by Stephen L. Fiske

For many years I drove by the building on the southeast corner of Lincoln Blvd. and Victoria, just up the street from the Boys and Girls club, 1 block north of Venice Blvd. I noticed that there was a Day Care Center in the building which was part of the Venice United Methodist Church, but in my 28 years of being a Venice resident, that was the extent of my awareness of that property.

Then, during the buildup to the Iraqi war, I was invited by fellow peace activist Andy Lieberman to perform at some of his "Coffee House Teach-Ins" which were held in various locations in the LA area. He invited me to participate in an evening called "Pasta for Peace" which was held in the first floor auditorium of that building, which was now called "The Venice Center For Peace With Justice and the Arts."

I met Rev. Tom Ziegert, the new progressive pastor of the church, and Jonathan Zeichner, co-director of "Inside Out Community Arts", an after school arts enrichment program for at-risk and underserved middleschool youth, whose offices and programs were located in the Center. Re-inventing the building as a community center with offices for social service based organizations, and as a performing arts center, was their brainchild. As the "Pasta For Peace" event worked well in the room, which can seat as many as 250, has a stage with some limited lighting and sound, metal folding chairs, tables, and a full service kitchen, I certainly saw the potential of the place to be a viable local venue for ongoing coffee house type gatherings. As a local musician I was always keeping my eye open for places to play, and it wasn’t long before I entered the brainstorming about creating an ongoing coffee house.

Soon the idea for the Chautauqua Coffee House was born. Although the room was a funky fixer-upper (like the rest of Venice), I could see that magic could happen there (just like Venice). Venice could use a place where people could gather for good acoustic oriented music, various performance and theater arts, poetry, meaningful dialogue, lectures, ceremony, networking and with refreshments. So we embarked on coordinating a musicians/artists/poets/performers cooperative based around the idea of Chautauqua -- a circle of friends gathering for meaningful, educational and entertainment purposes.

Sunday evening was the only weekend night consistently available. I talked it up among a number of my musician/artist friends, showed the place to a few people, and everyone thought it was an idea whose time had come. So, Beginning Sunday, August 3rd, every Sunday is a Chautauqua Coffee House, coordinated by different groups. Sunday August 3rd is "Rhythms," co-produced by Inside-Out Community Arts and Calabash Productions featuring various musicians, poets, performers and percussionists including an open mike and jam session. Featured artists include: Martin Yarborough, Joselyn, and the Venice All Star Musical Collective.

Sunday evening August 10th is featuring yours truly, singer-songwriter Stephen Longfellow Fiske and friends in concert, with an opening shamanic blessing ceremony and a closing Chautauqua circle. Other special guest performers are:violinist Scarlet Rivera, singer/guitarist Stephanie Valdez, and composer/pianist Dwight Stone. Coffee will be served and a food concession will be provided by the Venice Food Co-op. Admission is $15.

On August 17th, the Venice United Methodist Church will offer open mike night. August 24 is TBA. August 31st will have "Island Hopping," a Voice In The Well production, an artistic exploration and celebration of exotic cultures featuring music, dance, theater and food. Facilitated by Eric Volmer, performers include: King Kukulele and Alfred Johnson. The Sunday Chautauqua Coffee House series will continue in September.
So, there’s a new scene happening in town. Come and try it on for size. Come and participate and help create the magic. See you there!

Stephen Longfellow Fiske is a musician-author-peacemaker and long-time Venice resident. He has performed widely across the United States and has produced nine albums of his music including his most recent CDs, "Angels and Miracles" (2002) and "Earth Anthem and Other Songs of Peace" (2003). He is author of the poetic handbook, "The Art of Peace", (New Paradigm Books).

Posted: Fri - August 1, 2003 at 08:05 PM