Although charity and punk rock seem unrelated, the Sidewalk Project proves punk rock and art can be used to give back. Founded by artist and former adult actress Soma Snakeoil, punk rocker Stacey Dee (from Bad Cop Bad Cop), and artist Emily T. Nielsen, the Sidewalk Project creates community events where they give out donations like food, clothes, and toiletries; and they also create a space where people can create music and art.
“The primary goal is not to save anyone, but to connect and create a sense of well-being through art and music,” says Soma. “There are so many barriers for people in the American caste system. One of the big aspects for us is to go directly to the streets,” says Soma over-the-phone from Denver, Colorado, who just wrapped up a Punk Rock and Paintbrushes Art Show.
This idea came from humble beginnings. After becoming sober and grateful for their new direction in life, Soma and Dee thought up the Sidewalk Project as a way to give back.
“I went sober close to three years. I went to Stacy Dee, who is also sober, to do this project,” says Soma. “We had similar experiences with addiction, overcoming different aspects of our lives in our lives that were painful, experiences with poverty, and being unhoused, and different trauma aspects, so we decided to put together this organization.” One of Soma’s major theater projects, called Home Street Home, is a musical about homelessness and addiction, so this aspect of society has always been important to her.
In a different conversation, Stacy Dee reiterates this story to me: “We saw each other at riot fest in Chicago and I told her about this idea. And within a week we were in a meeting with Emily, Soma and I to figure out what exactly we wanted to do,” says Dee, talking to me over-the-phone from San Pedro.
They enlisted Nielsen — who had experience in community organizing (Punk Rock and Paintbrushes & Rock Vs Cancer) — to help create their vision. Although just a year in, they have already spread locally in Southern California and in Colorado and Arizona, and they couldn’t have come at a better time.
According to a recent L.A Times  article, the number of homeless in the streets and shelters in the cities of L.A, Glendale, Pasadena, and Long Beach has skyrocketed 75% — roughly 58,000 from about 32,000 — in the last six years. In response, Los Angeles voters’ approved Measure HHH — a $1.2-billion bond measure to build housing and create addiction and mental health counseling services for the homeless — this past November. However, the actual implementation of this measure will be slow moving. This measure allows the city to build 1,000 apartment units a year over a 10-year span, but only after steps are taken to find land to build on which, according to projections, may take up to five years. This is why community organizing like the Sidewalk Project is critical.
To help raise money for Sidewalk Project, they sell merch, collect donations, and they also enlist the help of their art collective Punk Rockers and Paint Brushes. Artists and musicians involved in PRP and the Sidewalk Project include Steve Caballero (The Faction), Noodles (the Offspring), Matt Skiba (Blink-182), Christian Hosoi (former Pro Skater), Chali 2 Na (rapper), Matt Hensley (Pro Skater), Jessica Moncrief, Wednesday Aja, Monique Arellanas, and more.
“All of us are artists and now that creating makes a healthy spirit when you’re an artist,” says Dee. “Every time I’ve been down and out in my life, the one thing that gives me a sense of purpose is playing music.”
Dee is also part of the Sidewalk Project Band who also include John Carey of Youth Brigade, Jeff Roffredo of the Aggrolites, Sara Wright of One Less Zero, Gaby Kaos and Drea Doll of Venomous Pinks; the band plays music during their Sidewalk Project events. Besides just creating a community with music and art, they are able to feed people, give out clothing, self-care products, and anything that people on the street need.
The Sidewalk Project has even helped out internationally. They were able to raise money for the Nigerian artist Itz Michaels Ebby who currently lives in a refugee camp in Malta. “Our friend Shannon Knox was involved with this artist [Itz Michaels Ebby] out in Malta who is in a Nigerian refugee camp called Hellfire in Malta,” says Dee. “And he’s probably not going to be able to get out because his whole family is dead.” Through t-shirt sales, the Sidewalk Project was able to raise over 1,000 dollars to help Ebby record his music. Once the album is done, they hope to promote it.
“We learned there is science between happiness and community,” says Soma. “We just want to create a space where there is no judgment.”
To learn more about upcoming events or how to donate, check out the Sidewalk Project website.
Dec. 9th — The Sidewalk Project — 3 pm – 7 pm @ Harvelles in Long Beach
Dec. 15th — Punk Rock For Paintbrushes — 5 pm – 11 pm @ the Innerspace Gallery in Los Angeles.
Dec 16th — Sidewalk Party and Donation Drive — 11 am – 4 pm @ Gladys Park in Los Angeles