Since its inception in 2014, Flemington DIY has been helping to grow the arts community in Hunterdon County, an area with plenty of creatives but few maker spaces and all-ages venues that cater to them.
DIY’s mission is “to provide an inclusive art space that engages the community with the burgeoning local arts scene, inspires social change, and invigorates the economic development of Flemington, New Jersey.” And over nearly eight years, DIY has hosted a spectrum of events, including film screenings, acting workshops, open mics, craft fairs and punk shows. Simply put, Flemington DIY has given art/artists a home in West Jersey, and contributed to the ongoing revitalization of the town in which it resides.
Earlier this year the collective moved to a new location in Flemington, and NJ Indy had a chance to catch up with Co-Founder and Executive Director Jeff Hersch to discuss the new space and what DIY has planned for 2022.
NJ INDY: Congratulations on the new space! This is an awesome location [26 Stangl Road, Flemington], how did DIY secure it?
Jeff Hersch: The landlord of this building was actually on our board. The store that was in this location had been here a long time but they were leaving and he presented the idea to us. He showed us this space and asked if we were interested. Of course we were due to the size and location. We have a lot more freedom here than our previous location, it’s a standalone building with great foot traffic. We’re sort of in the middle of everything that’s happening in Flemington, here on Stangl Road. So that’s how we secured the building, we signed the lease right at the start of this year.
NJI: Would you say you have a healthy relationship with the community/municipality? How have you been received?
JH: I mean, I think it’s been great. We’ve been around for eight years so [even though we are in a new space] it’s not like we just popped up and are starting anew. We’ve built up our following and I think right before COVID we were really hitting our stride with attendance and involvement. That all is starting from the bottom-up again, now, more or less after two years of being closed. But the reception to the move and getting going again has been better than I’d hoped. You know, I thought maybe people would have just gone on about their lives [during the pandemic] and forgotten about us, but the reaction has just been huge. I mean, we launched a membership and the numbers have already blown me away with the amount of people who just want to be involved. The support has been awesome, even from council members. They seem to be pretty happy to have us back as well because there’s not a lot of groups grounded here, doing the arts consistently, so I think they were excited to see us back.
NJI: What is Flemington DIY’s role in the community? What problem are you solving?
JH: Our main goal is to give people a platform to express themselves: to perform in front of audiences, showcase their art or learn a new skill. And then we want to just bring people to Flemington to help out the other local businesses, you know? I mean, we don’t have food or alcohol but if you come here you can walk in any direction and get those things. We try to ensure that our existence is actually benefiting the businesses that surround us.
Having this place also sort of legitimizes music. I always liked to say in the past that I lived in the only punk house in Flemington when we originally started DIY, because we were doing shows in our basement once a month. We had a few run-ins with the cops and our neighbors, you know? Having a place like this kind of legitimizes the music and allows us [to put on shows] in a safe, legal space. But, really, I think what sets us apart and has been a huge part of our success, is that we aren’t JUST a punk space for punk kids/bands. We really do cater to the entire community, all walks of life are involved. If it was just a punk space, I really don’t think we’d be this successful.
NJI: How do you promote DIY and the importance of your work?
JH: For a long time it was word of mouth, but then we’d have a lot of people walk by us and say, “Oh, we’ve lived in Flemington forever and we never knew this place was here,” and that was after we’d been here for like six or seven years. So then we had to start to incorporate all social media platforms, email and then I’m still a fan of dirty flyering: putting up physical flyers around here and surrounding towns. We’ve also had to network with other groups and partners. You know how it works with music: you have one band play here and then they tell all the bands they know, and then you have touring bands learn about the space and want the opportunity to play at a new place. So I think it’s a good mix of word-of-mouth, guerilla marketing and strategic partnerships with groups and businesses.
NJI: What does success look like for DIY this year in the new space?
JH: I think we’ve already seen some success in the first phase but coming out of this pandemic I think I’d like to just see us kind of bounce back pretty strongly after closing down for a while. We’re rebuilding our volunteer staff and our programs. I’d like to see us, over the next year, operating like the past two years never happened. I think, with the reaction we’ve had, it’s going to pick back up. It’s evident that people are really wanting to do things, they want to get back out because they’ve been unable to for a long time. There’s just a huge desire to get back to all of it now.
JH: Long-term, I think the big goal would be financial stability. At our previous space we had a really sweet deal with the town where we really didn’t have a lot of overhead; then coming to a space like this where we have legitimate rent and real cost that we have to worry about. So financial stability, most importantly, being able to make rent and have a little extra. No one here is paid, no one is making money, it’s strictly just money to keep things going—that’s the goal. Also, and it’s not a huge priority right now, but super-long-term it’d be really nice to have a ‘paid-director’ position so I could just focus all of my attention here. People always assume that this is my job and, I wish it was, but this place is still run completely by volunteers.
NJI: What is on the horizon as far as events or ways to bring in money?
JH: Specifically, we’ve launched a membership program—which people have really wanted for a while now. We just had never sat down and crafted it until now. We launched the membership in January; you can pay $20 a month or you can pay everything up front, you get SWAG, different perks, access to rehearsal/studio space once we’re open, discounts, early bird tickets and things like that. I think most people probably won’t even take advantage of those, I think [the membership] is more of just a way to support the space; we had a lot of sustaining donors to begin with. We are already way ahead of schedule as far as our goals for membership. Making enough money off of what we do here is always going to be the struggle but membership will help a lot.
Some other ideas for bringing in money: we are planning to do a market day—[our neighbors] run a farmers market (Stangl Farmers Market) every week, so we’re just going to piggyback off of that and open it up for people: $25 per table or whatever the cost is going to be, come in and sell your art and stuff. This way we can kind of extend what’s going on over there [at the Stangl Farmers Market] and create like a whole block of vendors. They’re more food-centric but we’ll have art and then we were thinking of possibly some record fairs, teaming up with some record stores and radio stations. Then we’ll have plenty more events and art shows in the works.
NJI: Do you have peers? DIY organizations in other towns you use for inspiration?
JH: Yeah, definitely. I have a good relationship with the director of Public Space One, they’re out in Iowa City, Iowa. I’ve stopped there a few times [while on tour] years ago. Kinda similar vibes there, but they are in a college town. They do art shows, classes, print shop—similar stuff to us. I always reach out to them every few months just to connect and the director is sort of an unofficial mentor to me. He’s always been really helpful. Then there’s Index Art Center in Newark, they actually just lost their space recently but they’ve been around for a long time and are in the process of finding a new location; they’ve always been a big influence. Those are the two main ones.
NJI: Other than funding, which is always priority number one, what does DIY need most right now?
JH: I think it’s just volunteers—of all skills. We’ll be announcing some volunteer workshops soon. Volunteers have always kind of ebbed and flowed here, I mean: people go to college, they move away and come back, older people, younger people. We’re just rebuilding that [volunteer] base right now based on their interest; whether they want to book shows or run the sound board, or if they wanna do classes or run a print shop, or if they just want to come here and open the space while someone else does an event. We need all of those kinds of people who are local to here. So, yeah, basically just people power.
NJI: So when is the official date that you’re actually opening here?
JH: We’re signed up to participate in the Hunterdon Art Tour, which is on April 30. We’ve announced a ‘call for art’ for a little soft-opening art show here for that weekend. We’ll have this place, the main room looking good, decked out in art. Then May will mark our eight-year anniversary, so I’m hoping to do a bunch of stuff then. By May we’ll be in full-swing with a grand opening party.
NJI: So it seems all but certain that you’ll be booking shows here; do you have your sights set on any bands yet?
JH: Well, we just got the official numbers back and we can fit 199 people, not counting the side rooms, which actually kind of seems like a lot. So it’s 99 people with chairs and then 199 standing. The old space was only 99 standing and we definitely packed that place a few times. I was actually talking with the hardcore band 108, they played at the old space and it was insane and they actually want to come back, so I think that would be awesome to have them here.
NJI: Any partnerships or local business that have been particularly helpful?
JH: Yeah, definitely Jarred (Oberman) at Factory Fuel Co. has been good to us; I’ve known him for a while. Now that we’ve moved here, he’s already offered to bring coffee to every event and put up flyers [in the coffee shop] and collaborate on hosting open mics and other events. I think that’ll be a good relationship for us moving forward.
NJI: Is there a person you’d like to highlight within the organization?
JH: Yeah, of course. Delfina (Picchio) has been amazing. She’s one of the newer board members, probably been on the board for about a year or so. I had a baby last year so she just stepped up and took care of a lot of stuff while I was distracted or busy; so she was my go-to person through all of that. She’s been helping with curating, tons of ideas, she does art and is actually a teacher. She’s been invaluable over the last year, bringing new ideas and energy to the group.
[We’ll chat with Delfina and share our conversation with her in early May ahead of an International Female Ride Day event and DIY’s grand reopening at the new location. Stay tuned.]