A first-of-its-kind community infoshop for books, zines and events opened two years ago in Northside. It’s now reopening at a new location in Brighton Saturday and expanding its breadth of public services. Formerly known as SoapBox Books and Zines, the newly named McMicken FreeSpace will serve as Cincinnati’s only activist hub and “solidarity center,” where people of different backgrounds and interests can gather.
The four-story building that will house McMicken FreeSpace is home to Stephanie Phillips and Ryan Smith, who moved to Cincinnati together a year and a half ago. They wanted the building to be used for community housing or as a community space. So when Phillips heard about the former SoapBox wanting to relocate, she thought it would be a great fit for her building.
“I want to help link them to this neighborhood,” Phillips says. She’s aware that many volunteers believe Brighton is both up-and-coming for activism and historically important. “[I want to] get people on our street more involved with this space,” she says. “Maybe do some more programming for kids, because we have a lot of kids on our street.”
McMicken FreeSpace will take up the entire first floor of Phillips’ building, which has three rooms: The front room opens out into the street and will be used as a public gathering space; the room behind that, a former kitchen, will be a book and café area; and behind that is another room, which will serve as a private office space for volunteers.
“It’s really necessary because there is not really anything like [McMicken FreeSpace] here,” Phillips says. “I feel like this neighborhood can really use some sort of hub for those activities.”
Mark Mendoza is a volunteer and longtime member who was very involved in the former SoapBox. He explains that McMicken FreeSpace will keep everything SoapBox had — an infoshop, educational events, film nights, aesthetic events, poetry readings and art events. They’re also now trying to transition into an organization that is more in tune with community needs.
“We’re also looking to have a long-term program,” Mendoza says. “Things we’re looking into [include] an after-school program — something for kids to do in that area — and engaging University of Cincinnati students and working with professors. We also really want to publish [the work of] some school-age kids as some of our publishing ventures.”
McMicken FreeSpace has its own printing press with three different series. The first one publishes reprints of classical material (mostly political pamphlets), the second has a more literary focus for poets and writers and the third focuses on local Cincinnati work.
For example, writer Drew Gibson is preparing a piece on contemporary Appalachian politics to be ready for McMicken FreeSpace’s opening night. Mendoza says it will be exciting to take that work to communities in Cincinnati with an Appalachian background, such as Lower Price Hill, and create a dialogue.
“We want to be a hub that can travel and go to the communities that need it the most,” Mendoza says. “We want to be far more sensitive to the community we’re in, but also to other neighborhoods. We want to get to know all of them and hear their needs, and see where we can help out.”
He also wants McMicken FreeSpace to be a safe space for anyone, particularly marginalized individuals who may need a place to go — or it can just be a place to hang out. But the organized events and group meetings are still at the heart of McMicken FreeSpace’s mission.
Volunteer Drew Goebel has been coordinating the setup for the new space. He says that with this new location, the capacity to have events will be greater. What Goebel wants to see most is a push toward an outward orientation, rather than have McMicken FreeSpace be a closed-off organization that only interacts with those who are already members.
McMicken FreeSpace will continue to use social media to promote their events as they have done in the past, but Goebel touts the importance of in-person communication. He will focus on word-of-mouth and having actual conversations with those around him who may not already know about the space.
“We would really like to push that outward orientation to be a conduit for the overlap of these different organizations, different individuals, different movements and different ideas,” he says.
MCMICKEN FREESPACE’s grand opening is Saturday at 527 W. McMicken Ave., Brighton. More info: facebook.com/mcmickenfreespace.