Paul Slack is not doing "the butter-knife-and-wine-glasses stuff."
At his building off Main Street in Napa, in a modest room with a stage, he's hosted live music, open mics, political debates, writers' workshops, human-trafficking awareness seminars, ethnic studies presentations, improv comedy troupes and just about anything else that's been suggested. "When somebody comes and has an idea for something, that's what this place is for. There are 365 days in a year, and so far we haven't had to turn down much."
For a year and a half, Slack has also kept his all-ages venue somewhat under the radar, in a perpetual soft-opening phase. But in a move that benefits Napa Valley at large, Slack, a recipient of the Bohemian's 2011 Boho Awards, is ready to make the place official.
The newly christened Black and White Center aims to encompass not only the edgy and underground artists of Napa Valley, but also progressive up-and-coming student art of the type created in the adjacent Slack Collective, a hub of artist studios. Paul moved to Napa himself at 17, on his own, and understands the importance of having such a gallery and gathering space for younger residents. "I want to make sure Napa has a place like the Black and White Center—especially for the youth," he says. "Art and music are major part of social existence and the human condition."
The center will continue to serve as a home for the annual InDIYpendent Culture Fair, the Napa Valley Battle of the Bands, the Unwatchables improv troupe, writers workshops, seminars and meetings. The biggest crowd-drawing event in the space has been the open mic held the second Friday of every month—"Wall to wall people," Slack explains, estimating that 70 percent of the crowd are teenagers.
"Now we're ready to actually make it legit. Put a name on it, fix it up, get some rules and get it going."
To that end, the Black and White Center is running a Kickstarter campaign for $2,500, which serves a dual purpose, Slack says, of simply getting the word out. The effort toward an all-ages venue in Napa has been lengthy, stretching back to 2008 with the group Wandering Rose, and some of that energy clearly survives in this project.
As a musician, Slack often sees spaces like the Black and White Center in other cities. "Everywhere I've ever been has this element—everywhere we go there's a gathering place like this," he says. "Art and culture and music are important. Local youth think, 'I have dreams in my head, so I must be a freak.' No dude, you're a human being, and good for you for having dreams!"