Small Fixes 2: Incentivize the Gates

May 15, 2014 @ 12:34 pm
Event Photo

Photo by James Steakley via Wikimedia Commons.


small fixes

Live music at the Gates of Heaven is a treat too few Madisonians have experienced.

Welcome back to Small Fixes, an occasional series that proposes small but meaningful things the City of Madison and other organizations can do to strengthen arts and music in Madison.

In this series I want to talk about how to make greater use of things we already have here in Madison. And one of the best things we have is the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue in James Madison Park. Currently, the City of Madison Parks Division maintains the Gates and rents it out for events. It can get pretty booked-up during wedding season, but has also hosted a lot of great shows over the years. Mount Eerie and Julie Doiron played there in 2008, Madison singer-songwriter Anna Vogelzang kicked off her annual charity holiday concert Wintersong there in 2012, and last fall we booked Chicago drone-rockers Implodes for a Gates show. (Saying "Hey, want to play in a historic synagogue?" turns out to be a good way to tempt bands up to Madison.) Because of the space's natural reverb, it's also played host to some recording sessions, including for Madison garage-psych band The Midwest Beat's At The Gates and epic American-primitive outfit Pelt's Effigy.

In my experience, performers and audience members are excited to get into this rarified, intimate venue, and do a great job of respecting the building. Of course, the Gates only gets used as a venue if an event organizer reserves it and pays the rental fee. When I put on a show by Chicago band Implodes in fall 2013, I found the costs and terms to be reasonable enough. (A rather steep $165.88 per two-hour block on the weekends, but whatever.) The official capacity is 98, so if you're charging a cover (officially, you're only supposed to ask for donations), you have at least some chance of covering the rental fee. And if you end up eating some of the cost, well, you still got to put on an event in an awesome space.

However, there are some simple things the city could do to encourage more people to use the Gates for music and arts events.

-I don't necessarily think it should be cheaper (if anything there should be a serious financial commitment to use a historically preserved space). That said, the city could offer a discounted rate for people or groups who reserve several dates in advance—say, booking five or so different nights throughout the year for a music series, or even booking up several nights and sharing them among several different event organizers. Of course, this would have to be limited to prevent any one person or group from hogging the space, but it might help some people get past the cost hangup.

-One thing that's not made immediately clear on the city's website is how to tell whether or not you need an amplified-sound permit for your event. Specify the criteria for that up-front, and provide a link to the proper form or contact. Or even provide a form or online sign-up that combines the space reservation and needed permit applications into one streamlined process. Same if the organizer wishes to get an alcohol permit. Just get it all out there in an accessible way, because otherwise the event organizer ends up having to call possibly a bunch of different city offices, and get bounced around to several different people with different answers, and so on. Make the rules clear.

-Speaking of possible web-based signups for Gates rentals, how about listing available dates online? Or at least publishing a list of unbooked dates once the year's wedding season is pretty booked up, since most people nail down wedding venues pretty far ahead of time. I'm sure it would take some staff time to keep it updated online, but probably not much more than it takes for staff to give individual event organizers this info by phone.

-In James Madison Park, how about a simple sign or poster kiosk just for open-to-the-public events at the Gates?

-Just let event organizers charge a cover outright. Renting the place costs something, and performers' time is worth something, and we're all adults and so forth. I'd be concerned about making sure local performers and smaller, less profit-driven event organizers don't get shut out, so perhaps there can be a reasonable limit on the cover charge.

-Use the city and Parks Division's website, social-media accounts, and other promotional outlets to promote the Gates as a great place for an arts event. It's still surprising how many people don't even know that shows sometimes happen at the Gates, and how many people would like to put on an event there but don't know how to go about setting it up. Obviously using it *too* much would be at odds with historic preservation, but that doesn't mean the city has to be passive about such a fantastic asset.

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last updated: September 21, 2015 @ 11:37 am

Scott Gordon

Scott Gordon

Scott is the editor and co-founder of Tone Madison. He has covered music and lots of other things for outlets including The A.V. Club, Wisconsin Public Radio, and WORT-FM.

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Saturday, May 27 at Arts + Literature Lab

Thomas Wincek (Volcano Choir, Field Report) hosts a hands-on, collaborative learning session for electronic musicians. 2pm, free, all ages.

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April 18 at Arts + Literature Laboratory. With Jason Kahn and Sheba.

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Thursday, May 18 at the historic Gates of Heaven. With Anjou and Alej Perez. Click for a $10 presale.

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