Published on November 11th, 2013 | by Josh Hafner
YP spotlight: D.M. Social Club’s Mickey Davis, 22, will run programs
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of employees at the Des Moines Social Club in late 2012. Davis, one of two employees currently behind the nonprofit, was the fourth employee when hired this year.
OCCUPATION: Events manager and artist
HIGH SCHOOL: Waukee
COLLEGE: Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn.
HOBBY: Davis is a regular at music venues around Des Moines, performing with the electronic pop duo Maids and under his own moniker, Is Home Is.
About this time last year, Mickey Davis — an experimental composer, one-time peace activist and then college senior in St. Paul, Minn. — contacted the head of the Des Moines Social Club with a request: You gotta let me work for you.
The first correspondence with Zachary Mannheimer, the arts nonprofit’s director, came in a detailed email. Davis, a Waukee native who had left Iowa for Macalester College, but who had come home on summer breaks and noticed a creative scene swelling with potential, wanted in.
“I want to move back to Des Moines,” Davis said, “but I don’t want to work at Wells Fargo.”
Mannheimer, founder of an organization planning to rehab downtown’s former firehouse into a hotbed for every kind of art, liked the initiative. “God knows I’ve written tons of emails like that myself,” he said. Davis now serves as the Social Club’s events manager, a role that places him at the helm of nearly 90 programs the nonprofit plans to host when it opens its firehouse doors at Ninth and Mulberry Streets next year. He admits the prospect is a bit overwhelming.
“I’m 22 and half of what the Social Club does is under my jurisdiction,” Davis said last week at Amici Espresso downtown. “It’s so much. It’s so much.”
Davis, with a short and slender frame, looks older than 22, but not by much. Between the nose ring, gauged ears and tattoos, he blends in more at a music club like the Vaudville Mews than before the Social Club’s board, a committee with leaders from Principal Financial Group, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Belin McCormick law firm. It’s this board Davis reports to on the dozens of programs slated for the Social Club, which run the gamut from standards (“Team Trivia”) to the more unexpected (“Drag Performance For Beginners”).
There’s a real tension in Davis’ job. His goal, to bolster Des Moines’ creative culture, means balancing avant-garde events that may puzzle audiences with surefire crowd-pleasers that can keep the doors open. Theater productions, long an entry point to the Social Club, will continue alongside experimental noise concerts that might draw five attendees.
A city’s art community only grows if it’s exposed to something new or challenging or weird and then reacts, Davis said. And despite Des Moines’ reputation as a buttoned-down, Midwestern city, he said its people are open to new ideas. Few thought a restaurant filled with images of flesh-eating zombies would make for an appealing place to eat cow flesh, yet Zombie Burger is succeeding here in Des Moines, not Portland, Ore.
“What I’ve learned about this town, just being back for a few months: People aren’t afraid of things once they’ve seen them,” Davis said. “I just don’t want people to be limited because they haven’t seen something.”
Davis started organizing events years ago, not around art but around politics. A one-time class president at Waukee High School, he sported long, shaggy hair and marched for Barack Obama in the homecoming parade. He proudly displayed Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” on his bookshelf and was once arrested during a sit-in protest at Rudy Giuliani’s West Des Moines campaign office.
Davis enrolled as a political science major in college and quickly became disillusioned with government as a means of change. His one elective, a world music class, kept him from dropping out. Davis’ father, Mark Davis, a minister at Heartland Presbyterian Church in Clive, raised his son around funk and soul music, genres that came alive for him during the class. He taught himself to read music the next summer and switched his studies to music composition and nonprofit management.
While at Macalester in St. Paul, Minn., Davis organized for several nonprofits. He worked for a record label that put out experimental music. He began writing his own music, too. He held gallery shows and concerts out of his house. He came back to Iowa in the summers and volunteered at 80/35, the city’s growing music festival, honing his skills on the big stage in Western Gateway Park.
“When I first met Mickey and sat down with him, he was 19,” said Amedeo Rossi, the manager of 80/35. “When I left that meeting, I said, ‘I met somebody who could take over 80/35.’ … You dump these big events on him and you really get the feeling he can pull them off.”
Rossi’s drive and vision to pull off unlikely events like 80/35 in an unlikely city like Des Moines inspires Davis in his new role, he said. So do Josh Ivey and Sam Summers, two young guys behind music venue Wooly’s in the East Village, and Jill Haverkamp, the 31-year-old co-founder of On Pitch marketing, none of whom Davis considers typical “young professionals.”
Davis and Mannheimer advertise the Social Club as a future magnet for young professionals when applying for grants. They’re likely right. But Davis and several others in the arts and music community generally don’t identify themselves as “young professionals,” he said; it’s a loaded term.
“When you use that phrase you discount artists. You discount people who work in the service industry. A young professional means you wear a suit, you work 9 to 5,” Davis said. “You only get this one, small subset of the population.”
Nomenclature aside, Davis wears his love for his home and its people on his sleeves. His inked-up arms include an outline of Iowa and the red Traveler’s Insurance umbrella, an iconic image to downtown.
“We’re all in this because we think Des Moines is cool, because we want to be here and provide opportunities for the people who are here,” he said. “There’s no magic bullet.”
Tips for planning an event
Mickey Davis, 22, the Des Moines Social Club’s new events manager, offers these pointers for organizing your event:
1. Don’t rely too heavily on social media to get people to attend your event. Personal connections and conversations trump Facebook every time.
2. Tap into the skills and expertise of your friends and allies in the community. In my experience, people who plan events hate giving up control of any aspect of the event, where the event would actually be served better by letting others take on what they do best. Be O.K. with the fact that you’re not the most knowledgeable about everything related to this event, and find and befriend people who are.
3. Plan for things to go wrong many, many times.