A 24-Hour Fundraising Party: The Lab’s Telethon

The front entrance in 2011.


The Lab
has been around since 1984 — 30 years is an eternity in the world of non-profit art spaces, because they’re usually run out of town due to noise complaints, inability to pay rent, or other common issues that arise when you don’t make any money. The Lab has struggled with the same issues, and instead of throwing in the towel when she took over in August, executive director Dena Beard decided to go big with a remodel and an expanded programming schedule. The project has even garnered the support of art world heavy-weights like James Franco, so it can’t fail, right? As of this writing, The Lab’s Kickstarter campaign is at over $21,000, with 9 days left to raise the remaining $29,000 to reach the $50,000 goal.  And so, for the finally push they're hosting a 24-telethon fundraising spectacular on November 15-16.

So, I talked with Beard to find out more about the telethon and why everyone should stay up all night.

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Some basics: the 24-Hour Telethon will be a preview of what The Lab is all about for newcomers and a celebration of weird art stuff for all supporters. How it'll work: You can definitely watch it from home, if you prefer not to be in the same room as other people, or you can donate $50 to reserve a seat during a specific six-hour slot, and get a preview of the remodel in progress. If you up your pledge to $60 you get “one year of free admittance” to The Lab, which I assume includes the Telethon, plus access to a members only cocktail bar.

Better-heeled supporters might be interested in a dinner with Chef Leif Hendendal or limited prints from Christo and Jean-Claude. For more money you can reserve The Lab itself for three or eight hours — If you’ve always wanted to buy your way into the art world, but haven’t figured out how, this might be your chance. Finally, if you want to get intimately involved in the operations of The Lab, $10,000 will let you rename the position of Executive Director whatever you want.

Without further adieu, the probably soon to be re-titled Executive Director of The Lab, Dena Beard, answered some of my questions.

LH: Tell me what's going to happen at the Telethon? Why should people donate to go to the show, and if they decide to go, what time slot should they choose?

DB: Endemic to the idea of a variety show and the philosophy of The Lab, is the good old-fashioned possibility of not knowing what might happen. We are trying to get away from canned entertainment! I can say this:
• Noon-6 p.m. will involve some well known artists and tech innovators hashing out why we need experimental art in this city, some reverse-engineered robots, TURF dancing, and cocktail tastings.
• 6-9 p.m. will pack a big surprise (trust me)!
• 9 p.m.-midnight will feature stories of the underground from V.Vale, the protests of Frank Chu, and a midnight countdown with Extra Action Marching Band.
• Midnight-6 a.m. things start to get really anarchic, with Peaches Christ, High Fantasy, ghost stories, a dance party, and live cinema with Black Hole.
• 7 a.m.-noon we encourage everyone to show in their pajamas, eat some cereal, watch cartoons by Paper Rad’s Jacob Ciocci, hang out with some puppies, and listen to hardcore feminist noise.

Seriously. And there will be more, check for updates at the Lab site.

LH: What are you looking forward to doing most when you hit your fundraising goals? Which part of the project is most important?

DB: I can’t wait to refinish the weathered floor of the original union meeting hall. Oh, and pay our rent in 2015. That too.

LH: Are you going to be there/awake for the whole telethon? How?

DB: Yes! I’m a chronic insomniac, so my whole life has been one big training session for this. As for the rest of you, we have coffee and cocktails and lots of stimulating cacophony. Let’s see who can keep up!

LH: You took over The Lab as Executive Director in August, correct? It seems like you've made it a mission to revitalize the space, and make it continually relevant in San Francisco. How's it going? Is it possible to make a non-profit art space work in the Mission right now? How/Why?

DB: Hilariously, the only time I’ve ever worked a corporate job (at 4x my current salary, by the way) is for a company that managed struggling non-profits. We would help these poor wayward do-gooders better mimic the corporate model and thus, survive in the capitalist economy. In exchange, we get to keep 40% of their profits. Pretty ironic. Long story short, the system isn’t set up to support non-profits, especially the ones that are doing something that the system can’t really categorize. Heck, I spent 20 minutes with our IRS agent trying to explain why The Lab doesn’t sell anything. It seemed unfathomable for her that such a space could exist.

Anyhow, perhaps I’m a masochist, but I find it fun to poke the dragon and see how long spaces like The Lab can last before they get recuperated by petty commercial interests. So, yeah, it’s my mission to try to find some alternative methods of keeping the joint afloat while also hosting some remarkable you-had-to-be-there art projects. There will be no bloodless art, and we will always shift towards the thing that poses the most problems for the status quo. I’d rather be homeless than suffer through any more milquetoast “culture.”

LH: You told Sam Lefebvre of East Bay Express, “I am committed to problematizing capital… but I am also a devout hedonist, so I firmly believe that the process should be fun.” Could you speak to this hedonistic problematization of capital, and how that shapes The Lab, the Telethon, and the fundraiser?

DB: Well, I’m not delusional. I have no expectation that Americans will suddenly wake up and slough off the shackles of the state and decide that their interests would be better served by a non-monetized experience of value. The Lab needs money to pay rent, to help get artists here to do things that we wouldn’t see otherwise, and ironically, it needs money to demonstrate that this is just another arbitrary system that we created, rather recently, to combat the failure of feudalism. Humor is our best defense against ignorance, so the Telethon, the members-only performance art bar, the projects themselves are all infused with a heady mix of satire and the real pleasure of refusal.

LH: Anything else you want to say to convince people that the reboot of The Lab should be funded?

DB: In this industry town, there’s nothing better than having a space that doesn’t fit, that shouldn’t be there. Expect the unexpected!

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