The primary goal of Marrow—a nonprofit community space in St. Johns that focuses on arts, education, and activism—is to offer “a hub for youth to grow and strengthen, so they can go out into their communities and provide support, education, and mutual aid, like blood cells from marrow.” Originally born in the shed behind radical community center and music venue Anarres Infoshop (which is currently without a brick-and-mortar location), Marrow has shared a building on North Lombard with offices and a yoga studio since early 2017.
“I had been working for an unschooling program—a sect of homeschooling where the idea is that humans are naturally curious, that we’ll learn the things we need to learn and [that] school is sort of an outdated concept,” explains Daylynn Lambi, who founded Marrow in 2015 after that program lost funding. “I went to grad school for community arts education, so this was always the goal. My thesis looked at why traditional education isn’t actually engaging for most youth.”
Marrow’s programming is geared toward ages 10 to 24, and members can enroll seasonally or à la carte. In addition to its youth market, gallery, and free store, the versatile event space functions as a movie theater, music venue, and classroom with drop-in hours, open mics, and workshops addressing a wide range of topics, from bridge building to dialectical behavior therapy. Next month Marrow will host its second annual “No Thanks-giving” potluck, and Lambi says they’re planning a Christmas gathering as well.
“One of our neighbors is an older indigenous man, and he was at Standing Rock shooting film photography,” Lambi says of last year’s No Thanks-giving. “He came and showed all of his photographs, and other indigenous and Mexican families who didn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving came and brought traditional food, and then we had all of our displaced queer kids who didn’t want to celebrate what’s usually a family holiday.”
Part of what Marrow provides is this sanctuary, a refuge from home and school, but Lambi’s vision also includes giving youth responsibilities and leadership positions in the areas they’re passionate about: “Our core mission is to empower youth to figure out what path they want through life, and to allow them to shed the societal expectations of what a successful life looks like.”
Earlier this year Marrow began holding all-ages concerts, which are booked by a youth collective member. So far, they’ve featured performances from Portland musician Mira Death, who released several excellent albums over the past few years with her glam-punk band Sweeping Exits, and NYC-based riot grrrl outfit T-Rextasy, who released their punchy debut LP Jurassic Punk in 2016.
“When I describe the venue to people, I say it’s like a house show but our toilets flush, or a chill bar but we don’t serve alcohol and there’s no creepy guy in the corner hitting on your friends,” Lambi says. “A really weird thing was that about halfway through this year, bands started contacting us as a venue. Prior to that it’d just been, like, about a dozen youth who are involved in Marrow and in bands, and some of them would play here once a month.”
Though these concerts are usually open to the public, the priority is still youth performers and concertgoers, meaning no one under 25 will be turned away for lack of funds. And when adult bands are booked, “We ask them to either give us 75 percent of what comes in at the door or they can lead a workshop, so we’ve had touring bands lead beat-boxing and looping workshops,” Lambi explains. “When youth bands book the space, we give them all the door proceeds.”
Looking forward, Lambi has both short- and long-term goals for Marrow: to finish converting an old mail truck into a snack station to be parked outside; to provide free lunch for youth twice a month; to move Marrow into a larger, more permanent home, ideally one where they can have a woodshop and computer lab (and where they won’t have to schedule concerts around the yoga classes upstairs); and “to have a bigger group of youth leading the show.”
Like any nonprofit space, it’s a challenge finding the means to pay rent, electric, and insurance. Marrow has a board of directors in charge of fundraising, but they’re also just adults who are invested in the organization’s mission—one board member is the construction teacher at Roosevelt High School who, with his students, installed new flooring at the space. Right now Lambi says they’re applying for grants, “but we’re really dependent on people who think that what we’re doing is important.”