The Loading Dock in Littleton is a multi-disciplinary art space host to musicians, painters, spoken word, and more. Jason Tors spearheads the operation as curator, booking agent, and artist, among many other hats. He shared what it is that makes this space special, and a little weird.
Tors’ founding of The Loading Dock came about through a partnership with BAD-ART. Jon Stroker’s art gallery sits on Littleton’s Mill Street adjacent to The Loading Dock. Tors spent time in Stroker’s gallery painting and playing music. “We always talked about doing a crazy thing like an art takeover of a store on Main Street. We’d have a one day art show, bringing all our stuff into their walls,” Tors recollects. “Whether or not we’d sell stuff, that didn’t matter. Just make something that’s weird happen, and then it’s gone.”
Tors found a more permanent opportunity when Stroker discovered the building’s landlord had a storage space available. The space was raw – filled with old office furniture and dust with boarded up windows – but Tors’ eyes saw potential.
Tors looks at other spaces in more urban areas that fill a “third space” between venues for food and drink and shopping. “You basically take a very raw space and turn it into something that’s more modular where it can support music, art, storytelling, or showing films,” he explains.
The space features artists and performers of widely diverse backgrounds and talents. “My programming tends to be along the lines of things that I’m interested in, which for better or worse tends to be a little more outside the norm, a little strange, and a maybe little weird,” Tors admits, “but different and thought provoking.”
The First Act
The Loading Dock hosted its first band in January of 2015. Pupppy, an indie rock group, set the stage. “There’s a whole DIY music scene that happens in basements, spaces like this, or art galleries,” explains Tors. “They’re separate from a bar scene which has a whole different set of parameters for what sort of music you can play.”
Soon the Loading Dock was listed on DoDIY.org, a barebones HTML listing of art venues by state. Within weeks bands began calling Tors for booking. “I started hearing from these small-time bands that are pre-South by Southwest or pre-CMJ Music Marathon,” he says. “They’re just starting their own tours, they’re sleeping on couches, they’re sleeping in their vans, they’re driving around jalopies. But the quality of music was unbelievable and such a wide variety.”
The music took off quickly. Traveling acts come from local tours across the northeast and as distant as Michigan and Florida. Tors strives to maximize exposure for these up-and-coming groups by pairing them with better known local acts. The method is two-fold, offering opportunity for the local artists as well. “Hopefully you get the right people and there are connections happening and interesting things start to get created,” Tors says. “When those local bands are at the point where they’re ready to start touring, they have that knowledge base they can draw on.”
In his own artwork and in his collaborations, Tors seeks to promote positivity without getting too “hippy dippy.” Nights of open mic storytelling invite audience members to share personal insights, triumphs, and tragedies. The Loading Dock partnered with North of the 44th, a storytelling group out of Berlin, to bring speakers and audiences from across the North Country. Tors recalls a group of students from the White Mountain School who witnessed a young man speak about his military tours in Afghanistan. “Those kids talked about that guy for the rest of the year. They were blown away because they don’t normally have contact with people like that,” he explains. “That is the seed of what I’m trying to do here: create more empathy among different groups of people over a shared experience.”
While much of the art happens inside the walls of The Loading Dock, Tors and his acts have ventured onto the actual loading dock platform to host shows open to Littleton’s streets. The aim? Getting more eyes and ears on art. “Hopefully that inspires more people in the area to start painting or drawing, or making movies and documentaries. Kids in high school have reason to start a band because there’s a place to play,” Tors muses. “It’s not fun starting a band if you just practice all the time. You want to share it with people.”
Video courtesy of The Loading Dock
The Loading Dock recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to secure funding for renovations to meet fire codes and open as a Place of Assembly. With the growth of the venue, Tors seeks more collaboration outside of the studio walls. Looking to Bethlehem’s Colonial Theatre as a model for volunteerism, Tors hopes others step up to host their own events in the space. “I’d love to see the place more decentralized where people can come in and rehearse with their bands or someone takes on a comedy night,” he offers. “I’d love it if other people have a stake and have their one night a week where they get to present their thing.”