At the foot of Munjoy Hill rests a small warehouse with a weathered exterior and boarded-up windows, unabashedly displaying its survival through 84 harsh Maine winters — outlasting many surrounding buildings throughout the years. But behind the warped walls and crudely-painted doors lies an ambitious new arts and music venue run by two young artists attempting to breathe new life into an old space.
Colin Matthews, 23, a visual artist from New York City, and Alex Launi, 24, a musician from Philadelphia, have been using this DIY approach to provide Portland with music and art events at their new space, called 131washington, located appropriately enough at 131 Washington Ave. After searching for affordable studio spaces and inclusive music venues, Matthews and Launi combined efforts to create a new hub of creativity in Portland: an inexpensive, all-ages, chemical-free venue that would also include affordable studios for the city’s ever-growing community of local artists.
“Our main goal is to provide an open, versatile venue for creative acts in Portland whether it’s visual arts or music,” Matthews said. “Alex and I both were looking for something in Portland [but] we couldn’t find it. I was looking for affordable art spaces with a community around it. Alex had been perturbed by the lack of an all-ages chem-free venue in Portland,” Matthews said. “We wanted to bring something to Portland that wasn’t here already.”
So far, Matthews and Launi have staged 11 punk shows, a showing of the surrealist movie Santa Sangre and a First Friday art performance by Pocket Vinyl.
The two organizers originally funded 131washington out of pocket, restoring the space when they signed a lease last September. Restoration, however, was no simple task. Before Launi and Matthews signed the lease, the warehouse was being used for storage and as a metal workshop.
“It was pretty shoddy. There was not much there, and the walls were pretty beat up,” said Matthews said.
“Neither of us has had professional experience; we had to learn a lot,” Matthews said. “With any undertaking, there’s an element of risk. I weighed the risk involved to what I wanted to accomplish, and I thought I should go for it.”
But Matthews and Launi were still falling short of the needed funds to finish building the artist studios and to continue their renovations. After reading a New York Times article about Kickstarter.com — an online-based, crowd-funding website — Matthews found a new and entirely transparent way to raise the necessary funds for 131washington. By offering incentives to backers of the Kickstarter project such as a limited edition 7-inch vinyl compilation for those who donated $30 or more or a one-of-a-kind original painting by one of the 131washington artists for those who donated $100 or more, Matthews and Launi were able to raise $5,772 for renovations — $772 over their original goal.
131washington shows are cheaper than most music venues and bars in Portland, with a suggested five-dollar donation at the door. These donations help support the touring bands the venue brings in and their still-growing construction fund. Music events are all ages and chemical free as opposed to Portland’s downtown music scene from Port City Music Hall to One Longfellow Square, where events are either 18+ or 21+ and can cost anywhere between $10 to over $30.
To offset Matthews’s and Launi’s financial costs for the venue, the two will use the income from their artist studios and partial donations from the events to pay for the venue’s rent The artist studios will offer inexpensive alternatives to many in Portland, as the spaces will range in price from $100 to $200, depending on the size; compared to many studios in the city which can be priced as high as $1000.
Despite the overwhelming success of 131washington’s Kickstarter project, Matthews and Launi say it will be their first and only time using the website to fund the venue.So far they have used the funds to purchase construction material in order to finish the artist studios and to soundproof the music space. Matthews and Launi, working diligently on the space’s restoration, have finished the internal walls for artist studios with more work to come in the spring. Aside from hiring a carpenter to professionally spackle the walls, the two have been restoring the venue themselves as well as paying the rent. “We want the space to support itself and belong to the community,” Matthews said.
Editor’s Note: The originally printed story incorrectly priced 131washington studios between $100 and $1000, when in fact that is the price for many other studios in Portland. The correct price for studios at 131washington is between $100 and $200. The online article has been changed to reflect this inaccuracy.