On Sept. 7, six venues in the Red River Cultural District will band together to present the inaugural Safer Venues Festival.
The single-day minifestival is dedicated to raising awareness around safety issues — such as sexual misconduct and harassment — that artists, venue employees and music fans experience at or on the way to shows in the district. The fest will also aim to forge connections among people looking to combat those issues.
Molly Burch, Bourgeois Mystics and Christelle Bofale are among the artists who will play a series of individually ticketed shows at Cheer Up Charlies, Scratch House, Empire Control Room & Garage, Mohawk, Barracuda and Swan Dive.
In addition to live music, such local organizations as the Red River Cultural District, SIMS Foundation, Austin Police Department, SAFE Alliance, Front Steps, Home Street Music, Rainbow Patrol ATX and Other Ones Foundation will have a presence at the fest.
Adrienne Lake, senior talent buyer at Empire, said the idea for the festival is to “bring together all the venues and all these different organizations that in one way or another are working towards the same goal” of creating a safer environment downtown.
“It seems like historically, there’s been situations where everybody’s in their own corner,” she said. “And when we’re in our own corner and we’re frustrated and angry, we’re not reaching out and working with other people to find solutions and ideas. That’s where things get stagnant and potentially just get worse.”
The event also aims to highlight a new venue training program administered by the SIMS Foundation, a local nonprofit with a mission to provide mental health and substance abuse recovery services to musicians and music industry professionals.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Lake and Renée Jonard (who books shows for Hotel Vegas and Barracuda) began brainstorming ways their venues could address safety issues. They also were motivated, in part, by a series of sexual harassment allegations leveled against touring acts that led to show cancellations.
“I think it’s time for us to get together and talk about this as a community, because it’s going to come up,” Jonard said.
At the same time, Richard Lynn, owner of recently shuttered venue Beerland, was working with the SIMS Foundation to develop a training program for his venue, centered on how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment issues. When other venues in the district began to request the training, Patsy Bouressa, the nonprofit's interim director, began to develop a formal program.
In November, there was large group training for venue employees hosted by SIMS and the SAFE Alliance, a local organization that works with survivors of sexual abuse and violence. Bouressa said during a break in that session that the issues addressed in the training covered everything from “How do we deal when a staff member says that a band sexually harassed them and they don’t want the band back?” to “How do we resolve conflict among our own staff members when we only have 10 people working in this bar, so we’re always on top of each other?” to interactions with the area's large population of homeless people.
“We’ve already started our venue training program, and it’s made our staff so happy, so excited to be able to be given the tools on how to address these things and to have some support,” Lake said.
Each venue plans to donate a portion of their proceeds from the Safer Venues Fest shows to the SIMS Foundation.
Austin’s downtown entertainment districts have seen several violent incidents this summer around the intersection of Seventh and Red River streets. Lake said she is happy that both Front Steps, the organization that runs the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, and the Austin Police Department have expressed interest in being involved with the festival.
She sees “bringing together the venues, the organizations and the community so we can learn more about the challenges we’re facing (and) start conversations” as an important first step toward addressing safety issues in the district.
“It’s been really cool to see how far we’ve all come and to see us working together toward a common goal,” Lake said. “I’m just proud of us.”