MUCH of the time, it’s hard to know who the good guys are. Other times, essential things become clear. A few weeks ago I attended an event for the Athens, GA, musicians resource called Nuci’s Space, which was formed in honor or a young man, Nuci Phillips, who took his life in 1996. The place is dedicated to keeping musicians from despair.
That night, we heard from a man who came close to killing himself but was saved by the place’s counseling. A very poised 13-year-old boy talked about the way the Nuci’s Space music camp gave him hope after his father committed suicide. It was a heavy night. In any case, the people who keep this place running definitely deserve a salute on CultureCrash: In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a place like this. But every city should have something like Nuci’s Space for its musicians and artists.
Nuci’s does a number of things, from providing practice space for musicians to offering mental-health counseling and helping musicians get medical insurance. Are musicians more prone to psychological maladies than other people? Probably; Edmund Wilson’s “The Wound and the Bow” is perhaps the most poignant inquiry into the relationship between art and pain.
Nuci’s services are available to everyone who contacts the place, even if its mission focuses on members of the local music community. “Nuci’s Space has flourished due to the need for a safe place for musicians,” Bertis Downs, longtime advisor to R.E.M., told me. “By providing support in mental health, and in community-building and sustainability, Nuci’s has become an integral part of the town’s unique cultural community. And emphasizing education of middle and high school students has been a huge part of its evolving mission.”
I’m not sure I’ve known a cultural institution with such widespread support. Mention the place to folks in the music scene here, and they know someone whose life was saved by the little blue building. Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers endorses the place. So does Velena Vego, who books the 40 Watt Club, and her husband, David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker.
Kai Riedl, director of the Athens Slingshot Festival, describes the Nuci’s Space this way:
Nuci’s is a priceless intersection where all the ages, styles and actual needs of the musical ecology Athens can interact. Even more than a place, Nuci’s carries the torch for the idea that Athens takes its music scene seriously both on and off the stage by adding necessary weight (and action) to the conversations surrounding creativity, economics and mental health. For a town like Athens that broadcasts the city’s creativity as a cultural asset, Nuci’s is the counterbalance to the idea that music is all fun and games, especially in a time where it definitely is not! Things are hard right now in the music industry, from top to bottom, which makes a resource like Nuci’s all the more important.
Riedl says the place has “shifted the conversation about mental health in creative circles, if even just a little bit.” Here’s hoping that Nuci’s Space, a nonprofit which always struggles for funding, can continue to help anchor the lives of musicians in a difficult time. If you can help the place financially, please do. If not, please spread the word.