehouse. Now up and running, the venue recently presented a concert by Asthmatic Kitty recording artist Shannon Stephens.
This Sunday, the venue will host its inaugural Slow Down Sunday Potluck at 5 p.m. Described as a "potluck plus," Slow Down Sunday features live music, local food and community fellowship. Those attending are encouraged to prepare a dish made from ingredients that are local to our region.
Ramseur Records artist Samantha Crain will perform during the event, along with with local singer-songwriters Bruce Dalzell and Chris Biester. Crain has received critical plaudits from Rolling Stone, Paste, The Washington Post and NPR, and her music is heard regularly on WOUB-FM's Crossing Boundaries program.
WOUB's Elliot Nicolson talked with Jake Householder, media director for Central Avenue Church, about the venue's renovations, how it differs from the town's other performance spaces, and what Central Venue has planned for the future.
EN: How did Central Venue get its start?
JH: Our church had been looking to start a second site for weekend services for a few years and we weren’t having much luck. In July of 2010, my wife and I noticed the building for sale at 29 East Carpenter Street. It was pretty gross--vacant, with a stained concrete floor and walls covered in aged, flaking white paint--but we saw its potential, and unlikely as it seemed, many of our friends saw it too. The church decided to purchase the space and develop it as our second site.
We took ownership of the building on Dec. 23, 2010 with a long road of renovation ahead of us. But it was clear from the beginning that this venue could be so much more than just another church. Because of its uptown location, size, and frankly, because of the involvement of so many folks from within the church in the local arts and music scene, it seemed like a great space to share with our friends and neighbors, engaging with Athenians of any creed through events focused on community-building, music, art and education.
EN: What kinds of changes were needed to make Central Venue what it is today?
JH: The renovation process has been ongoing since early 2011. The beauty of starting with an empty box is that you can make it whatever you want. We didn’t find ourselves pinned into any corners, having to use the space a certain way because of its layout or anything like that. We were able to dream it up and make it happen.
We started by sandblasting all the old white paint off of the walls, exposing the gorgeous natural brick. We framed in walls and jackhammered floors to create restrooms, a kitchenette and storage spaces. We replaced all the ceiling joists. We drywalled, painted and sanded ourselves sick. We designed and installed a great sound reinforcement system, a projector and screen for multimedia presentations, added a glass garage door and a threshold behind it, and finally had the gross, stained concrete floor grinded and polished into a beautiful granite-like surface.
Those of us working have spent a big chunk of our lives over the past two years trying to bring this place to life, and I think it’s safe to say we’re just as much relieved as excited to be heading into the homestretch. Nearly all of these things were accomplished by volunteers at the Saturday workdays we’ve been holding for the past year and 9 months. I’m infinitely grateful to all the people who have picked up a hammer or a paintbrush and made this a reality.
EN: Is Central Venue primarily a music performance space? Or do you plan on hosting all kinds of events?
JH: So far, we’ve hosted mainly music concerts because that’s what we know best. However, we’re open to ideas for how Athens wants to use Central Venue. We’re invested in this whole project being good for the community where we live, work, learn and play, and we understand that has to come from many different voices, not just our own. Anyone interested in booking the space or simply suggesting ideas can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EN: What are some events you’ve got in the works?
JH: We’re really excited about the 30 Mile Meal Potluck with Samantha Crain this weekend. I feel that it hits a lot of what Athens is about in one evening--great folk music, amazing local food and friends and neighbors sharing a meal together. I’m really looking forward to it.
EN: What sets Central Venue apart from the other uptown restaurant or bar venues?
JH: Musicians don’t feel like they have to compete with the roar of a crowded bar or the people who are just there to drink coffee. From an artist’s perspective, people are there specifically to attend the event, and with that intentionality comes a level of attentiveness, which is really gratifying. The shows that we’ve had so far have been really well received, and the folks who have performed have had a lot of good things to say about the space.
EN: Could you tell me about the videos you're producing?
JH: We recorded a Takeaway show with Shannon Stephens following her Labor Day performance, which is on YouTube. I’d love to see these become a part of our repertoire as we grow. Well-made videos can help the artists promote themselves and grow their web presence, and they also help to heighten the profile of Central Venue in the community and abroad. At this point, we need all the help we can get in letting people know that we’re here.