The Island Lives

I did not get a picture of a teary-eyed Nathan Lane on the evening of August 1, and now I kinda wish I had. He got a little verklempt when over 50 of his friends and neighbors descended on Moline, Illinois’ modest city hall to support him and The Island, a DIY venue just up the road from the government building.

DIY – or, do-it-yourself – culture is always around, but it grows in importance in times of financial uncertainty and strife. DIY promotes individual voices and community over commercial and capitalist goals, focused on making both art and forum more accessible to all on an equal basis.

Historically, these ideals don’t always jive with political and financial institutions; pretty much any kind of bureaucracy inherently requires funding, and DIY communities tend not to have a lot of money laying around – that’s why they DIY to begin with.

So everyone was a bit anxious when we filed in to hear whether or not the city of Moline would vote to allow The Island’s permit process to move forward. In other words, the future of the venue was in the hands of Mayor Stephanie Acri and a half-dozen aldermen. In a group predominantly composed of white, middle-aged, upper-middle class males; it’s statistically unlikely that any of them ever have or ever will step foot in a DIY event of any kind.

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“When you say DIY, do you mean like that stuff my wife shows me on Pinterest?”

Reader, you should probably consider this the “official account” of events, as the only press I noticed was a Quad City Times photographer who sat in the corner and complained: “I don’t know why I’m here; they told me I had to come.”

As soon as he stood up to get a shot of the initial proceedings, someone stole his chair. In fact, The Island’s supporters filled in every seat. And the doorway. And some of the hall.

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The fire marshall was surprisingly tolerant of all this.

Greg Thompson spoke on behalf of The Island; at 48 years old and with three kids of his own, he and other long-time advocates for local arts and culture lend an additional dimension of legitimacy to the venue, which is predominantly operated by young artists – Lane himself isn’t old enough to rent a car. For them and for their supporters, The Island is not a business but a necessity.

“I found music when I was 12,” Thompson said at the podium. “It was there when I needed it… The Island is a good place; it’s a good place for my kids. My kids go to shows there on their own and I don’t worry about them.”

Mayor Acri and the aldermen were all receptive to Thompson’s message. One be-suited gentleman identified himself as a former metal head.

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“We understand you, sir. Some of us used to be cool.”

Of course, someone brought up concerns regarding safety codes and inspections, making reference to December 2016’s fire in Oakland.

I’d expected more people to talk about that, actually. The Ghost Ship, also categorized as a DIY space, was an Oakland warehouse that went up like a tinder box, trapping 37 people inside. All 37 died from smoke-inhalation.

While that event was a tragedy, the proprietors in that case were ultimately guilty of negligence in their failure to repair a severely out-of-date and damaged electrical system.

While it appears the Ghost Ship was never inspected (an electrician who made some unauthorized repairs reported the system’s degradation to the owners), The Island was inspected a little over a year ago. Moline’s city inspector happened to be in the chamber to confirm it himself. So The Island has a history of working with the city of Moline and obeying city rules.

Had Oakland city officials known anything about the Ghost Ship’s operation, they likely would have sent an inspector to the old warehouse right away. That inspector would have been horrified by the massive amounts of wooden and fibrous material throughout the building, not to mention the fact that the only access to the second floor was a staircase constructed out of wooden pallets. These conditions directly contributed to a significant number of deaths, as many victims became trapped in the maze-like rooms upstairs.

Again, it’s unsurprising someone mentioned this event. I’d be concerned if no one did, in fact, considering the catastrophic nature of the fire and its preventability.

On the whole, however, city officials seemed satisfied to move forward, thanks in part of Thompson’s testimony and the outpouring of support from the community. In the end, they voted unanimously to allow the permit process to move forward.

As of now, Nathan Lane has just a few more signatures to collect from neighboring business before he can submit the application for the permit.

Congratulations to The Island!

By the way, I really have to give credit to the dude from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This poor guy had to open the meeting with a 20-minute presentation on urban deer population control, knowing full well that most of the people in the room were totally uninterested in anything he had to say. Then city leaders made him stand up there for an additional 10 minutes while they asked him questions that they really should have been asking Google.

Ward Alderman: “If there are more deer in an area, does the number of deer-related car accidents go up?”

IDNR Guy: “…yes.”

Classic.

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