by Joe Courter
October is a month of beginnings for me. In 1969, when I was a freshman in college, it was the October 15 campus shutdowns and teach-ins across the country against the Viet Nam war. Those days elevated my consciousness and was life changing. As other articles in here report, both the Iguana and the Civic Media Center—two other touchstones in my life—made their debuts in October, 1986 and 1993 respectively. It got me thinking.
I remembered a brief moment at the old CMC which is frozen in my memory and relevant here. I was at the back door porch during a music show with others, and the topic came up of the recently arrived next door corporate bar and restaurant who been complaining about our shows and people hanging around out back. A young voice loudly said, “Where do they get off complaining about the CMC, they just got here and the CMC’s been here forever!” There was an implied stability and long-term-ness not quite right for our maybe five-year-old enterprise, but perception is in the eye of the beholder.
My eyes have beheld the growth of many iconic Gainesville projects which have risen from the grassroots, driven by the hopes and dreams, or maybe just the nerve to go for it and see what happens. The enterprises I am thinking about here are not one devoted to making money, like realtors and developers, but creators of cultural enhancers. Many are still around, seeming like they’ve been here forever, but folks who put them into motion know differently. Those people at some time got together with others, and said “let’s go,” and they took the leap, signed the lease, and began.
A friend, Onna Meyer, and I were talking. Both of us took a self employment route for our work-life. She said, “I’m a doer” and I could totally relate to that. And I see doers around me in this town, and it is those types of people who make a lot of the good stuff we come to take for granted. These are not businesses or enterprises that come to town as some corporate chain. Most have built what they have on their own, without government or state money or backing (though as time goes on, a bit of that can be helpful). The point is, whether propelled by a couple of leaders or an established committee, whether meagerly funded in a hand-to-mouth struggle, or perhaps a person committing an inheritance or good fortune of some other kind and bringing others in to help, they made something out of nothing that came to add immeasurably to our community.
We had those meetings when we formed the Iguana, deciding what to call it and how it would function. The CMC grew out of a couple years of meetings discussing the rising forms of non-corporate media in order to help Charles Willett, an editor of a review journal, read and evaluate new publications. Me, being me, with self employment and a modest lifestyle without kids or debts, had time and desire to embrace both projects, and with the help, skills and guidance of many many people, both are still here, evolving as they go.
And in both cases, they are kept alive by a progressive critical mass of community supporters. It has been a path in my life I could not have foreseen as I rolled into Gainesville in October of 1975, knowing very little of the town, just wanting to go to a new place and try a winter away from snow, where a friend was living and I could put a roof over my head while I moved into my 25th year on the planet.
So I salute those builders who add so much to our lives. The musicians who build their talents and write great songs they share with the world. The people who build restaurants, breweries and music venues where we can gather and enjoy each others company. The grassroots based media people past and present who built radio stations ( 97X, WGOT, and now the Wombat), and publications like FACT, Moon, and Satellite magazines. The theater visionaries that started the Hippodrome, the Acrosstown and other small theater companies. Small non-corporate bookstores and record stores. Art galleries. It is a very special community we built and share.