How is 924 Gilman St. Run and Operated?

band playing at Gilman

924 Gilman Street (AKA The Alternative Music Foundation) is a non-profit collective based in Berkeley, California. The collective operates a space used as a venue for putting on punk rock concerts. The policy decisions of the collective are written up during a bimonthly membership meeting. These membership meetings are the core of the decision making process and have been taking place since the non-profit's origins in the late 1980s.

924 Gilman Street

Established in the late 1980s, Gilman has been one of the key venues in sustaining the Bay Area punk rock scene. It is a space where kids who cannot get into bars can go and see their favorite bands. It's easy to volunteer at the club, allowing kids to not just be spectators, but also participants in their own scene.

Gilman has seen countless bands on its stage, some of whom grew into huge international fame, and others who were not noticed by anyone other than their friends. The club is most well known for being the venue that Green Day grew up playing. It is a place that encourages musicians and artists.

Beyond punk rock, Gilman has been a venue for art shows, record swaps, hip-hop shows, and independent movie tours. During the week the club has been used for self-defense lessons, board game clubs and Narcotic Anonymous meetings. Though the club is best know for putting on music events, the members have always been open to using the venue for other events.

Beyond being all-ages, the club has a number of rules and bylines. No racism, sexism and homophobia have been a few key pillars and were spray painted onto the club entrance in black and bright orange for everyone to see. These, and other rules of the club were all made using collective decision making at the club's membership meetings.

Gilman rules sign

Gilman Membership Meetings

Gilman membership meetings happen twice a month, every first and third Saturday of the month at 5pm, before that night's concert or event. They are open to everyone. Anyone with a membership card is considered part of the Gilman street collective and can get involved in the operation of the club. These membership cards are sold at every concert are an required to get into the night's event. A membership card is valid for one year.

The membership cards are due to Gilman technically being a private club. This is mostly done for liability and insurance reasons. Liability and insurance are also the reason Gilman does not allow alcohol at its events. Being an all-ages venue and allowing alcohol is too costly and difficult. Gilman simply cannot afford to do it.

Anyone can come and create a proposal at the membership meetings. These proposals are then discussed and voted upon by those who are eligible to vote at the meetings. To be eligible to vote you must be a card carrying member of the collective and have had to have attended at least once prior membership meeting. You are welcome to join the discussion, but cannot vote if it is your first membership meeting. This is to prevent stacking of votes by those who are not involved in the club.

Membership meetings are ran by a chairperson who has no special power other than to keep the meeting in order. They keep track of who wants to speak, and calls on people to speak one at a time. If you want to speak, you just raise your hand or motion to the chairperson and they put you down in the speaking queue. They then call on individuals in the order that they raised their hands. Everyone is allowed to speak as much and as often as possible, though sometimes they are encouraged to wrap it up.

If you start attending Gilman membership meetings on a regular basis, you soon realize that they are repetitive. Different people will speak and make the same point someone else already made. Even proposals that pass unanimously end up having at least a few people speak on why they support that proposal. It can be a bit frustrating and dull to listen to the same points being made multiple times.

After everyone has said what they want to say, a vote is taken place. Voting members can either vote 'no', 'yes' or 'abstain'. A hand count is taken place of the votes. If you are voting 'yes' you raise your hand when the meeting chairperson asks for all those who are voting 'yes'. A membership proposal has to get a 'yes' majority to pass. In effect, 'no' and 'abstain' are the same thing. If a proposal gets 5 'yes' votes and 6 'abstain' votes, it still fails because it did not get a majority 'yes'. Members usually abstain if they do not care about a proposal. The system is designed to block proposals that people do not care about.

The results of each meeting are written down and recorded in the meeting notes, which are then archived.

This is the way the policy of Gilman is set. These bimonthly membership meetings are where one would go if they want to set new policy or change existing policy. It's a very low barrier of entry to get involved in the decision making of the club. The biggest drawback is that these meetings tend to be dull.

The other potential draw back is joining a collective where most other participants do not agree with you. If this is the case, most of your proposals will be voted down and you will see the collective making decisions you do not agree with. For many people, if this happens long enough, they begin to feel disempowered and may quit participating. This is both bad and good.

This is good in the sense that someone new cannot come and change the whole dynamic of the club. If someone were to want to make the club 21 and over, start allowing alcohol, and to start booking homophobic bands, they would likely not get very far. The existing members of the club will vote down those suggestions very quickly.

The decisions made at the membership meetings are then implemented by the nightly volunteers of the club.

Nightly volunteers

Nothing is more punk than being self-determined and respecting the delf-determination of others

Gilman is a space created by punk rockers for punk rockers. There are a few official positions within the club that are elected at the membership meetings. This includes things like 'head of sound' and 'head coordinator'. These elected positions are responsible for the day-to-day operation of 924 Gilman Street. For example, the head coordinator helps train new coordinators, makes sure there is a coordinator running every show, etc.

These nightly positions include security, sound, coordinating and stage managing. There is also running of the Gilman stoar [sic], nightly cleanup and other tasks. Security is responsible for things like breaking up/preventing fights, ensuring no one is drinking alcohol in or around the club, etc.

The nightly sound-person runs the soundboard.

The coordinator coordinates all the nightly volunteers and makes sure that there are volunteers working the front door, taking money, selling membership cards. They are responsible for the nightly running the of the venue in general.

The stage manager works with the bands to ensure that everyone knows when they are going on, that bands do not play for longer than they should, etc. Gilman has a sound permit until 2am, but the local BART public transit stops running around 12:30am, so often times volunteers try to get shows to end before the last BART train.

Then there are other volunteers who show up and work half the show to get into the club for free. These volunteers work jobs such as the front door. There are usually four individuals working the front door. One person takes money, another stamps hands, another checks the stamps of those coming in, and one person sells membership cards to those who do not have a valid membership card. There are other nightly positions. Nightly volunteers for these positions are found by the coordinator on a first-come first-serve basis. These nightly volunteers work about half a show and then get to enjoy the rest of the show for free. They either work the first half and enjoy the second half, or work the second half and enjoy the first half.

If these nightly volunteers start becoming club regulars, showing up at many different shows and volunteering often, they are asked if they want to move up and begin doing something like coordinating. If so, they are trained to coordinate and eventually are voted on to become an official coordinator at a membership meeting. It sounds a lot more bureaucratic than it is. It's actually a really laid back process.

A couple of songs into the last band, all the nightly volunteers are released and often, the doors are open and free for anyone to enter. This is when the nightly money is counted and the coordinator and stage manager along with other volunteers decide how to start the payout process.

Paying Bands

Though Gilman is run by volunteers, some of the security staff do get paid. They are the only paid members of the club. One reason for this is that it's hard to find people who are willing to get punched in the face for free. Security does have to breakup fights and can get hurt or get into a fight themselves, so the collective is willing to pay them.

Every night, the income from the door is counted and split between paying Gilman's expenses (such as rent) and paying the bands. The first 10 or so percent of the door is given to the security volunteers. The rest of the money is split 50/50 between house and bands.

The money for the bands is then split up by the regular Gilman volunteers based on distance and draw. The distance the band had to travel to get to Gilman, and the amount of people that seemed to have come for that band. Bands from Japan will get paid more than bands from Berkeley. Bands who are huge headliners are going to get paid more than a band who no one has ever heard of.

After the show, one member from each band is brought into the back room, and they are all told how much money was brought in that night and how it was split up. They are then told how much the Gilman volunteers believe each band should get paid, based on distance and draw. At that point the bands are invited to make any changes they see fit to this distribution. Sometimes bands will ask for more money, sometimes band will give away their money. There have been local bands who have been known to always give all their money to the touring bands on the bill.

To make any changes to the Gilman money distribution, all bands have to agree. If a band wants more money, but no one is willing to give them money, they are out of luck. Gilman attempts to make the process as transparent and fair as possible, but some nights some bands end up being disappointed with the amount they made. I'm sure this is true of all venues.

Paying Rent, Etc.

Paying rent, dropping off money at the bank, running the Gilman website are all tasks that are done by the regular volunteers. They are done outside of shows and are usually thankless. Sometimes a toilet needs to be fixed. These are the kinds of tasks that are essential to keeping the club operating. The regular volunteers of the club are able to get into any Gilman show for free. Even when not working that particular show, even if the show is sold-out.

Getting Involved At 924 Gilman Street

Want to get involved at Gilman? The easiest thing to do is to show up around 7pm on a Friday or Saturday night and volunteer for that night's concert. You will have to find the coordinator of the night. They are likely to be walking around with a clipboard. Ask around for who the coordinator is, and sign up for any of the nightly volunteer positions, such as stamping hands of customers.

Start doing that on a regular basis and you will soon get to know the other volunteers. Over time they will likely ask you if you want to become a coordinator or a regular security person or whatever. Or you can bring this up yourself. Just let it be known you want to be a regular volunteer. It doesn't matter how old you are or anything like that. There are plenty of volunteers who are still in high school. That's one of the most impressive things about Gilman. A high school aged person can be in charge of running a whole venue, and they are able to do so perfectly.

Another option is to start showing up at the membership meetings. If you start becoming a nightly volunteer and show up at membership meeting you will soon be running the place.

Over the years Gilman has gone through many different volunteers. These volunteer positions are a fairly thankless job, but people still do them. Different Gilman memberships have had differing views of how the club should be run and what the venue should look like. There are been many controversial decisions made at the membership meetings. The one thing to note is that if someone is unsatisfied with how Gilman is doing things, it's pretty easy to get involved. They can start showing up at membership meetings and making their own voice heard.