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Goodnight Club: Cayuga Vault scrambles to get proper permits for live entertainment.


Vaultin' Cayuga

Poetry readings featuring 9-year-olds aren't exactly acts that make you yell "Nightclub!" But nightclub is how the Cayuga Vault--Santa Cruz's newest and one of the few all-ages performing arts venues in town--is being categorized, due to its having amplified music, and owing to bureaucratic designations way too Byzantine to list here.

Proprietor Linda Kimball, who is relocating all shows as she scrambles to secure necessary permits, says she was under the impression the venue was a "performing arts theater"--like its neighbor, the Rio Theatre.

Cayuga Vault's, er, elevation to nightclub status is ironic given that it is alcohol-free and dedicated to highlighting ethnically diverse and emerging artists--exactly the kind of acts nightclubs typically dismiss as being economically unviable.

And when the noise level was measured during a Vault concert, and then outside on the street, the street noise was louder than what was going on inside the Vault.

Even so, the Cayuga Vault must now obtain a police department "entertainment permit," which means the fledgling venue has to cough up $2,500 in fees--a figure that doesn't include $5,000 in fire-safe modifications.

Home to the county's most state-of-the-art recording equipment for live music, Cayuga Vault is currently the most affordable venue in town for artists seeking to rent performance space. (Its $200 performance fee includes sound system with engineer and publicity assistance.)

Santa Cruz musician Rick Walker says the Vault debacle personifies the financial hurdles that increasingly blockade the local arts scene.

In a letter to the city pleading for mercy on behalf of the Cayuga Vault, Walker wrote, "The Santa Cruz musical community is in real trouble, due, almost entirely, to the incredible raise in local rents for venue spaces. Two years ago, the cheapest place that a young artist trying something out in front of the public for the first time (let alone a highly skilled artist who has been playing here for years) [could rent] cost $75 a night to rent. Now the cheapest place to rent in the entire County costs roughly two and a half to three times as much."

"You need to get heard somewhere. If the Cayuga Vault is gone, I don't have many options," says Eli Salzman, a longtime local singer/songwriter who is considering leaving Santa Cruz for more welcoming pastures.

Linda Kimball, who runs Cayuga Vault at no profit, is determined to do whatever is necessary to get the place thriving. She remains stoic about the temporary shutdown.

"It's sort of a drag but we are moving through it," she says. "I don't want to complain, but it has had an impact. I don't like the feeling of having to turn down stuff, but it's the law. Nobody without an entertainment permit can have live performances. Period."

Besides relocating eight planned events, Kimball has had to turn away several acts for March and April, forcing the Vault into debt. To compensate, she has begun soliciting donations and has started a membership program, much like Kuumbwa's, to encourage patronage.

"[The permit setback] could affect the affordability of our rents but we are pretty committed to keep it the way it is," says Kimball. "I like to stay positive and think that everything is going to turn out fine."

Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz Police Department has cracked the whip on seven other clubs this year--including Bocci's Cellar and the Poet and Patriot--to urge them to comply with city permit requirements. "The police department's plea and endeavor is to get people to conduct the business lawfully, to get them into voluntary compliance," said Lt. Tom Vlassis. "We don't make the laws. We just enforce them."

Traffic Graffix

You'd think, given the proliferation of yoga mats across town, that Santa Cruz would be the world's leading practitioner of urban transcendentalism--the Zen of finding beauty in even the ugly-assed aspects of a city.

This certainly wasn't the case for the River Street Sign, which residents described as "oversized" and "industrial," before posting it on eBay (where its image lingers after "boozeboy29" topped out the bids at $6,699--an amount that was insufficient to move our very own much maligned yellow-and-blue white elephant).

Residents also remain unimpressed by what they call the "carcentric" panels on the Front Street garage.

Nüz only mentions all this because now the city is seeking graphic artists to help "enhance metal traffic signal cabinets"--a polite way, maybe, of saying let's camouflage those ugly-assed boxes currently squatting on our street corners and housing our signal control computers.

Public Art Program Coordinator Tasha Loveness says Santa Fe, N. M., already has many graphic traffic boxes, while Santa Cruz only has two; one at the corner of Cooper and Front streets; the other at La Fonda and Soquel avenues.

Loveness says a city Arts Commission panel will select the graphic images to be digitally printed onto vinyl and applied to 25 cabinets, with artists paid $250 per image.

"We know $250 isn't in line with graphic artists' fees, but we think it's a good way for artists who already have images to display to get paid for their work," Loveness says, adding, "Images will be judged according to whether they are appropriate for public display, but nudity and foul language are no-nos." Tough titty.

Funny Business

Is the Million Clown March a joke, or is it for real?

"Both, but of course, we're playing it completely straight," says organizer Wes Modes, referring Nüz to a decidedly geekish website that not only lists details of the Million Clown March, but also includes an FBI Most Wanted listing for Modes, who (if the link can be believed), is a bank robber a.k.a. Rico Thunder, Dakota Modes and Big Cakes.

According to Modes, or whatever his real name is, he and others are fed up with the way clowns are treated.

"If you go into any downtown business, not a single one has hired a clown behind the counter. Instead, they've been relegated to birthday parties and circuses," says Modes, conceding that there is one clown at the Farmers Market.

"But given the limited scope of job openings for clowns, we're mad and we're not going to take it. We're going to take our greasepaint and storm the streets."

Wannabee clowns should show up with protest signs and noisemakers at 4pm on Saturday (March 16) at the Saturn Cafe parking lot. Marching begins at 5pm sharp. Call 427.3236.

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From the March 13-20, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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