A Place to Co-Operate

. September 30, 2019.
Detroit-based musician Jacob Sigman at The CoOp— an arts focused community center. Photo Credit: Erin Wakeland.
Detroit-based musician Jacob Sigman at The CoOp— an arts focused community center. Photo Credit: Erin Wakeland.

The CoOp’s community-focused approach is music to our ears

“The vision was, honestly, to bring people together,” says Frances Master, one of six UM students who operate The CoOp, a space inside Openfloor Studio (231 S. State St.). Undeniably, it is refreshing to hear that motivation for creating opportunities to experience live music, as that’s a priority often seemingly overlooked when it comes to the competitive and unpredictable world of venues and clubs. The CoOp, a place where you’ll encounter the next generation of Ann Arbor’s music scene, as well as an arts-focused community center to foster friendships or where creatives can find their next collaborator.

Think of it as a launchpad: “…young artists need a place,” said Master. “You have to start somewhere.”

Occupying a 2nd-floor suite described as a “…small and swanky space above Totoro, Ama, and The Getup Vintage”, The CoOp’s capacity maxes out at about 50 member audiences for live music every Friday evening (with Open Mics every Wednesday). Openfloor Studio, shared with yoga and dance instructors who lead classes by day, gives cultural entrepreneurs like Master a place to operate.

Passion for music

Master, a classically trained pianist who has been singing and making music in some capacity for almost her entire life, majored in biopsychology, cognition, & neuroscience. The inspiration to galvanize her musically-inclined side surged between her sophomore and junior year when she started writing more songs and teaching herself about production software. “I realized music was my real passion. I was going around Ann Arbor trying to get gigs, and a lot of my friends were in that same boat. It was hard to find a place that was really welcoming to new artists with no experience. Even to perform at coffee shops you need to complete an application. We all just wanted to get that experience, and we didn’t know where to start.”

Master took inspiration from the history of The Ark. “Back in the 60’s, it was in a church and students would come and perform poetry. I wanted to recreate something like that!” She took music business classes during her senior year to bolster her entrepreneurial knowhow and the idea came to her… “…to create a community-oriented concert venue for new artists that was all about the listening experience. People could come and pay five dollars at the door. We’re hoping to set up a monthly membership so members can come to every show, but the whole point is to make it about the music. It’s about community and providing a consistent place for musicians to perform, collaborate and meet each other.”

Collaborative future

Master came to Ann Arbor from Northville, with previous experience teaching at Seven Mile Music, as well as serving as a director for summer programming at the Brightmoor Arts Camp. For several months, starting around October of 2018, she essentially worked alone to get The CoOp off the ground. Her efforts were soon supported by the versatile contributions and help of Delaney Cavanagh, Mina Kambakhsh, Jacob Mancinott, Erin Wakeland, Tessa Rose, and Tiana Colovos. Their participation represented progress toward another goal. Despite Frances’ role as the founder/leader, her intent is for The CoOp to function and flourish without a single leader, but rather through the efforts of the community. A longer-term vision is that the CoOp model can be replicated in other cities, beyond Michigan, with collaborative teams of music lovers utilizing or repurposing community spaces to offer low-cost concert experiences for audiences, while providing a platform for independent artists to reach new ears.

“You have to use what’s around you,” explains Master. “There are musicians and artists everywhere and there are people everywhere who want to come together and enjoy music. Our hope is that people keep coming back, not just because they know the performer or they trust our tastes, but also because it’s a great atmosphere and just a good place to be.”

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