This morning I am troubled by the troubles being faced by the gang over at the Open Mic House on Agricola Street. Apparently HRM has decided to take action against the House and shut it down until they can get “proper” licensing and insurance. Even though the Open Mic House has been offering an arts and creative space for its community for quite a few years now, has no clear ownership, nor does it make anything resembling business profits, the city has decided to label it a business and impose a regulatory structure on it.
I personally have never been a member of the Open Mic House community. But I am a member of similar communities here in the HRM, all over the place really… and the precedent this action sets for individuals who wish to open their private homes to their communities for the purposes of creative nurturing and pro-social engagement, is dangerous.
And while the supression of private creative spaces is one aspect of it… It ties into a bigger conversation about the nature and regulation of “home-based business”. Language is so important here, and who gets to interpret what is or isn’t a home-based business is variable. Some home-based businesses really shouldn’t be subject to any regulation or interference by the city at all, such as businesses that are conducted through buying and selling online. Whether it be Kijiji or eBay or Etsy, it is really no business of the city to have any power over how that business happens. In my opinion, the only government agency which should be concerned about Internet-based business is the CRA.
And what about private homes that act as community hubs or creative hive spaces? Homes that are naturally welcoming and open, and play host to a variety of events, and charge money simply to re-coop the costs of putting on those events. Are those businesses at all?
For sure, there is an issue of neighbors, and being respectful in a residential environment when it comes to evening events with music. And if hosts are disrespectful of that, they should be dealt with through the existing noise by-laws. But there is always that line of “where does my freedom begin and yours end” when it comes to some of it. If it is a repetitive and recurring issue, then it is really a problem with neighbor relationships. And from all that I know, the best way to repair relationships is through community circling and restorative practice. There are significant inequities in using a complaint-based system to enforce by-laws in any case… and is perhaps the most important thing to fix here.
The Coast article quoted a city official as stating they are treating this as “any flea market or road-side sale”… so does that mean that those homes which have weekly yard sales are also businesses? What about artists and crafters who do regular pop-up sales in their homes? How about the Avon and Tupperware reps?
To me, this story is about more than just a hippie house getting shut down by the man… it is a story about the informal economy and the suppression of creative people who are trying to break free of the bureaucratic anxiety machine and make their own way in the world using the talents and resources they have at their disposal.
Because let’s face it, the majority of home-based and creative businesses we have here in HRM are not run by the wealthy. They are run by people who are just trying to make ends meet in ways that they can and enjoy. Many of them keep it informal because the bureaucracy and complexity of formalizing their economic activities is too overwhelming to deal with. Many of them have home-based businesses because they *can’t* participate in the formal economy due to a myriad of reasons.
What is happening in HRM and NS? The governments seem hell bent on squashing and suppressing creative, entrepreneurial, economic activity… Are we really going to rely on the act of pissing off your neighbor as the main reason we create and enforce by-laws? Are we really going to stop people from hosting events and making money informally that aren’t criminal and actually in many ways pro-social?!
It is very troubling.