Sixteen years ago, while a UGA sophomore, I lost a close friend to suicide. His name was Michael. I left school shortly after his death to pursue a musical career, playing drums for the band Michael, named in part for my friend, between 1993 and 2003. Since his death, whenever I see or hear the word ‘suicide’ my ears perk up and I am immediately drawn toward the source. Given the grim statistics surrounding suicide in the U.S.—an attempt every 42 seconds, 85 deaths a day—I know I’m not alone.
Nuçi Phillips, a fellow musician in town, had taken his own life in 1996 and his family wanted to build a rehearsal space in his memory. Of course, I thought it was a great idea. My experience with rehearsal spaces up to this point consisted of a wide variety of old, dilapidated buildings that offered many fascinating ways in which you or a band member could permanently get injured.
So when I ended up at benefit for the facility at a 40 Watt Club, I figured the room would be packed with musicians. Unfortunately, the club was nearly empty.
Local studio owner and musician David Barbe was once quoted in CMJ Monthly as saying, “You can’t swing a guitar in this town without hitting a musician.” I didn’t get it. I thought, Where the hell is everyone? Why aren’t they here?
As I learned more about Nuçi’s story and the Phillips’ plans for Nuçi’s Space I began to see myself, my friends and fellow musicians within their vision. Nuçi’s Space was going to be much more than just a rehearsal space. Before leaving the club I grabbed a brochure and decided to offer my help.
Laying the Foundation
The idea for Nuçi’s Space was conceived by Linda Phillips, Nuçi’s mom, two years after his death. The family already knew they wanted to create an “active” memorial for their 22-year-old son. They thought his memory would best be served through the act of helping others—a testament to the kind of person Nuçi was.
Nuçi had been diagnosed and struggled with clinical depression for five debilitating years. Having lived the course of Nuçi’s illness with him, the Phillips family recognized the importance of addressing the needs of depression sufferers. In addition, they too were aware—through stories from Nuçi—of the lack of safe, affordable rehearsal space available in Athens. From that knowledge, the Nuçi Phillips Memorial Foundation was launched. In 2000, the Foundation opened Nuçi’s Space, a nonprofit support and resource center for musicians.
It’s 2008 and I’m sitting at my desk at Nuçi’s Space, just weeks away from celebrating our 8th Anniversary. The organization has come a long way since that sparsley attended benefit nearly nine years ago. Linda Phillips, who’ll be walking in the door in just a few minutes, continues to make the drive from her Atlanta home a few times each week to see “her musicians.” Under her guidance, Nuçi’s Space has made a significant impact on the lives of musicians, their families and the community as a whole.
The aim of the organization is to prevent suicide by providing obstacle-free treatment for musicians suffering from depression and other such disorders as well as to assist in their emotional, physical and professional well being. We accomplish this by providing a variety of services that include, but are not limited to, access to low-cost, obstacle-free professional counseling assistance, semi-monthly walk-in visits with an emergency-room doctor for minor medical problems, hosting of various support groups as well as access to discounted earplugs and eyeglasses.
Other services we offer include a resource library, access to inexpensive rehearsal spaces and equipment, workshops and a concert venue. For our young musicians, we’ve added a summer camp and hope to add an after-school program very soon. In Creative Loafing, respected Athens musician (and former social worker) Randall Bramblett said, “What makes Nuçi’s Space work is that it doesn’t proselytize. … It could have been not a hip place that people associated with a religious thing. The way they’ve managed it, it is a cool, open, supportive place.”
Supporters need support
Since inception, Nuçi’s Space has assisted over 600 musicians with direct financial aid. Close to $80,000 annually is allocated to this program alone. As the need for support services continues to grow, so will our need to raise and allocate more funds and resources.
Signed posters from Drive-By Truckers, B-52’s, Modern Skirts, The Whigs and Widespread Panic—with messages of support to Nuçi’s Space—line the front room of our building. The overwhelming support we receive locally and from the music community-at-large remind us that we’re not alone. Our mission and Nuçi’s story is being heard. We’re fortunate to receive a significant amount of financial support from such places as Atlanta, New York and Texas. And thanks to Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers, a San Francisco couple has also made a significant investment, both emotionally and financially, in support of the Nuçi’s Space mission, a mission we all hope will continue to grow beyond Athens.
The brochure I picked up at the 40 Watt in October 1999 began with words from Patrick Ferguson, Nuçi’s friend and the drummer for Five-Eight.
“I cannot overstress the importance of the arts community to the emotional survival and well being of musicians. Musicians are often marginalized from traditional support networks and from low-cost healthcare. The average working musician is living below the poverty level, has no pastor or other spiritual leader to turn to when his or her heart is heavy and is uninsured, under- informed and overwhelmed. The musician turns to the other artists around him for support.”
As Ferguson points out, there’s a sense among artists that we’re in this together. Beyond our own bands and projects, there’s a sense of belonging to a larger creative family. When a fellow musician or artist dies, even if we didn’t know him or her personally, there’s a void and a great sense of loss. But when we support one another and help each other to be healthy and to creative, we fill the void with music and hope.
More information about Nuçi’s Space and how you can help is available at www.nuci.org.
Bob Sleppy has been Executive Director of Nuçi’s Space since 1999.