The Modern Dance

Koos in Trouble 2: Electric Boogaloo

So you can understand why some Long Beach officials might be nervous about Koo's—why the police (as some at Koo's allege) sent undercover agents into the Halloween crowd asking for "cocaine," and why police would recommend their entertainment permit be denied.

But you can also understand Lluy's frustration. This modest little art center—which has hosted works by 128 different artists since opening in September; which ran 12 nights of a children's holiday play called Girl of the Frozen North; which has had to back-burner more elaborate plans for community outreach until its permit status was decided; which doesn't permit drugs or alcohol anywhere near the premises (barring a special variance to serve alcohol at the Halloween fund-raiser); and, yes, which does feature live music and performance art—is from a whole different planet than Fender's, but for some reason doesn't quite look that different from the outside.

Somebody out there sees a bunch of weird-looking kids dressed in black nodding their heads in time and thinks it's a crime—that's an old story. And somebody out there seems to think Koo's is trying to pull a fast one—that Girl of the Frozen North is just a cover for sex, drugs and rock & roll dancing, that this art-gallery schtick is just a smokescreen for the squares.

"It did appear that they weren't offering very many arts-related courses or functions," says Ferenczy, echoing concerns raised at the council meeting that Koo's was all rock and no talk—and colliding with Lluy's arguments that music events pay the Koo's bills so the taxpayers don't have to, and, perhaps more philosophically, that music is an art, too. Isn't it?

Well, maybe. But until somebody writes some definitions into the municipal code, we're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Long Beach may not know art, but it knows what it likes!

"Art can be interpreted broadly," says Ferenczy. "But what we're looking for is an art studio and gallery. We primarily look to see classes, art receptions, the display of art—we really don't have a percentage, but that really should be the principal use."

Lluy sighs when he hears that. To him, the whole situation is really just a failure to communicate. When he meets with city officials, he hopes the illegal-dancing charges against Koo's are dropped. And he hopes that—as Koo's managed to do in Santa Ana—city ordinances could change, perhaps to something similar to proposed New York City legislation that drops the dancing/no-dancing distinction and regulates clubs simply on safety and noise issues. And he hopes the city comes to understand what Koo's is trying to do.

"They knew we'd have music from day one," says Lluy, recalling a July meeting with the city where variances for Koo's that would allow amplified music and adjusted capacity under certain circumstances were approved. "That's why we have an entertainment license. This is my point: with what we've gone through, we could have just [originally] gotten the [permit] to be a nightclub, but we didn't because we're not a nightclub. We never wanted to be a nightclub. We're a volunteer-run art center, and we always wanted to be an art center with music."

But Long Beach doesn't have a designation for that. Instead, it has a conditional-use permit process. It takes several months, causes all sorts of headaches, sucks 2,000 sorely needed dollars out of a cash-strapped community oriented nonprofit, offers no guarantee of approval, and finally makes it perfectly legal for some kid to shuffle his feet next time he hears some gloomy garage band rip off Joy Division. Nightclub or nothing—well, nothing but inanimate art? The code has spoken: "They could add [a classification] as a nightclub," says Ferenczy. "And that would resolve the issue."

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