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And with that attention and hype comes an entirely separate issue about Blank Space's location that troubles him more than complex building-code regulations. He says it keeps him from sleep some nights. Cherokee has become a destination, and by moving into the storefront, he's bringing outside money into a lower-income neighborhood for the sake of development — essentially, he's becoming a gentrifier.
Others may dismiss the label as a petty, oversimplified dig, but with a background in activism and community organizing, Razani made a conscious effort to address it head on. He asked himself, "Is it possible to open up a space that is directed by a) the neighborhood; and b) the folks who are coming into here? Is there a way to bridge that gap between folks that are in a way alienated from the mainstream happenings of a commercial district that is only 50 feet away from where they've lived for a generation or two?''
Blank Space is an experiment, one he's studying and receiving guidance on from mentors at the Regional Arts Commission through its graduate research fellowship, TIGER.
"I'm totally, totally aware of the fact that what we do is gentrifying," he says. "I'm sure there are hundreds of people around here that look at this space with big, glaring question marks in their eyes." Question marks that Razani aims to address soon. He says he plans to canvas the neighborhood, knocking on doors to introduce himself and Blank Space as a place to serve the community, but he is waiting until he has all the legal permissions to operate it as versatilely as he hopes. After forming as a new LLC and receiving a new Missouri sales tax number, he expects to receive his assembly occupancy permit this month.
"I can't escape the fact that I am a gentrifier," he says. "The fact that it plagues me and troubles me is what makes me feel OK about doing it, because if I didn't give a shit about it, then that's when it would be a big problem."
The icosidodecahedron lies on the bar. Its top half is broken and inverted so the innards sprawl out like two open-faced hands. In the rear of the room, a light — one of only three illuminating the space — shines on the towering bookshelves. In front of that, facing almost 30 audience members, singer Teresajenee stands alone at a microphone and warns, "There is no hiding in open mic...we have not practiced this."
Producer Michael Franco cues up a moody instrumental on his laptop and plays it over the PA. The unfamiliar pair attempt live mashup versions of Teresajenee's songs. She listens, then nervously sings, "This is an experiment. This is an experiment — let's go to the next one."
He plays another. It feels right, and TJ melts into a loose and sunny rendition of "Electric Yellow." She performs a total of four mashups and holds court with the audience about depression and bad romances between songs. The monthly show, Poetic Justice (held last Sunday of every month), features an intentionally eclectic mix of spoken word.
"It's monotony that kills," says Razani. No matter what Blank Space becomes on a given night, it's rarely built the same way as before and never stays for too long.