Star and Shadow – A DIY Utopia
Dawn Felicia Knox – Star and Shadow Volunteer
Star and Shadow is building a DIY utopia one nail at a time. Its dedicated and eclectic band of volunteers have put down their cameras, booms and pens to pick up hammers, saws and keyboards to engineer the most ambitious venue build by consensus and volunteer power.
What is the Star and Shadow?
The Star and Shadow is more than a cinema. It is an alternative community and cultural hub and an arts incubator run by a collective of volunteers. All of our programming is open to anyone – we invite grass roots community organisations, independent artists and any member of the public to come and participate in as well as program film, music, discussions and working groups. We provide the space and facilities for things to happen and have done so for the last 10 years. One of the project founders, Christo Wallers, articulates what makes us different:
“Emphasising the collective experience that makes Cinema special, Star and Shadow exists as a space for a dialogic approach to culture through critical, active spectatorship: watching, listening, thinking and talking collectively and then possibly programming something yourself , as opposed to buying your ticket, sitting or standing in the dark and then heading home.
Star and Shadow operates a ‘safe space’ policy and strives to be Self-driven/ horizontalist/ experimental/ non-canonical/ independent/ critical/ internationalist/ dialogic/ inclusive/ subversive/ improvised/ pedagogic/ underground-overground/ transformative/ emancipatory.”
Our model: The art is as much the way we do things, as it is what we do.
Within our ecosystem of inclusion, collaboration, creative exploration and radical DIY making we have grown a community where anything is possible and are now building a venue where everything is a potential. We are a nonhierarchical cooperative with all of our decisions are made through consensus. Everyone has the same strength of voice – no one is the boss. We are all equal and anyone can get involved and become a member.
Our next General meeting is Thursday the 21st of September at 6pm at our Warwick street site. Everyone is welcome, and though it is a building site, it will be fully accessible for anyone.
After 10 years in a rented building, we were able to buy a disused furniture warehouse on Warwick Street that will be our new, permanent home.
“The Star and Shadow opened in November 2006,” explains Christo, “and has played host to a genuine, alternative, independent and emancipatory people’s culture up until the building closed, at the mercy of a benevolent but capitalist landlord. This leads to the reason for owning our own building – liberating us from the risks of ephemeral transience that many projects like this are exposed to in a culture of high city rents, market-oriented urban planning policies and fluctuating state support. In effect, through owning this building as a non-hierarchical, volunteer-run, open co-operative, we are creating new commons. In an era of austerity, escalating property prices and increasing economic inequality, what could be more inspirational than this example of radical sustainability.”
We are working with a team of architects to design a refit that is flexible and tailored to who we are and what we want to become. We have opted for a modular design creating a series of fully enclosed, soundproof spaces for our cinema and venue as well spaces for a darkroom, screen printing, a workshop, studios, library and a crèche. There will be open, airy and bright communal spaces in between for a café, work spaces and a lounge. We are talking with a lot of different people to envision radical, DIY, eco focused ideas for gardens, workshop and anything we can dream up. The bones of the rooms are set in concrete but the way we inhabit them is fluid and full of exciting potential.
A group of volunteers have been trained as CDMs (construction design managers) each of whom is working with different contractor and engineers to learn how to meet the technical requirements of the build and support the volunteers in realising each aspect. Filmmakers have become experts in building regulations; artists masters of plumbing details and musicians are coming to grips with electrical installation. Some of our CDMs have come from the building and project management trades while others are new to this world. It has allowed us to come up with some creative solutions and problem solve the challenges of using space in new and interesting ways all through collaboration, consensus and hard graft.
“I have been in the landscaping and construction trade all my life but here I am forever learning” says Louie, one of our newest CDMs.
Our volunteers come from every cross-section of society and many corners of the globe. Languages from Arabic, to Finish to French all speckled with secondhand Geordie can be heard spoken on site. It has been an interesting process to find shared words and gestures to get the work done and connect. Smiles and nods go a long way!
Each person brings their own skills, passions and interests. Some people are swinging hammers, others shovels; some give their time writing policies and funding bids while others cook lunch for our volunteers on Saturdays and drop in cakes every now and then to keep the build crews energy up. Each person finds a role, or five, that fits their schedules and what want to both learn and share.
“I didn’t volunteer before but came to things – weird films, music gigs and helped out with the English language conversation group. I started volunteering on the build because I want it to open again!” says Ashley, one of our dedicated weekly volunteers.
Many of our regular volunteers have been with us for years and other have only known us a building site. Once we open again we are excited to bring more of voices into programming events, gigs and films holding the space for wider conversations.
But really, what is the Star and Shadow?
Coming on to site today, a man was standing outside the windows that stretch down Warwick Street. He had his hands cupped against the glass to better see all the buzzing and moving about in the cavernous old warehouse.
“What are you building in there?”
I explained about the cinema and who we are.
“And you are volunteers? You do all of this for free?”
I nod with a smile
“Why do you do it?”
“It is important. We believe in it…”
He paused for a moment, shaking his head then smiled as it all started to make sense.
“Ah, like a creativity church!”
To me, that is very much what we are – a secular, sacred space. A place for community and making, a place to ask questions, to take creative risks, share knowledge, learn and connect.
Artist Annette Knol will be working with us to create a site-specific light installation in our cinema space that explores these ideas directly. She explains her inspiration for her work:
“I propose to turn the cinema auditorium into a “sacred” space. Not in the religious sense, but certainly in a spiritual and sanctuary sense. Times right now are particularly bleak and many of us are at a loss about who or what to turn to. ……. The Star and Shadow Cinema may not physically be able to stop people from being harassed or deported, but it certainly is a symbol of hope; it is a unique force which has managed to resist anti-social and racist policies by providing a platform for creative exchange.”
This is what Star and Shadow is to me. When asking one of our volunteers and CDMs, Nyree, what we are to her, she looked out across the site, the volunteers working side by side, sharing a tea, a laugh and skills.
“It is this.” She paused then said, “But everyone will have a different story to tell – what is the Star and Shadow to you?”
To understand Star and Shadow is to be here, to listen to the stories, to get involved and help make the Star and Shadow into a place for all of us.
All photos: Dawn Felicia Knox
Architectural drawing: Mawson Kerr
Poster: Iris Priest