The minds behind Boston’s biggest network for young and unknown artists is using an unusual method to raise money this weekend: a 24-hour live telethon in a public access TV station.
From 10 a.m. on Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, the nonprofit BRAIN Arts plans to host a nonstop variety show of musicians, jugglers, artists, puppeteers, scientists and other New England eccentrics at Somerville’s SCATV.
If it sounds like a stunt straight out of an 80s movie, that’s because it is, organizer Dan Shea said in an interview. The 1989 “Weird Al” cult classic UHF, to be exact.
“That’s just one of my favorite movies and that has been in my head for years, to do a telethon,” Shea said. “The spirit of the movie is like the spirit of our organization.”
BRAIN Arts is a relatively new nonprofit umbrella for a group of promoters and performers, art fans and radicals that includes the indie website and show-booking enterprise Boston Hassle, as well as the free alternative paper the Boston Compass.
Right now, it has a volunteer base of more than 200, many of them college students and other city transients. Last year, they booked and ran 150 mini concerts around the city on their own in art galleries, venues and houses.
Their mission at present is to open their own brick-and-mortar location to house the operation – the ultimate goal being to morph from an underground operation with a shoestring budget into a full-fledged Boston arts institution, albeit a smaller and weirder one.
“We want to be a broader part of the community,” said Harrison Bralower, another BRAIN Arts leader. “We just need people to understand this is what’s occurring in the city.”
They’ve struggled to get advertising money and private underwriters, he said, so this year, they’re launching a donor sustainer program, following in the footsteps of other Boston institutions like the Museum of Fine arts and WGBH.
At the telethon, they’ll be hawking branded mugs and screen-printed, vinyl record-sized tote bags.
Ideally, BRAIN Arts would like to make the telethon an annual showpiece, but they’re not even sure if they’ll break even – for which they’ll need about $1,400.
“It could be a giant failure,” Shea said.
But it’ll be fun, said Bralower – and so absurd that almost no one else would try it. In other words, he said: perfect.
“The reason we’re doing this is because it’s such a ridiculous idea,” he said. “This is nuts. It’s stupid, frankly.”
The logistics were a challenge.
“We were talking about this like, ‘Are we going to actually answer the phones? How do you set up a phone bank? Will people even want to give us their credit card numbers over the phone?’”
In the end, they settled on setting up a call-in number through Google Voice (1-804-4-HASSLE ), which will route through Bralower’s laptop. The real money-exchanging will happen via the Boston Hassle website.
SCATV, for its part, is totally on board.
“It’s going to be epic,” said Erica Jones, director of membership and outreach for the station.
SCATV negotiated a bargain deal – a $1,000 fee – to rent the space, corralled about a dozen volunteers to help out and got those behind its regularly aired programs to give up their time slots for the effort, Jones said.
It’s never hosted a similar event before, she said, but it fits the mold for the SCATV’s mission.
“We take grandiose ideas and try to make them happen,” she said.” It’s the fundamental nature of community media and free speech, and it also translates into wild events like this one.”