Pulling up to the corner of Central Avenue in Kansas City, you see a tall building with two stories above ground and one story underneath. Cars are parked all the way down both sides of the street as people are walking towards the back entrance of the building. The white brick walls surrounding the back yard are tall and the pavement within the gated walls is crawling with people sitting and smoking, standing and drinking, talking and talking. You have arrived at the one and only, FOKL.
FOKL is a community art space currently located in the basement of 556 Central Avenue Kansas City, KS. The basement space has been utilized primarily as a concert venue, but FOKL itself has a long past of various artistic uses. Five years running as a volunteer organization and FOKL righteously gives 100% of money collected at the door to the bands and artists who perform and showcase in the space. FOKL will soon be undergoing a location change, leaving behind the space that the near and far have come to know and love.
Entering the venue is the equivalent of entering a rare dream of grungy, experimental exhilaration. As you walk into the multicolored anteroom, you look to the right and see a few baby dolls squeezed between some large pipes above an electrical box, which is all you need to feel right at home. To the left is a long compilation of tables stretching across the length of the anteroom, which gives bands the opportunity to boldly showcase their merchandise. Close behind the table stands a large wall of chalk board, freely decorated with the doodles of many minds who have lived inside the venue. It never fails that each time there, a new chalk addition has been added to the wall.
Continue on in the anteroom past two doors on the right wall and a few steps later, you’ll arrive at the, extremely squeaky and oddly fitting wooden door, which closes off or opens up FOKL itself. After the entrance fee is taken care of, you are granted access into possibly one of the most amazing places to exist within this realm.
Music is eradicating through the walls, the room lights are dark and the stage lights are only bright enough, creating a completely comfortable ambience for all emotion to be felt. The stage presents itself, centered, with a background wall of absolutely mind-bending graffiti. Spin around, let the eyes wander, and feel automatically intrigued with inspiration and energy. People on the left side hanging from the stairs. People on the outside sitting on chairs. People on the inside standing, dancing, kicking and screaming. The room’s entirety allows those present to lose themselves in feelings of complete madness, sadness, or hysteric freedom from the corner to the pit. Standing on the walls and simply taking in the music or up front being inflicted with a psychical catharsis of no other, forehead to heel, isn’t able to be experienced the same anywhere else as it is able to be experienced inside FOKL. It is a realm of pure nonsense which has the ability to transport a variety of people into places that do not exist.
Noting on this one of a kind art space and its new coming changes, Allie Mason, a co-founder, kindly communicated everything concerning FOKL’s past and future through an e-mail interview with me.
It appears the FOKL venue used to be located on middle level of the building, but now takes place around back and in the basement. What is the history this venue has lived through these past five years and how did it end up in the basement?
Allie Mason: FOKL originally started out with the idea of having an open studio setting with an art gallery on the main floor of 556 Central Avenue. Craig Demoss, Martin Swank, Rachel Helling, Leslie Kinsman, and I all were seeking a space that promoted creative expression in an all inclusive environment. Our opening weekend in 2011 included live music performances. We soon discovered that music shows were what really brought the crowds (especially since KCK was really off the radar for those coming in from KCMO). After about two years, we were all running out of money (at that point, FOKL was completely out-of-pocket), and so our landlord let us rent out the basement for a steal! He installed a bathroom down there as well, so we could accommodate for that need. Once we were down there, we decided that art shows would be less welcome due to the extreme temperature/atmospheric fluctuations that come with a basement environment.
In the time I have known about FOKL, which is about four months, it has seemed to primarily used as a music venue, but in the past you have hosted other art events such as galleries and performances. Can you recap on some past events such as these that took place at FOKL? Will FOKL remain a primarily music based space or will the variety of events be coming back to the new location?
Allie: Some of the most notable, non-music related events that have taken place at FOKL over the years include kid’s art shows, KU Photomedia Senior Exhibition, the Wyandotte High School Art Club showcase, Suther Salazar’s Traveling Tortoise, film screenings, health workshops, FOKL Fairs (pop-up for local makers), solo exhibitions for KCAI seniors, and potluck dinners. These are all things that we would like to incorporate into our new space, as it will be more welcoming to such events. (We will have access to temperature controls, street access, as well as the potential for daytime operations.)
Inside the venue is absolutely decked out with insanely creative graffiti floor to ceiling. Do you know anything about who has sprayed what overtime? Are there any special correlations having to do with the bands who play at FOKL or things that have happened there and the spray paint on the walls or chalk on the board?
Allie: About four years ago, we invited four artists to do whatever they wanted to the walls. Skyler Bieberly, Will Willmott, Anson the Ornery, and Derek Weber. The chalk board in the front has sort of been an evolving thing… we just let people do what they want to it. It’s all about creative expression, and what better place to display it than a floating wall?
Concerning the shows, all kinds of music are welcome at FOKL as I have personally seen folk, punk, electronic, metal, indie and more in the experimental realm. With you two being there as the ones running the show behind the scenes, who are some of the most memorable bands to date that have played here and what made it so?
Allie: Some of the most memorable bands that have played FOKL are, No Age, The Body, Riley Walker, Esme Patterson, Leif, Harry and the Potters (with Koo Koo Kangaroo – they did a parachute game outside with the kids and IT WAS AWESOME), YYU, Nakatani Gong Orchestra, Carnal Torpor, Spray Paint, Bib, Gypsyblood, SSION, Wild Child, Lumpy and the Dumpers, and so many more! We have been so fortunate to have been approached by so many outstanding artists. I think what has made each of these shows so memorable is the direct impact they have had on FOKL “patrons.” Some of these shows had hundreds of people, some had five in attendance. But, each one had something significant, something that impacted an individual on a level that only can be understood musically. That might be getting too deep, but I think that seeing a great show, feeling the vibes from the people around you, being able to express oneself without judgement is something that we can all relate to, or aspire to experience.
What is the single most breathtaking or surprising thing that you have seen take place here?
Allie: Honestly, I love it when kids get dropped off by their parents! We are all ages venue, and always have been, so it is amazing when young people get to experience things outside of their comfort zones. I LOVE parents who are willing to give their kiddos the freedom to express who they are and encourage their creative interests.
FOKL as it is now seems to operate like a well-oiled machine with volunteers running the venue. Who are the people behind all of the planning and technicalities of the live music shows that take place so frequently and how has the volunteer aspect been working out for the venue?
Allie: FOKL has gone through many stages of operators and volunteers. Right now, we have a pretty fresh crew to FOKL, who have a flippin’ lot of experience running and organizing shows in KC. Ian Teeple, Dan Ohm, Anthony Manganaro, James Rumsey, and Sam Sartorius all have really brought completely different perspectives to our ever-evolving table. It’s really great having people who are so driven, inspired by music, and active within the music scene supporting FOKL. In the past, like any DIY space, we have gone through waves of volunteers. It comes with the territory. I think it is more about finding the right people at the right time. It seems to all fall into place in this seemingly brilliant and completely refreshing way each time.
What brought about the location change?
Allie: After FOKL moves out, the upholstery shop upstairs will be using the space to re-finish furnishings! We are absolutely sad about this move, but are happy to see that small businesses in KCK are doing so well. There are so many places around here (on Central) that have grown up and expanded tremendously over the past few years. We feel so fortunate to have experienced that growth with them.
Concerning the new, FOKL thankfully won’t be completely ending. The venue is moving locations, what is the new address?
Allie: The temporary (until the end of December) new location will be in 541 Central Ave, just down the street a little bit. We are going to use this space until we can find something that is larger in size, has a larger outdoor space, and will accommodate the types of shows we like to see at FOKL. We are currently looking for a final resting place for FOKL, so if anyone out there has a big room that sounds good, with a sick patio, and maybe some cheap rent, LET US KNOW!
Why was this new location chosen and what was the decision making process like?
Allie: The temporary location was offered to us by our current landlord. He has really been an advocate for FOKL over the years, and wanted to give us a place to transition into after moving out. Obviously, since we generate zero income (all funds go directly into the bands hands), we have had some struggles with keeping up with the rising costs of the neighborhood. We know we can make FOKL happen in KCK or KCMO, and we are excited and eager to see what will happen for us in the future.
Do you feel the new location will be able to carry on the unexplainably freeing state and beautifully grimey feeling of the current FOKL space?
Allie: Our dream of a final resting place is a big one. We will once again establish and even surpass what FOKL has become known for. I have had a lot of people approach me recently about this change. So many of them have let me know that they feel like they grew up with FOKL, which is all we could have ever wanted. We will ALWAYS provide a space that is all inclusive, safe, and encourages ALL forms of creative expression. Ultimately, FOKL isn’t all about the place, its about the people and what those people can (and will) do to make KC a better (or more fun) place!
Check out a gallery of FOKL’s 2nd No Wave Fest here.
Experience the last show of FOKL as we know it, 556 Central Ave, on September 26, 2016 at 9PM with Animal Lover, Phantom Head, Tongues, and Blue Healer.
Come together for the first show of the new FOKL location, 541 Central Ave, on October 1st, 2016 at 9PM with SHMU, CS Luxem, Young Sean, CXPA.
For all things FOKL:
@FOKLcenter on Instagram
Photographs by Brooke Metz