History of the Marburg Collective (2008-2011) by Bridget Nickol

Emerging organically out of a shared home and performance space, the Marburg does not lend itself well to a cleanly demarcated starting point.  Indeed, even the name of the group was born at a time separate from the early manifestations of their collective work.  Nonetheless, for the sake of simplicity in this research and in recognizing the importance of this first shared home, the start of some of its key members taking up residence in the Marburg Hotel will serve as the symbolic beginning of the Collective’s formation.

In the late summer of 2008, a group of friends and musicians studying at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) moved into the Marburg, an old, brick, four-story hotel building since converted into apartment units just north of the University.  Some of them friends since youth and others having only met in their first year of studies at CCM, they initially happened upon the place by chance, a craigslist search turning up the opportunity as a place to live for the upcoming school year.  Initiating the process, Eddy Kwon, Peter Gemus, and Stephen Patota moved into the second floor west apartment (2W), while long-time friends Adam Petersen and Ben Sloan moved into the space just one floor beneath (1W).  It wasn’t long before Abby Cox also found a home in 2W, and Brodie Johnson settled briefly into an open spot in 1W.

The concentration of Marburg inhabitants identifying as musicians or other creative artists would grow over time to be far greater than this; so, too, would the showing of creative work exuding from within the apartment building.  Yet in its beginnings, the space more closely resembled that of a home shared by friends, and to an extent, band mates.  Having formed in the spring of 2008, the gypsy folk band The Happy Maladies became a group closely tied to the Marburg.  Of its five members, four shared the space of apartment 2W during the foundational year of the Collective.  Rehearsals occurred frequently at the Marburg, the porch growing to be a favorite spot for these.  Additionally, nearly all of the group’s debut album, Sun Shines the Little Children, was recorded within the walls of the building, Adam Petersen and Ben Sloan of apartment 1W taking on the job of recording, while close friend Aaron Modarressi mastered the piece.

It was arguably through The Happy Maladies that the creative residents of the Marburg truly found their start as a collective project.  In the late summer of 2009, just one year since moving into the building, they hosted their first show in the basement, a CD leak party meant to celebrate the newly recorded Happy Maladies album.  Scanning the “Events” page on the Collective’s website, it is clear that it was after this show that things decidedly began to take off.  On a monthly basis, the group began hosting “Open Mind Night” in the front room of apartment 1W, a distinct open mic experience described on their website as follows:

the purpose of the event is sincere, and that is to incite a congregation of creative people [you all] to share in each others creative forthgivings, for the sake of inspiriation [sic], motivation, and sanitation [spiritual]. This is a home-style open mic night, and we would love for you to participate.

In addition, the group began hosting more shows in both the basement and apartment 1W, welcoming musicians both local to Cincinnati, a fair number of them having some residential ties to the Marburg, and on tour.  Broadening their scope beyond just music, the group began incorporating visual arts displays into their events.  Behind the scenes, they began to expand their documentation efforts, lending both audio and visual recording to everything from open mic nights to complete performances.  Of all of these happenings, the Collective asked for no monetary contributions, save for willing donations to traveling bands.

With so much activity developing in connection to the Marburg, the group would only maintain a low public profile for so long.  In March 2010, they made the decision to open their work up to funding consideration.  Initiating a dialogue in response to the city’s December 2009 decision to eliminate its competitive artist grants program, independent gallery CS13 had organized an exhibition titled “Creative Economy” that caught the attention of the Marburg.  Included in the series was a grant dinner, a potluck event for which artists of all forms in Cincinnati were invited to submit brief proposals for funding consideration.  In exchange for a $10-per-plate donation, attendees of the dinner were invited to review the proposals and cast votes for their favorite.  All proceeds of the dinner, amounting to $730, would go to the project that received the most votes.  Among the 29 proposals, inhabitants of the Marburg, represented by Eddy Kwon, held the winning submission:

The Marburg Project is a collaborative extension of The Marburg Hotel, a community recording studio and performance space located on Ludlow Ave. in Clifton. We are a network of engaged citizens whose aim is to be a meaningful resource for the city’s creative community, empowering those who would not traditionally have access to arts production, promotion, and distribution. We offer space for free-range, grass-fed artistic expression, provide high-quality aural and visual documentation, and facilitate media circulation. We hope to offer these and other creative services for low-cost, no-cost, and trade-based community negotiations. With the support of this grant’s funding, we will jump start our project by investing in quality studio equipment and a public fundraising event, which will be hosted by the new ArtWorks gallery on Central Parkway in late Spring of 2010.  (CS13, 2010b)

With this boost, activities at the Marburg exploded.  Soon, it was common to find performances booked at the space on multiple evenings within a single week; of these, traveling artists from cities as far as Albuquerque, Philadelphia, and New York made contributions.  Arts installations, potlucks, clothing swaps, film screenings, and even a biofuel workshop were all welcomed within the Marburg.  Stretching their efforts still further, the group committed to providing private recording sessions to some of the city’s many musicians, some stopping in for just a day while others came to record complete albums within the space.  Although they were moved to postpone their plans for a spring fundraiser, they surely did not let the opportunity slip them by.

A two-night affair, the “Dear Neighbor” celebration and fundraising event took place in mid-October 2010.  In many ways, this colossal undertaking stood as the Marburg Collective’s formal debut to the public at large. After an intimate, invitation-only fundraising dinner on its first night, the second evening offered a true public celebration.  Here, they released their 14-track audio compilation, a long-term project exemplifying the wide range of recorded work coming out of the Marburg.  Shared also was a screening of “The Marburg Hotel,” a short documentary produced by resident member and videographer Lauren Pray on the many inspirations and activities of the Collective.  Amidst a room full of pieces commissioned for the event from a number of the city’s visual artists, spoken word was shared alongside performances from both The Happy Maladies and the highly regarded Cincinnati band No No Knots.

Having entered its third year of centralized activity within the Marburg at the time of the “Dear Neighbor” fundraiser, the Collective was beginning to show signs of evolution.  Many of the original residents had moved out, and new creative folk trickled in to fill these open spaces.  Performances and other events still rapidly unfolding within the space thanks largely to the efforts of Adam Petersen, attendance at these offerings seemed to grow well beyond the more congenial gatherings of earlier days.  As crowd composition shifted, an already irritated neighbor showed signs of losing patience.  Yet, such was the progression that might be expected of a home never meant to be permanent.  For many of the Collective’s core members, the final year of undergraduate studies was also at hand, and thoughts of the future were inevitable.  In mid-April, the Collective shared thoughts of transition on their blog, explaining:

“For April into June, we will be hosting fewer events, leading up to a temporary summer hiatus. Most of us will be travelling. … Many of us also will be graduating this June, which offers the most significant transition of our lives. We are hoping pretty fervently to be relocating into Northside, to fulfill our intentions in a space larger than the Hotel. Should all pieces fall into place, we should be back up and running by fall time.Looking soon to a period of redefining, rehashing the purpose of this Project, expanding our mission and strengthening the stability of its core. These are, after all, our lives, and we should allow ourselves the space to direct them as we see well.”

Ultimately, with the conclusion of the school year in June 2011, the last of the Collective’s founding members moved out of the Marburg and onto a new phase of their lives.  Summer was spent on tour or otherwise out-of-town for many.  Among the members, Adam Petersen, Eddy Kwon, and Brodie Johnson, of the acoustic improvisational project Honest Abe, embarked on a five-week West Coast tour, the first tour ever for the group; Lauren Pray accompanied them, providing documentation and eventually staying behind in Los Angeles, where she had made plans to relocate.  With the help of KickStarter, Honest Abe was able to exceed its goals for funding the trip.

With the regrouping of its core members in Cincinnati, disappointment came for the Marburg Collective before the close of the summer; plans to relocate to an ideal space in Northside, a neighborhood just north of the UC/Clifton area, fell through directly before the group’s planned move date.  With this, many of the members found themselves living in temporary arrangements, returning to parents’ homes or borrowing space from friends.  The search for a shared space dragged on for many weeks, the group’s original hopes appearing increasingly unfeasible.  In mid-October, however, efforts were finally realized in the form of a large, five-bedroom home in Clifton, a serendipitous discovery termed for the purposes of this research “the Eureka House.”

Since this time, Adam Petersen, Eddy Kwon, Brodie Johnson, Ben Sloan, and Stephen Patota have been living together within the home.  A variety of projects are planned for the near future or are already underway.  Among these, the core members of the Collective are actively pursuing a new musical project, a name for this undertaking yet to be settled.  Additionally, they will be team-teaching a winter class on musical improvisation at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center.  Carrying forward their work with recording, a four-track compilation of Cincinnati bands is progressing, and expected to become a quarterly production.

Although a shared home among the core members of the Collective has been realized, it will not serve as an all-in-one space in the same way as the Marburg Hotel once did.  For the time being, the group has taken up the role of facilitating shows for Rohs Street Café, a local nonprofit coffee shop that has long been integral to the interactions of the Collective.  For the purposes of recording, the group has found space with “Today Cincinnati Productions,” a cooperative studio located a ways outside the city center .  Of the overall state of affairs, the Collective expresses that as “a flexible group of creative folk … connected by their creative work … [they] are currently decentralized, and in the process of redefining motives and intentions.”

It is in this moment of uncertainty that I seek to offer insight, grounded in scholarly theory, on the form and identity of the Marburg Collective.  By reflecting on the group’s past as well as exploring their visions for the future, I hope to gain a well-rounded understanding of their lives and work as a creative, place-based community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>