This Is Art – The impact of inclusive spaces

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor

On Nov. 16, 150 people made the drive to Saginaw from places as far as Indiana and Grand Rapids to hang out together at local art and music venue, Counter Culture.

“This show has been the first big one in a while here. It’s hard to bring big touring bands to an intimate venue like this,” says Curtis Dalton, one of the owners of Counter Culture.

Even before the event doors opened at 7 p.m., fans were already lining up at the door in spite of the cold November night. Around 100 pre-sale tickets had been sold in the days leading up to the show and it was expected to be a full house for the concert featuring Moses, Mover Shaker, Kississippi, Prince Daddy and The Hyena, and Mom Jeans.

“There are people here from all over. Counter Culture is this epicenter of the new art and alternative communities, and these people are coming to Saginaw for it. This place is important to them,” says Cbxtn Alexander, who was in charge of ticket sales for the night.

The bands and showgoers milled about the venue, saying “hi” to people they haven’t seen since the last show, checking out merch tables or eagerly waiting for music to start. The biggest unifying feature of all the people in the venue was that everyone was different and diverse. People from all kinds of communities were represented in the crowd and the bands, from DIY artists to openly non-heteronormative people and non-binary persons. One could overhear a few people commenting on how happy they were that the bathrooms are labeled as being gender-neutral.

“This show has been an amalgam of all my favorite things. People of all different kinds of lifestyles and identities coming together to listen to some good punk music. It’s pleasantly overwhelming,” says Gavin Whalen, concert attendee.

Along with the music, that was part of why these 150 people were drawn to Saginaw to spend the night listening to bands with each other. Due to the amount of incidents related to racism, sexism and anti-queer feelings, people in these communities have expressed a need for spaces where they can be without fear of being subjected to different acts of aggression.

A safe, inclusive space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express themselves without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or unsafe on account of biological sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religion, age, or physical or mental ability.

“It’s freeing to come to a local show like this were so many people are unabashedly being themselves. It’s a very uplifting feeling,” says Montana Svodoba, guitarist for local band Self Less.

Inclusive spaces can foster a support network for oppressed persons. This support enables people to better cope and to feel less isolated by connecting with other people who have similar experiences. This creates a sense of empowerment as well as aiding people in the process of healing and regaining a sense of control over their lives.

The needs of marginalized groups often go unaddressed or, even worse, are diminished and erased. That makes these communities particularly vulnerable because they experience much higher rates of discrimination and violence. Trans women of color, for instance, make up one of the most targeted populations with an average life expectancy of just 35 years.

“As a queer band, we have a lot of times on tour where we’re not sure if we can present how we want to for fear of being attacked,” says Jack Parsons, singer and guitarist for Mover Shaker.

Sadly, these spaces have been vilified by some people on the thought that these spaces infringe on freedom of speech, hinder intellectual progress, coddle people from the harsh “real world” and create a victim-hood culture. The idea that some people make themselves victims by speaking out against forms of oppression is an obstacle set-up by oppressors to impede progression toward equality and the concept that these spaces coddle people fails to realize that there are people who genuinely need a space where they can feel protected.

In reality these safe and inclusive spaces create a platform for people of all kinds to freely express themselves in ways that may not always be acceptable in our mainstream culture. As a result, there needs to be more attention placed on how impactful and important it is to support and maintain places that allow for this kind of safety and freedom; the art and music community is the perfect place for this to happen.

“Community spaces like this are important because the right is on the march and a lot of progress is being rolled back. Queer, gay, lesbian, trans youth and especially people of color have been made to feel unsafe in the current socio-political climate. Spaces like these are the only places people are able to know they can be comfortable presenting themselves as how they identify. It’s important to recognize the impact of spaces like this,” says Parsons.

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