Big plans at brand new Babylon Community Art Center
“We just wanted an alternative to the bar scene and smaller venues but something smaller than the Senator and El Rey,” Tyson Harris said. “It seems like this has been existing in the subconscious of everyone. We need a space like this around here.”
Two Chico State students and local hip-hop artists, Tyson “Tybox” Harris and Ben “Tsunami” Lukas, have just opened such a space. The Babylon Community Art Center, a mid-size venue close to downtown (900 Orange St.) that caters to every variation of every discipline in the local art scene. The hope is that Babylon will become a home for local bands and artists to develop and show off their music and art.
Harris and Lukas (who is also a glass-blower by trade) have known each other since fifth grade and have been talking about starting something like this for years.
“Me and Ben basically got together and said, ‘Let’s stop talking about it and actually put our money where our mouth is,’” Harris said.
They were able to pool their resources and found a large enough building to house everything they wanted to do.
The first thing greeting you as you walk through the doors is an art gallery filled with works by local artists. In the next room is a concert space with a 40-square-foot stage, an 800-square-foot dance floor and even a glass-blowing studio with an airbrushing station. The back office contains a vocal recording booth with a dormitory nearby for touring artists. Behind the building sits a 2,100-square-foot yard that will one day house a community garden.
Since their grand opening on Oct. 1, Babylon has had at least 10 events across eight genres of music.
“I wanted to have a venue where all the music can come together,” Lukas said. “I won’t turn any genre down.”
At every show, Lukas also provides concertgoers with a glass-blowing demo in his adjacent glass studio.
“We’re really trying to create a flow of healthy, sustainable local commerce,” he said. “It’s really a unique opportunity to support artisans in a serious way.”
Ten percent of the venue’s profits—including those from Lukas’ glass sales—goes straight to community-development organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and the Police Department, Harris said.
The reality in Chico is that downtown is a major draw for college-age students, and Lukas and Harris hope that Babylon is not too far off the pedicab path between the bars and home to be included in weekend plans.
“We needed a place that was close enough to downtown to where we could say, ‘Look guys, there’s something really cool happening and it’s not that far away. Come down,” Harris said. “Everybody who has gone through this place really connects with it and says it’s a great idea and that they’ve always wanted to come to a place like this.”
Babylon Art Center is looking into obtaining an alcohol license, which is a must-have for a music venue in Chico, and is talking with the city and the Police Department. Café Culture, a similar-style space that also hosted an array of local arts events, recently closed its doors because it couldn’t get permission to serve alcohol during shows.
“We really do need the help of the community,” Lukas said. “It takes a village to grow a child, and this is just the start.”
With a building devoted to all local arts and music, Babylon Art Center hopes to be a youthful addition to the group of like-minded venues—such as RayRay Gallery and the 1078 Gallery—that are tapping into the creative energy flowing beneath the surface of Chico’s bar-centered culture.
“If it’s not going to be us, I think that someone in this community needs to stand up and create a place where art can flourish so that we can still have local art promoted here and not be drowned out by cookie-cutter, mainstream society,” Harris said.