The word “manifestation” shares a root with “manifestazione”, the Italian word for “protest”. Both come from the Latin “manifestus”, literally, “struck by the hand”, as in, “to forge” or “to make known”. It is an apt title for the second show put on by Substance, a non-profit booking and promotions company with a mission to blend the audiences of music and progressive political issues. Their first concert was the Ripple Effect concert during the Republican National Convention which garnered attention when Rage Against The Machine went out into the crowd to play after being told by the authorities to shut down.
Providence, R.I. rapper Sage Francis headlines Manifestation in the First Avenue Mainroom this Friday 3/27, with support from Cecil Otter, B. Dolan, Building Better Bombs and The God Damn Doo Wop Band. Beyond the music, expect lots of groups to have information and a “Manifest Station”, a networking hub for progressive issues. Cake In 15 caught up with Substance co-founder Jim Forrey to talk about civil disobedience, accumulating debt and the value of art.
Cake In 15: Cecil Otter just signed to Strange Famous (Sage Francis’ label). Did you start with contacting the local bands for Manifestation first and then Sage came in to place or was it your goal from the outset to get Sage or a national act for Manifestation?
Jim Forrey: We went after Sage and other nationals first, then filled out the bill.
CIn15: The artists that have been a part of Substance’s shows are artists with already established political views. As a non-profit booking and promotions group, what does Substance offer to these artists to get them involved with their shows?
JF: We offer the same as any other promotions company, except we add a bit of substance. We have a policy against putting on charity and/or benefit shows, because artists assume they will not be paid. We pay as close to normal rates as possible, and put on shows that have some meaning. It also varies between shows, depending on what we are doing. The RNC was easy; we were the most politically radical/true promoters doing anything, so our show was the place to be. For Manifestation, Sage liked what we were doing so he came at a discount.
CIn15: Who are some of the progressive organizations involved with Manifestation? How are they going to be presented? Can expect a tabling fair at First Ave?
JF: Seven organizations are main partners and will be tabling. We are changing the way organizations table at shows. The tabling organizations are spread throughout the venue. Most of these organizations are only supplying literature for our “Manifest Station” booth, which will present the progressive spectrum and provide different ways to get involved in its sub-sets. (Ed. note: A full list of organizations is on the Substance website.)
CIn15: Specifically for Manifestation, what will be the involvement of the participating organizations and what benefit do you hope to provide for them? How do you intend to re-shape one-way political discourse?
JF: The organizations get to be introduced to an audience they have little contact with. This is a main point of what we do; we bring people into contact with the organizations that are working for change that usually wouldn’t.
We are encouraging a new audience to get involved in politics, in activism, in organizing. We are motivating people to speak up, to have a say in the system, and turn discourse around on the powers that be.
CIn15: That Rage Against The Machine played after being told to shut down was classic civil disobedience and political dissent. As the permit holders for that event are you experiencing any on-going legal fall-out from the Ripple Effect concert?
JF: As permit holders/organizers, we broke no laws nor did we violate any agreements. Rage Against The Machine was stopped from playing because of who they are, which is a violation of our first amendment rights (violation of speech based on content). The Capitol and the MN State Patrol violated our contract (permit) by cutting the power early, so if there were any legal ramifications, it would be us suing them. However, we don’t have the resources to do such a thing.
This incident gave us enormous press coverage and was a scene that could have been avoided if the state had acted appropriately.
CIn15: Also, how are you dealing with the financial shortfall from Ripple Effect, which from the appeals e-mails at the time, seemed like it was coming to the $10K range?
JF: We incurred heavy debt, but we considered it an investment. We knew leading up that we were going to come up short, but we had put too much into it to back out. We are an emerging small business essentially, so it was an investment that any entrepreneur has to make.
We are building up our operating budget and business plan. We contract our services out for a fee, as well as collecting some donations and traditional nonprofit founding, and pulling some profit from shows (shows that aren’t free, which Friday’s will be the first!).
Substance is still holding strong. Perhaps our ideals blind us to real threats, but I am hopeful. We really have no other option.
CIn15: Where is the funding for Manifestation and Ripple Effect coming from? Beyond donations of time and resources, what are your plans for a sustainable organizational future for Substance?
JF: We fund each event independently. This didn’t quite work out for Ripple Effect, but we are still working hard and standing strong.
Our next big step is to solidify funding to make our organization sustainable. We are confident in this because of our unique approach to organizing. We are not held down like most nonprofits, so we can be contracted out to provide event services for organizations, bands and labels. So, we have a business side. We also are a nonprofit, so we bring in grant funding, donations, and such. We are a mix that can stand up to hard times in either area. We are a nonprofit corporation – essentially any profit we make goes back into the organization to progress our mission.
CIn15: The Substance mission statement sets lofty goals for the organization. In what ways is Substance going to work to meet those goals? Beyond hosting events to raise awareness of organizations and issues, what is the long-term vision for Substance?
JF: Substance hopes to spread this idea of shows, and music in general, being beyond entertainment. We hope to help facilitate the partnering of musicians and artists with the movement for change, making the arts political again and motivating change-makers. We would like to see independent, true artists at the top, rather than pop, made-in-a-can by the industry “musicians”.
We promote real artists and promote a whole perspective, an idealist perspective that believes in a better world. We are ambitious and are doing things as we think we should, not how we are told we should. We are changing the way nonprofits work and the way music is promoted. I’ve founded a number of organizations, but this is the most potential and support if ever seen. People are behind what we are doing. Check out my interview on KFAI’s Art Matters.
CIn15: What is your vision for “unity among progressive artists”? What kind of unity and what sort of progressive ideals are will substance be promoting and supporting?
JF: Our vision is a partnership of real musicians and artists with political and community organizers, what we call the Ripple Effect. Most real art is born from political dissent, and I believe this is where it owes its allegiances.
Substance is a nonpartisan, progressive organization. We work to break down issue barriers and unite all progressives. I see progressives as those who want a better world for the good of people; essentially its a belief in people over profit.
Our Manifest Station booth breaks down the progressive spectrum, to see the various parts that make up the whole. This includes issues around the environment, civil liberties, economic equality, reproductive rights, electoral reform, green infrastructure, and civic engagement generally. We don’t endorse certain issues on their own, but support the entire progressive spectrum.
CIn15: What is the history of the organization? Do you have a history in the arts or organizing?
JF: Myself and the two other founders met as activists at the University of Minnesota. We were each doing shows through our activism, noticed that we were each doing similar things, started talking, and Substance was born. So, we are organizers that have a passion for and background in music.
Substance is about a year and half old. We are all young and ambitious, and see no other option but to make this work. We believe in what we do, for ambitions that are larger than the three of us.
CIn15: You talk about real art being born from political dissent, does this mean you would consider non-political art less real or of a lesser value based on it’s political content or lack thereof?
JF: I think all real art is political, even if it doesn’t confront direct political issues, for just the fact that is not-for profit and it is independently manifested by human creativity. This is what I mean by political music. Ween is a political band to me, though they have little directly political content, because they go outside of the norm, of the status quo. Same with Atmosphere so far (we will see what the future brings).
And yes, I do believe that art for profit has a lesser value, or is less real. But, that can still be valued.