Mastering the Hustle: Creating Safer Spaces

Mastering the Hustle
05/23/2018
Martin Douglas

KEXP, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, MoPOP, and The Recording Academy have partnered together to present Mastering the Hustle: a panel discussion with six annual events, tackling a different topic to help emerging artists make better decisions earlier in their careers. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing everything from how to get airplay, legal and licensing, healthcare for artists, and promoting your brand.

 

It seems as though we are living in tenuous times when it comes to the safety of our public spaces. From the tragedies of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Oakland’s Ghost Ship (the latter of which used for reference in this panel discussion) to the reports of widespread harassment at Coachella, the discussion around keeping all spaces safe in the arts community has always been important to have but seemingly has become more imperative than ever.

In the eighth installment of the Mastering the Hustle workshop series, several members of Seattle’s community convened to discuss the importance of safer spaces and what we can do to make the spaces in our city safer. S. Surface, architectural designer and curator of The Alice, Kate Becker of the Seattle Office of Film and Music, Ta Pemgrove, interim executive director for Proper Groove, Kitty Wu, co-director of 206 Zulu, and Matthew Richter of the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture gathered to discuss all aspects of safety when it comes to the spaces where members of our community assemble, and ways we can help maintain that safety.

S. Surface begins their keynote by observing how Seattle is at the forefront of shaping modern culture in many different areas. They note the ethos of the DIY lifestyle, where “either no one is a rock star or everyone is a rock star, that everyone can contribute to the community and the spaces we inhabit.” Everyone has a right to tell their own stories and share them with each other.

“What is a safer space?” It is the idea that safety is not guaranteed, but we can work to make spaces more accomodating for everyone. Surface points out that, in their experience, safer spaces are based on the groundwork of human behavior, having zero tolerance for any behavior along the lines of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anything along the lines of bigotry toward any person. Surface acknowledges the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, a tragedy affecting many people they knew and taking the lives of a few of their personal acquaintances, and how the incident exposed the need for safer physical structures.

Another way to create a safer space is to establish effective protocol in the event of an emergency, such as training in CPR, how to respond to a violent aggressor or an active shooter. There is also the matter of safety in institutions; Surface notes after the Ghost Ship fire, venues were concerned about their safety from police harassment or from fire codes. “It is my belief that building codes help keep people safe,” Surface says.

But that is a matter that can intersect with other equity issues, such as access to resources. “If a community can’t afford to purchase a space that is code compliant, they are less able to keep their community safe than those who can install a $50,000 sprinkler system at any time they’re told to or before they’re told to.” The Vera Project is in the process of developing a safety kit -- filled with essential tools to use in case of an emergency -- which was available for viewing at the workshop.

Surface notes the “opportunistic harassment” of DIY venues by alt-right trolls who coordinated an online campaign to get DIY venues shut down by calling in complaints. Officials were less than empowered to help these venues and often aren’t able to have the flexibility to give them a decent amount of time to comply with codes or even offer much in the way of helpful advice. “All venues can do better; safety is a spectrum,” said Surface. For example, a venue may receive packages that end up blocking a hallway.

Following the Ghost Ship tragedy, Surface created a Google Document which eventually turned into a crowd-sourced sool for information, utilizing many ways to improve venue safety, called D-I-Y.fyi. Their friend and collaborator Melissa Frost made a site called Safer Spaces, a resource which connects venues to all sorts of works and professionals (which includes carpenters, contractors, and engineers) available for low-cost or pro-bono work.

Also, the Seattle Music Commission, the Seattle Arts Commission, and the Capitol Hill Cultural District and the Chinatown International District wanted to publicly signal the city’s solidarity with venues, wanting to use that solidarity as a way to implement changes to funding and policy.

The parties involved in this gesture drafted a list of ideas to promote venue safety:

  1. Create safety kits for events
  2. Broaden funding eligibility for building improvements

  3. Create in-kind construction grants

  4. Create arts events license; streamline the event permit process

  5. Use RSJI toolkit to analyze code enforcement plans

  6. Provide more safety training

  7. Allow fire marshall to communicate with venues

  8. Create safety grading system

Surface reiterates the space they are currently on is on indigenous land, a land people have had taken from them, which brings up the question, “Who is safe?” Helping make the answer to that question easier would be to implement policies that promote community and foster a level of trust with one another. Kate Becker adds to Surface’s statement by acknowledging the environment of American culture as of late, where hate speech flows freely, and in this age of open hostility, it’s more important than ever that we take care of each other.

Creating Physically and Emotionally Safe Spaces

Surface is part of an annual exhibition called Everyone’s In, an inclusive environment where everyone who submits work to the show is allowed to participate. There was always an unspoken boundary against bigoted behavior, and that person would be told their work cannot be exhibited.

However, one year, an artist who had assaulted another member of the community had work featured in the show, and the assault took place three weeks into the six-week exhibition. There was a boundary set and the person was told they were not welcome in the gallery anymore. It was important that the survivor of the assault was the person who felt welcome in the space.

Kitty Wu notes many of the events at Washington Hall are community events and the staff recognizes that some of the events held cannot afford things like security, so communication between staff and those putting on the event is encouraged and regularly practiced. She acknowledges that at 206 Zulu events, the people working security function foremost as peacekeepers with an “if you’re cool, we’re cool” approach.

On the topic of situational awareness, Matthew Richter pointed out the acknowledgement of safety is not only an indicator, but it increases the awareness of people. “It’s not just the fact that [206 Zulu] has peacekeepers, it’s also that they have ‘security’ written on their shirts [...] Making people conscious of safety increases safety in a way.”

Ta Pemgrove adds the idea of signage is important. “When signage is only patron-facing, that doesn’t complete the cycle of creating a safer space.” It is just as imperative to create a safer space for the folks behind the scenes, everyone involved with helping the show run smoothly, to help them talk about incidents and concerns.

How Code Compliance Aids Creating Safety

Richter told a story about how he and his son were at Henry Art Gallery and the lights went out, the emergency lights came on, and an alarm started going off. His son leapt into his arms (practicing very good situational awareness, key to keeping yourself safe), but when they approached the staff about what was going on, they simply said, “We don’t know, the lights went out.” As the moral to this anecdote, Richter offers, “Code compliance does not guarantee safety.”

In addition to safe spaces not being a binary state, code compliance is not either. Richter notes it is part of a spectrum and said – as was noted in the city’s response to the Ghost Ship fire – the idea of using compliance as a binary “pushes people who are non-compliant farther and farther into the shadows.” He says there is sometimes a difference between sanctioned and safe, and he came up in a scene where some of the venues were neither. He stresses the importance of not losing underground spaces, because they are such an important part of what makes civic culture thrive.

Surface adds, “I don’t believe people have spaces that are unsafe because they want them that way. I think that is a circumstance that is the result of access to resources.” People may want to have alternative spaces and spaces that are designed differently, but they aren’t deliberately designing them to be unsafe.

Pemgrove adds that while her focus is primarily on sexual and bias-based violence, all of her volunteers know to check out exit signs and spaces to make sure there aren’t clear safety hazards. Any place that is unsafe, volunteers are instructed to leave regardless of contractual obligation. Coming up in DIY spaces, she observed there is kind of a spectrum of behaviors that are deemed permissible.

Richter notes in some circles, compliance is viewed as the gold standard, but when he talks to the fire marshals and such, they deem compliance as the absolute minimum of what makes a place safe. “It’s interesting that it is usually seen as either the ceiling or the floor.”

Key Takeaways

  • Safety is a spectrum, not a binary
  • Issues in code compliance often is a matter of affordability, but there are resources available at a low cost to help venues achieve standards up to code

  • Maintain trust with the community that gathers in your space by establishing zero tolerance for any behaviors exhibiting bigotry

  • Displaying messages of safety helps patrons become more conscious of safety

  • Compliance is usually the minimum of what makes a place safe

Resources

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