( Miguel shows off his favorite part of the gallery, a wall that folds out as a space separator.)
Independent music is being shoved further underground. Harper’s Ferry, the small independent Allston venue, is dead. After being in operations for 40 years, Live Nation, a national corporate juggernaut, is moving in. In Jamaica Plains, the music venue Temple was recently shut down for inadequate licensing. Young artists who are too raw for the SOWA (an art district in the South End geared to an older crowd) gallery scene have no place to showcase their work. All over Boston, small local bands and artists are being confined to dirty basements.
“I think the art scene in Boston is not as thriving as those in a lot of other cities… I've seen some cool performance art during basement shows and there are sometimes DIY art shows in basements… People could do more with the art scene in Boston,” says Emma Hendry, a BU undergrad.
Liz Pelly, music director of Boston University’s radio station, WTBU, points out the problem with these DIY basement venues—they’re illegal.
However, a group of people are looking to give the work of young artists and musicians a home.
Miguel deBraganza, 24, Olivia Ives-Flores, 21, Johnny Jannety 22, and Adrian Molina, 27, are opening what Olivia calls a “multi-sensory exhibition space” called Yes Oui Si. The plan is ambitious, the space is supposed to be part gallery, part boutique, and part music venue.
“We started putting on guerilla [art] shows,” Olivia explains. “We realized we were spending a lot of time getting insurance and being sneaky, and getting stuff up, and taking it down immediately that was just kind of needed a home base… a platform that people could come to.”
Nestled in to, appropriately, a tiny basement on Vancouver Street amongst Wentworth College buildings, Yes Oui Si is in an unassuming location. The only thing that sets the former Chinese restaurant apart is the shiny sun-glittered foil that covers its windows. The gallery sits in the shadow of the Museum of Fine Arts School. Around the corner is the museum itself and the Isabella Gardener Stuart Museum. But, Adrian points out that the neighborhood is missing something like Yes Oui Si, somewhere Adrian says “where the free-for-all can happen.”
In a sense he’s right. The Boston Art Dealers Society doesn’t list any galleries West of Mass. Ave. There are lots of small and DIY venues for art and music but “You can’t put the address of the place on a flyer, as we’ve seen with Temple,” says Liz Pelly. As WTBU music director, Liz is a guru on local bands, frequently organizing shows for emerging bands in Boston. She continues, “It’s the downside of underground being really underground.” It’s in the licensing that Yes Oui Si is different from a DIY venue. They aim to get the proper entertainment licenses in order to be a legitimate business, so they can put their address on flyers. Ideally, Miguel wanted to create a “home that’s a designated place where people can come and find [art and music] who wouldn’t necessarily venture out to some shit hole basement out in Allston.”
While the space sounds like a utopia for young talent, it is not always that easy. “It’s hard to make a go at it, galleries open and close all the time,” Jim Grace, Executive Director of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, warns. Getting those licenses and permit changes is not a simple task especially because the building has different permits from the preexisting restaurant. “We want to get all the ducks in a row… So we’re legit, so we don’t shut down,” Miguel hopes.
There is still work to be done at Yes Oui Si. A thin coating of sawdust covers everything in the venue. Bordering juts out at odd angles, not having been nailed in yet. The ceiling is a skeleton of metal sans its tile skin. The entrepreneurs are rushing to prepare for their sneak-preview opening on November 11th. After that the gallery is to permanently open in January.
“After so many baby steps [of creating Yes Oui Si] this will hopefully go from the butthole of the underground to the surface,” Adrian smiles, “This is where it can all get spewed out and exposed to the surface.”