How to Start a Radical Space

People are setting up radical spaces in big cities and small towns all over the world to give alternative communities space for events, resource sharing and information distribution. Having activities at a public space opens the radical scene up so people who aren’t already involved in a particular friendship network can find us. Many times, a radical space will house more than one type of activity which allows different sub-groups or scenes to share the work of keeping the space going, encouraging community and cross-pollination. We’ve heard of spaces that host music shows, bike repair coops, free stores, lending libraries, Food Not Bombs kitchens, free computers, Cop-watch projects, craft supplies, women’s and trans only events, study groups, Indymedia centers, movies, Prison Literature Projects, zine shops, DIY health clinics, marching bands, yoga, activist meetings, coffee shops, needle exchanges, offices for radical groups, silk-screening, bookstores, puppet and sign making, tool lending libraries; the list goes on.

A radical space can be created in a variety of ways, such as renting a storefront, opening a squat, using a piece of land, or in a vehicle such as a bus or RV. In starting the process, look at your region and determine what is best. A metropolis may do better with a storefront, where as it might make sense to use a plot of land in a rural area.

A few things to address and establish before opening a radical space are your intentions and goals for opening the space, who you would like to be involved, how to distribute duties, and what kind of space you would like to use. Additionally funding and how to attain your space’s resources and amenities will come into play. You might be able to open the space first and work out the organizational details later as they become necessary for the project.

Many groups start out by finding a corner of an existing space that they can transform. This could be the back area of a cafe, bookstore, grocery coop, art gallery, university student union, city community center, or a garage or spare room at a community house. You can offer to pay a small sum or work trade in exchange

Another alternative is to rent a storefront or warehouse. Depending on where you live, you may need to register a fictitious business name with the state government or the county clerk’s office, though in some areas there are no laws that require you to register a fictitious business name. Some info-shops also register as a non-profit. This could require making a board of directors, talking to a lawyer, and registering paperwork with the government.

If you are looking to squat a space, the best thing would be to try and secure a place that will have longevity. After scouting out vacant spaces, it helps to research these spaces at your local accessor’s office. Some key things to look for are the name of the owner and their contact information, though it is a good sign if you cannot reach them at the resident listed. Additionally, look to see if the property tax is not being paid. If the owner is paying property tax, they are most likely paying attention to the property. Detailed information on how to squat can be found on the web; San Francisco’s Homes Not Jails has a website with useful tips and guidelines.

There can be a huge trade off between renting a cheaper space in an industrial area or ghetto vs. paying high rent for a small area in a popular shopping district with a lot of foot traffic — each group has to consider their goals when making this decision. If a space doesn’t sell anything and is used more as a work space and for music shows, an out of the way location may be ideal. If you are striving for a library, bookstore, café or hang out space, it can be crucial to be in an accessible area.

Whatever the space you decide on, whether it’s a store front or a squat, you’ll need start up money for rent, tools, bills, dish soap, etc. Avoid relying on a single source of funding — diversify as much as you can, and be creative. Benefits are usually the best way to go about raising money, which can be done by throwing a show, doing a bake sale, or hosting a dinner or movie night.

To maintain your radical space, encourage your local community to donate their resources or time to keep it running smoothly. Additional money can be made through benefits, selling coffee and tea, charging for movie or book rentals, or renting extra office space to other community groups.

If you decide to start a radical space, then congratulations! You’re giving your community an outlet to meet, learn, discuss, and share radical information. Whether it’s a mobile zine library or an acre of grass declared an Autonomous Zone, you will be giving your community a wonderful gift.