Art for life

VonCommon founders Adelaide Every, left, and Marlo Crocifisso practice arm wrestling for a fundraiser as “coach” Shane Rooney facilitates.

Some of the best—and weirdest—parties in town go down at the industrial warehouses at Wyoming and Johnson streets. The culprit is VonCommon, an artist collective that hosts at least two festivities a year, including a springtime prom (aka "PromCommon"). Since its 2011 inception, the group has gained a reputation for creating art that pushes boundaries and for treating the community to performance art experiences—the more down-the-rabbit-hole, the better. But even the performances at these parties are masked as casual entertainment for the masses—a game of bingo where everyone wins, for instance, or a dance party on a school bus. VonCommon isn't really a place for pretension.

Case in point: On a recent Sunday night three members of VonCommon sip domestic beers from a cooler outside the metal walls of the studio as they talk about their next party. Cofounder Adelaide Every holds up a dress she made out of a black garbage bag and everyone oohs and aahs. It's surprisingly elegant, given the material. And that really shouldn't be a surprise since Every is no newbie when it comes to making treasure out of trash (or trash bags). She currently has a show at Betty's Divine called Nothing But Trash, which runs through Oct. 3 and showcases the lightboxes she makes out of recycled materials.

Every will wear the trash dress at VonCommon's upcoming fundraiser, which will help them raise money to get nonprofit status.

"I'm kind of averse to Kickstarter and GoFundMe," Every says. "I don't know why. I thought it would be more fun to have an event where people can come and be entertained."

This time the collective will bring the party downtown and host it at the VFW. It will feature live bands and an arm wrestling event by Garden City Ladies Arm Wrestling. One of the best parts about the collective's gatherings is that they have the in-house assets to provide most of the entertainment. Every is the bassist for garage-rock band Rooster Sauce and she'll also arm wrestle under the moniker Trash Queen (her walk-up music is "Trash Queen" by Wrathchild). Aaron Jennings and Ann Szalda-Petree, who have a recording space at VonCommon, will play music and VonCommon cofounder Marlo Crocifisso will arm wrestle under the name Saran Rap. (Other VonCommon artists will serve as wrestling managers and judges.)

Every founded the collective with Crocifisso, a mixed-media artist and former framer for Monte Dolack, along with two other artists who have since moved on. Every and Crocifisso have grown the studio since it first started in the space where Burns Street Bistro now resides, and expanded their scope. Crocifisso's most recent project involves launching her own custom frame shop in the VonCommon loft. Part of her mission is to teach her comrades the ropes of art curating and preservation.

"Any artist that's a part of the studio, I'm more than happy to give a tutorial to—and I already have—on framing their art and preserving their art," she say.

VonCommon's mission is "to provide affordable artist studios, and to strengthen our practice and friendships through shared space." The diversity in the space seems unusual, 11 artists ranging from musicians to photographers to painters. Besides Every and Crocifisso there's Elisha Harteis, who makes edgy ceramic sculptures exploring childhood. Ladypajama draws booklets, cards and murals that evoke childlike wonder while pushing at conformist values. There's also Nate Biehl, whose original mission in joining the collective was to restore a 1925 Weber Aeolian piano that he acquired. A little daunted by its antiquity, he's mostly been working on guitar amps and an occasional mixed-media arts piece.

"The guitar amps on my bench are getting much more attention than the piano these days," he says, "probably because the consequences of a misstep are far less costly—even though I have very little invested in the piano, so any financial risk is entirely imaginary. The fear that I could be fucking up an American classic instrument is very real, though."

The fun-loving parties and art shows all help support the serious work that happens inside the warehouse on a day-to-day basis. But that's not to say viewers won't see the artists take on weighty ideas. Its big art show on Oct. 21, which will take place at VonCommon, is called This is What Democracy Feels Like and asks artists within the collective and around Missoula to think about what Democracy means in light of the upcoming election. (Submission deadline for the show is Sept. 25). Every's piece, which is in-progress, is composed of found family photographs in which she's altered some of the clothing to look like traditional Islamic dress. She titled it "All American."

"It's illustrating the fact that Americans come from all different backgrounds and histories," Every says. "When we say 'All American,' people think of blonde-haired, blue-eyed football players and cheerleaders, but I wanted to flip that terminology on its head and illustrate that Muslims are American."

And whether it's political statements or dance party fundraisers, flipping things on their head is exactly what VonCommon does best.

VonCommon hosts its fundraiser at the VFW Sat., Sept. 24. Doors at 8 PM. $5/$8 for those 18 to 20.

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