On June 29, The Starving Artist held its last show, but this unique organization is not disappearing any time soon. Laina Barakat, director of artist relations and founding member, said the Starving Artist shut down its physical location and became a pop-up venue. “The reason for it is it is a really popular trend in non-profit, especially in the art world right now because people are realizing that you spend so much time fundraising and you spend so little time actually trying to produce the kind of events and opportunities that you exist for because of a constant overhead, especially in a small town,” Barakat said.
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In 2009, Barakat said she, along with Aaron Wiederspahn and his spouse, wanted to create a space to create music and listen to local musicians. “We were constantly going to shows in Northampton, Boston, and Providence,” Barakat said. Therefore, in order to bring shows to Keene, Barakat along with Aaron Wiederspahn, created the non-profit organization.
“We all found ourselves in small town New England with nothing to do and feeling very creatively starving,“ Barakat said. When The Starving Artist first opened in 2009, shows were booked three to four times a week, according to Barakat. However, booking four shows a week was not feasible for the organization.
“We tried to do three or four shows a week, but there wasn’t enough people to constantly populate it. In order to make our shows always a success, we had to cut down to one, maybe two concerts a week and that is not financially sustainable to stay open,” Barakat explained.
The Starving Artist opened its doors to a wide-variety of performers, gravitating towards small indie bands, who are very hardworking, Barakat said. “Our goal was to always mix local and non-local music together every night,” Barakat said. This allowed The Starving Artist not only to draw in a large crowd, but it also gave local bands the chance to share the stage with bands they admired. “It helps support local art and introduce the community to excellent art,“ Barakat said.
However, now that the organization is now a pop-up venue, it will be difficult for local musicians to not only attend shows, but also be selected to play. Instead of having one to two shows per week, The Starving Artist will book shows once a month in Keene and two to three other events in surrounding towns such as Peterborough.
“There is something really homey about the Starving Artist. I think it will be difficult for local musicians, especially local students, because it wasn’t just a venue; it was a home for them in many ways. It was where many of them played their first shows or went to some of their first shows. What I think they will miss is the ease for them to get selected,” Barakat said. But with a new venue comes a new crowd. Barakat said that one of her biggest fears would be that The Starving Artist would lose a lot of the student population because of a convenience factor. “We will definitely miss the student involvement, although we are optimistic,” Barakat said. For the students who attended shows at The Starving Artist and local bands who performed there, the non-profit organization became their home. It was where local bands played or went to their first show. Even though the physical location of the Starving Artist will disappear, the memories that the artists and its patrons shared there will remain strong. Barakat said one of her favorite memories of The Starving Artist was the first 24-hour music festival.
“We had 20, 30 bands come through in that tiny room, and we put carpets and pillows on the floor. And there were certain people who stayed all 24 hours and you would see people occasionally napping on the floor. It was a reason for people to come together and celebrate the same idea,” Barakat said. One band who played their first show there was The Mild Revolution, an indie-folk band from Keene.
“My best memories are from The Starving Artist,” Morgan Little, guitarist for the band, said. The Mild Revolution consists of band members Little and Matt Caputo on guitar, Joshua Hallengren on bass, and Tim Stone on percussion. They have been playing for three years and their first LP, “Stealing From America” is soon to be on iTunes.
Nick Votruba, of the Keene-based band Jake McKelvie and The Countertops, was a frequent player at The Starving Artist. Votruba said that his favorite part of The Starving Artist was that it was homey and a place for intimate concerts. “Unlike bigger venues, it seemed like the people that ran it actually had a passion,” Votruba said. Votruba plays bass for the band and does vocals, along with Jeff Hall, on drums and vocals, and Jake McKelvie on guitar and vocals. He said, “Before I went to The Starving Artist, I never thought of coming to Keene and starting a band.”
“I’m going to miss the regular people and I’m going to miss the opportunity to bring so many bands into my home, and that is one of the biggest learning experiences, especially for me as a musician,” Barakat said.
Hannah Sundell can be contacted at