Bowling Green Home & Lifestyle wrote about FFOYA House and founders Toby and Amanda for their April 2016 issue. Writer Mary Nestor did a great job delving into our mission here at FFOYA House.
The Chamber of Commerce measures success by charting trends like job growth and revenues raised, but there are other ways to quantify a vibrant infrastructure. And if Robert Tobias and Amanda Crawford have a say in the matter, the definition of a successful economic model for their newly adopted hometown will definitely come with a backbeat.
Crawford and Tobias, or Amanda and Toby, as they prefer to be known, have quickly become an essential part of the downtown district. She is a journalist on tenure track at WKU teaching writing and reporting, as well an accomplished lyricist. They met in Phoenix, Arizona, where Toby, a lifelong musician whose work has been described as perfect for “a darkened room and an open mind,” fronted the band Former Friends of Young Americans.
After moving to Bowling Green almost two years ago, Amanda and Toby established FFOYA House, which on the surface is a funky recording studio in a converted Victorian on Kentucky Street where they offer a sliding scale to local musicians to produce studio quality tracks for distribution to a larger audience. But their real mission is to make connections across a landscape of musicians, poets, fine artists and even farmers with the ultimate goal of establishing a network of people in support of progressive causes.
From the free library box at the gate to the wraparound front porch that doubles as a stage to the raised bed permaculture gardens in the yard, FFOYA House is nothing if not collaborative.
“We believe that sustainability, progressive policy reform, fostering of the arts—that’s all kind of one thing, and we want to reinvent it and watch it thrive locally,” says Toby.
In March, they organized and hosted the House Show Hop, during which Tim Kercheville from Festina Lente Farms taught an urban farming workshop while poets read their work on the front porch. After a potluck dinner, they kicked off the music.
“Music began here and circled around to other places,” explains Toby. “We pilfered some local musicians and created a marching band from one house to the next.”
Beats on the Ground
As working musicians, their professional associations opened their eyes to the inequities of the music industry, and they recognize the broader implications across the spectrum. Toby references what he calls the “working-class artists” whose very survival depends on the support of their local communities.
According to Toby, local art and music fall under “the umbrella of things that are being threatened” because they are “not able to be monetized in our current climate.”
Part of the problem, they say, is inherent in the current economic model supporting the arts. It is much like the stock market that hates uncertainty. In other words, if an artist sells out stadiums, then all hands on deck will support that artist to make even more money. Hundreds of thousands of screaming teenagers may be surprised to learn that Taylor Swift is not the only person trying to make a living with a mic, but it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, according to Amanda, where fewer and fewer voices are heard and those that remain are showered with the spoils of success simply because that’s what the market demands.
The solution, they say, is to support local art and local artists in much the same way that the food industry has begun to do. Buying local is as important in art and music as it is in kale and cucumbers. Toby believes the money spent supporting local arts will pay dividends, especially if those efforts also recognize the important link between arts and social issues.
To further the cause, at FFOYA House, a large parlor has become a cozy reading room, while what was once the dining room has been repurposed as a commission-free gallery space. There is a sliding scale on the recording time, which allows bands who might pay thousands of dollars to record somewhere else to get their music out of their heads and onto the street. It makes working-class art accessible to the working-class consumer, explains Toby.
And that consumer is an important part of the equation. Buying local art allows local artists to continue to develop their craft. Toby argues that buying a mass-produced print is throwing away money that could really benefit a local artist. Spending $50 on a discount-store Picasso print, he says, is just helping the corporate machine.
But you could really help the local artist by buying a $20 or $30 piece. In addition to ensuring that fewer artists are the proverbial “starving artist,” buying locally also inspires innovation in the arts. As Toby points out, “A cover band playing ‘Mustang Sally’ is not helpful to the evolution of art.” But by what he calls “staying close to home,” Toby argues that the local art and artists will flourish. “If you want to know how you can support a local artist, buy a local musician’s CD. Go to their shows. It will grow if you invest in it, but if you don’t, it stagnates.”
The Kids Are Alright
Part of their motive is their own 19-year-old son, who, like many of his contemporaries, would be hard pressed to find entertainment venues much less performance space in Bowling Green. The under-21 crowd is especially in need of support because they are vulnerable to the predatory financial model of the recording industry. In Nashville, Toby says, it isn’t uncommon for musicians to owe the house at the end of the night. Couple that conundrum with the fact that traveling bands often subsist on junk food and are paid in beer and chicken wings and even their attempts at healthy eating can be derailed by an industry that honors success with more success and eliminates voices that might otherwise be heard.
“We provide support and encouragement,” says Toby. “We want to work with musicians who can’t afford $1,000 to record a track. Our focus is not necessarily stardom or celebrity. Our focus is music as a movement.”
Amanda sums it up: “Our moral compass was well evolved (by the time we relocated to Bowling Green), but we started seeing a community that has a really thriving independent music scene, and we saw they needed some support.”
Connecting the dots with arts and activism is a natural next step, Toby says. “We feel that we are part of this broader working-class that needs to kind of make a dramatic shift in our lifestyle by living sustainably. And we believe that the arts are a good vehicle for that message.”
Click here to read the rest of the package or download the PDF.
FFOYA House Mission
To foster a spirit of equality and fairness, bridging gaps between artists, activists and community members. Using art (not celebrity) as an impetus for change.