These plans highlight the urgency of Mousai’s vision for a new creative economy. Art and arts spaces must be cooperatively owned by artists. Dior Ashley Brown explained, “I come from generational ownership. My granddaddy had a bike shop at 14th and V. We do want ownership. Now we’re getting more strategic.” She adds that their primary goal is to maintain affordability and accessibility.

“It just goes back to the basics of what we had at the house: The bartering system,” Gaje Jones explains. “You know what, we’ll forgo your membership for this month if you can do some bass classes for us, or if you can do this for us. I got a member who really wants to learn Pro Tools, can you give him some one-on-one instruction twice a week? And the value isn’t placed in monetary terms, it’s placed in relationships; because now those two people are working together on a new project. Real talk – this is actual, not hypothetical, this is what’s happening. Two DJs are linking up, one just wanted to learn Ableton but now they’re producing stuff together. We’re developing relationships. We’re developing bands like Redline Graffiti that started at Mousai.”

In the end, the story of Mousai is not a story of the buildings they lost. It’s the story of the relationships they built. It’s the story of a community that emerged from informal Tuesday night music lessons that ultimately shaped an era of DC music. The artists of Mousai are continuing to shape their vision for a self-sufficient, self-determined artist-led cooperative incubator. Cooperatives like these are central to the next system imagined by Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard; a cooperative solidarity commonwealth where “surplus, or profit, is shared in equitable ways, through democratic decision making, and used for the common good.” In this system, “risks are collectivized, skills are perfected, learning is continuous, and economic practices are sustainable (both ecologically and from a business point of view), bringing collective prosperity.”

The cooperative that Mousai envisions may not be housed in their current home at the Union Arts warehouse, but with a confident hopefulness for the future, Dior Ashley Brown explains: “we want people to believe that Mousai can happen anywhere. That this essence, this family can exist. That the feeling of it exists with us.”

Jennifer Bryant is a radio host and a founding steering committee member of Cooperation DC, whose mission is to expand opportunities for dignified employment and democratic ownership in low-income communities of color through the development of worker-owned cooperatives.

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