When people hear the name “Adam Mundok,” the Venue of Merging Arts (VOMA) likely comes to mind, and rightly so. For the past six years, Mundok has worked to transform it from a church to a non-profit arts venue where workshops, art exhibits, plays and live music performances are held year-round.
Mundok, however, is more than just a man behind the scenes of one of the most popular venues in Johnstown. He’s a writer. He’s a producer. He’s a musician. And, for a short time, he was a Californian. But let’s make it clear that his roots are here. Never mind that he went to high school in Hershey. He’s a Johnstowner through and through. Five generations and counting.
After earning his high school diploma, Mundok was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he struggled to find a major that seemed to be the right fit. Eventually he settled into the communications program and began to get involved on campus.
“While I was there, I just tried to pursue my interests. I took a lot of writing classes and I got involved with a civic organization called Circle K. I also joined the programming board; I was in charge of hiring the bands and entertainment for UPJ, which is obviously a pretty direct parallel to what I’m doing right now.”
By “right now,” he was referring, in part, to this year’s Cambria City Ethnic Festival, which is scheduled for next weekend. VOMA has a hand in bringing well over a dozen bands to its Third Ave. stage, and Mundok is instrumental in helping to make that happen.
“There was no stage there before. Bottle Works and Art Works were there and they were doing some things, but it wasn’t what it is now. I knew Third Ave. needed a stage and VOMA needed an event to generate revenue. That was my opportunity,” he said.
Speaking of “opportunity,” it didn’t come knocking back in the 1990s. Mundok first had to build the door. So in 1996, following his college graduation, he traded Johnstown for Wilmington in an effort to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker.
“I made a bet with myself. If I landed a film gig, I would start a career in filmmaking. And I did. So I let that become my life path, and I started pursuing that as an interest and a passion,” he said. For five years he remained in North Carolina, working on the sets of “Muppets from Space” and “Black Dog” (among others) on various soundstages within Screen Gems Studios before deciding that Los Angeles was beckoning.
And so another bet was wagered: he would give himself five years to see what heights he could reach in L.A. Plus, it would give him plenty of time to see how the city’s wheels spun underneath the hot pavement and massive buildings.
Soon after his arrival on the West Coast, Mundok landed a gig as a production assistant on “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.” He also worked to produce press junkets through Telefilm, Inc. for big-budget movies (read: “Bubble Boy,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Death to Smoochy” ), putting him in close proximity to stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal, George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon.
His time spent with the late Robin Williams during the “Death to Smoochy” press junket was especially memorable.
“I was in a room with him all day. I felt that he was a very warm and compassionate and sincere individual,” Mundok said.
“He remembered the entire crew members’ names.That’s rare. At the end of the day, he shook my hand and said, ‘Nice to meet you, Adam. Thank you for all your hard work.’”
Despite the thrills of working in the entertainment industry, Mundok decided that it wasn’t enough, and his chances of making it big were slimmer than he would’ve preferred.
“I got to a point where the industry was sustainable, but for as good as you are, luck will always be an X Factor. It’s a variable that no one can control, he said.
“I just always felt that I was standing at a roulette wheel — you might be at a really high table, spending a thousand bucks a roll, you know, but it’s still luck . . . there was some skill involved, but I never felt fully in charge or in command because that industry requires a lot of people. With music, you think it’s hard getting four guys together, but try getting 40 together to do a film with no budget. And everybody has to be passionate about it for it to work.” He reiterated that working with big stars, however, made him no better than anybody else.
“I’m not perfect; I’m very imperfect, but it’s been my passion and persistence that has gotten me anywhere. Anyone who hears of an accomplishment or accolade of mine . . .that just means that I was passionate about something and very persistent. I wanted to go live in L.A. and see behind the curtain, see who was pulling the strings. I saw what I needed to see, but at the end of the day, I’m not better than anybody. I struggle.”
After five years and a failed reality TV pitch to studio executives representing Disney, Paramount, MTV and others, Mundok packed his bags and flew back home to Pennsylvania. When he returned in 2006, his focus shifted from movies to music.
“I had a lot of connections with a lot of local bands and a lot of people were supportive of VOMA as an organization, so I put all my eggs in that basket,” he said.
So far, those eggs are still intact.
Though he currently has a full-time job that has more to do with cars than with music, Mundok is happy with what has become of his re-established life in Johnstown. Music and art is what it’s all about right now. A typical week involves “one night making music, one night working on VOMA and weekends producing shows,” he said.
Being around music — whether he’s playing, listening, or producing — has always been part of Mundok’s life. His father was a musician in the band Kindred Spirit; he played rhythm guitar and sang. His brother T.K. fronts the local band Black Cat Moan, and they were on this year’s AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival lineup.
Some of Mundok’s own music is scheduled to be released early next year. The EP, titled AM2, has paired Mundok with Striped Maple Hollow member Adam Milkovich. Together they’ve been working on original songs that feature an array of instruments, including the mandolin and dobro.
When the album is released, audiences can expect to hear many songs that share the same theme: time.
“A lot of my songs are about time: how it moves and what we choose to do with it. Most people bide their time or waste their time or spend time in ways that isn’t productive. We can live our time and be proactive with it,” he said.
While Mundok played down his talents when it comes to musical instruments (he plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, drums, saxophone and percussion), he emphasized that producing is an interest that comes first.
“First and foremost I’m a producer,” he said. “I want to be an audio engineer and music producer. That’s my main focus right now, and has been for the past eight years.”
In addition to the EP, Mundok is also wrapping up a collaborative book project with his friend Briant Laslow. The fantasy fiction novel—tentatively titled “The World of Cambra”—has been five years in the making.
As for VOMA, he’s got high hopes for not only the organization, but also the city in which it’s headquartered.
“VOMA is a place that’s very dear to my heart because of the community. That’s why it exists. It’s not because we have money, or have been given money. It’s a community arts center. Actually, I prefer the term social benefit organization. That’s more concisely what it is. If you want to write a play and perform it, you have a place to do it. If you wrote an orchestral score or a punk rock song, VOMA is there for you. You have one less excuse to say, ‘I’m not going to perform.’ Be creative. Express yourself,” Mundok said.
“I don’t have kids, so my art is like my children. I’m concerned about the whole community like it’s my own child and I don’t think a lot of people think like that. My grandfather would walk through Cambria City and pick up a piece of trash and I would think, Why did he do that? I asked him one day and he said, ‘Because this is our neighborhood and we have to take pride in it, no matter if anyone else does or not.” Though Mundok does what he can to help build a better community, he also wants his work to speak for itself.
“I don’t want to be famous or even ‘Johnstown famous’—I want to say and do things that have relevance through my music and through my art,” he said.