Bedlam launches capital campaign to stay alive

Bedlam Presents KABOOM by Steve Ackerman, Fall 2014

Bedlam Presents KABOOM by Steve Ackerman, Fall 2014

Bedlamites unite! The non-profit Lowertown arts venue made clear the urgency of their financial situation and ultimate struggle for survival with the launch of a campaign on popular crowdfunding website IndieGogo last Friday. They're hoping to raise $400,000 by September to ring in their new year on the right note. The campaign will be accompanied by a weekly series, called 21 Beer Nights to Bedlam, similar to 3,000 Beers for the Bedlam, set to run each Tuesday evening through the end of 2015.

If they don't reach their $400,000 goal, Bedlam faces complete closure — not just the venue, but the organization as a whole. The loss of this 21-year-old institution would serve as a potentially crushing blow to the local theater, music, and arts community.

“When we opened Lowertown, most of the funds for it came from grants and foundations, and not so much from our individual donor base,” says communications director and Bedlam artist Alana Horton. “So, we never actually really turned to our base in such a major way, in terms of supporting the venue.”

She goes on to proudly recall the organization's initial success in raising nearly $1 million for construction and the opening of the space, which wound up taking an entire year longer than expected due to some unforeseen obstacles.

“There was a floor that turned out to be hollow that we thought was solid that we had to re-do,” she laments. “The biggest setback was actually that there was an HVAC system, and we had to completely re-do the HVAC system of the building, which not only cost us in time but it cost us in money. So, we were already opening with debt hanging over our heads.”

Since opening its doors one year ago, Bedlam Lowertown has continued to raise the bar in community arts standards, bringing together all aspects of performance, while providing patrons with a beautiful space to enjoy food, drink, and participate in the exchange of ideas.

Tickle Torture performs at Bedlam Lowertown in late 2014

Tickle Torture performs at Bedlam Lowertown in late 2014

The IndieGogo campaign has its own funky perks, with special prizes up for grabs depending on the amount of donation being contributed. Such rewards include DJ privileges, for those of you who desire to control the house music for an entire hour (which can be claimed for just $36). For a $75 contribution, Bedlam's managing director Andi Cheney will personally bake you a pie. “She's a very good baker,” Horton insists.

Other bonuses for your philanthropy include the opportunity to book the Bedlam for a night, or even have a drink named after you. Larger-scale donations will earn you some pretty fantastic rights, like free beer for an entire year. At the highest donating tier ($2,020), such lucky supporters will be rewarded with free beer until 2020!

Bedlam is also encouraging supporters to donate their own prizes to help up the ante for the crowdfunding campaign. “We have a lot of artists in our community that may not have the financial means to support right now, but want to,” Horton says. “We're thinking about that in a couple different ways; either offering visual art as a reward, or performance as a reward, or even donating something during our Tuesday beer nights.”

For others who don't have the financial means to offer their support, Bedlam is always looking for volunteers to help keep things running smoothly. There are opportunities to run the box office at events, flier the heck out of surrounding neighborhoods, offer professional consultations or staff a phone bank. More information regarding this means of support can be found in this Facebook group

The net-based aspect of this campaign for capitol is capped at $75,000, which will go toward necessities including paying the artists and dedicated staff members, supplementing rent and utilities payments, and aiding in covering music licensing fees. This amount needs to be raised by September 15, in order for the Bedlam to function properly as an organization.

The rest of the $400,000 needed to keep Bedlam Lowertown's doors open will hopefully come from major donors, entrepreneurial activities, and the upcoming 21 Bedlam Beer Nights occurring each Tuesday evening. “We've been calling on a lot of friends — whether it's music, artists, or theater artists — to come and present something during those nights,” Horton says. The 21 Bedlam Beer Nights will be akin to the original 3,000 Beers for the Bedlam event, while adding more performance-centric elements rather than just raucous drinking challenges. (Not to say that both can't occur simultaneously.)

This Tuesday the event will kick-off with a special live electronic hip-hop and iDM performance led by St. Paul-based Glaucus, followed by a 10 p.m. screening of Beg Borrow and Steal, a McKnight Foundation-sponsored documentary back from the 1996 archives that has become Bedlam lore. Admission to the entire evening is free, but guests are encouraged to enjoy food and drinks while potentially paying a visit to the venue's new resident computer donated by Springboard for the Arts (another St. Paul non-profit community arts organization), “so people can come in and buy tickets, give donations, hopefully get gift cards online, all in one easy place when they come in,” explains Horton.

She promises exciting acts for other upcoming Bedlam Beer Nights, but keeps mum on the subject of popular performers they're currently in the process of booking. Those involved in the organization have also been talking about doing a serial event featuring playwrights putting on 10 minutes of material, while the following week's playwright watches and writes their own installment of the serial, something that founding artist, performing director and board member Maren Ward is currently working on. 

When talking about keeping Bedlam Lowertown and the organization as a whole in business and how important these campaigns for financial stability are, Horton stresses the overall importance of Bedlam Lowertown's initial intent. “The idea behind it was really to give it a chance on the ground for people to come in and drink beer, eat food, see the shows... which people have 100 percent done, in terms of 100 percent buy-in into the venue,” she exclaims. “So, when we're thinking about this security and stability, it only makes sense to go back to the people who make Bedlam what it is, and to really ask them to support us.”

It all goes back to bringing people together, utilizing art to encourage a sense of community, and allowing that creative force to flow through the group, spawning a vessel for inspiration, collaboration, and the exchange of ideas, plus providing a pretty kick-ass place to take in some excellent music, theater, and art.

“Because, Bedlam just isn't Bedlam without the people,” Horton says. “That is, I think, the basis of what makes it tick — the heart of it. It's the community that shows up around it, and all of the crazy shows and performances and whatever is going on here. It's the people that really make it what it is. So, when we were thinking about making it only makes sense to go back to the community.”

Show up tomorrow (Tuesday) evening for Bedlam Lowertown's first installment of 21 Beer Nights to Bedlam, beginning at 7 p.m. and featuring Glaucus, Nomenclatures, Adriatic, and Charles the Funk Destroyer, followed by a 10 p.m. screening of Beg Borrow and Steal. Admission is free.