By Alli Hayes
Loose Lips caught up with Stacey Forrester during Bass Coast to talk about the use of the Sanctuary and the Harm Reduction Series-a foundational component to the weekend-long festival.
Stacey, it’s very refreshing to participate in a music festival that takes pride in implementing a Harm Reduction Series. What inspired you to get involved with Bass Coast and can you share to our readers a little bit about what the Sanctuary Tent provides?
I was a regular ticket holder one year and then volunteered for first-aid one year (this was when the event was held in Squamish). Both years, I had messaged the ladies (who I now call friends, but at the time were just bad ass women I admired) wanting to work with the festival in a harm reduction capacity, but in hindsight, it wasn’t the right time, and they did not pursue the conversation further. My education and professional background is a mixed bag of nursing, gender studies and urban planning. About five years ago, I started making a conscious effort to have less of a gap between what I do for income and what I do for enjoyment. When the festival made the move to Merritt, the organizers reached out to bring me on board and help create a strong harm reduction component within a safe space during the festival. Making this space really is the intersection of all my interests: harm reduction, public health, and anti-oppressive theory within a community-led art initiative and a female-founded project. Plus, you know, music!
The sanctuary tent is open all festival long ( 24 /7 as soon as gates open right up until most ticket holders are off site), and is staffed with volunteers with experience in “helping” professions: teaching, counselling, nursing, etc. We offer harm reduction supplies (such as) safer consumption items, safer sex materials as well as a plethora of information and resources and support people. The space we create within the festival is a calming, non-judgemental safe space for people to get some rest, regain their footing and get some respite from the (sometimes hectic and overwhelming) festival environment Our work actually starts in the weeks before the festival, putting volunteers through training and sharing resources on safety and the festival experience via the Bass Coast social media. This year we hung out with the car line up the night before gates – talking about strategies to stay safe once inside.
Bass Coast is a world renowned art and culture epicentre for many reasons, but how is the festival unique in terms of safety and harm reduction? How does this shift the conversation when there is no talk about the relationships you will experience on the grounds?
I think that the conversations about the safety and well being of an events ticket holders are woven directly into conversations about your intent in creating a festival. Is your intent to make as much money as possible? Then it is very likely that things like consent will hold a very low priority in terms of mention and resources. When your intention is to bring together a community and celebrate everyone’s uniqueness, autonomy, and create a mini village for a weekend – then you do all you can to make sure that your patrons are safe, looked after and celebrated. A few years ago, the theme for the year was mutiny, and with it came a brilliant manifesto that included a line about how the Bass Coast community embodies “intelligent dissent against the status quo” Unfortunately (putting my feminist buzzkill hat on now) the current status quo for women (and non binary/gender non conforming community members) involves navigating rape culture – harassment, threats to our safety, sexual assault, victim blaming, as well as commentary on our bodies and what we do with them in our daily lives. When creating a community with intention those elements of the status quo have no place, and you do all you can to both challenge and resist them – this includes prioritizing conversations about safety and consent. In May of this year, the provincial government released a large set of public health guidelines for mass gatherings / events. Consent is mentioned 11 times in that book, as well as real world ways to incorporate them into your event planning. In this guide, addressing issues around sexual assault is included along side other public health matters such as sanitation, food handling, and port o potties – this to me reflects its importance.
Giving people the chance to open up at a space like the Sanctuary is extremely helpful for their time at Bass Coast, but most definitely once they are back at home as well. How have your surveys helped understand what people are going through and to improve the festival experience?
In my non-festival life, I am one half of a project called Good Night Out which works with live music venues and clubs to address misogyny, homo/transphobia and safety issues within nightlife culture, as well as celebrate all identities and foster their meaningful contribution to the entertainment scene. Part of how we do this is through an audit where people can document things that made them feel safe or unsafe while out at a club or while seeing a show. This year we expanded our audit tool to include the festival environment, as it has kind of been a hot topic this year – the issue of women’s safety / sexual assault / harassment at festivals . It is available on our Facebook (and we had paper copies in the sanctuary tent) and anyone can fill it out about any festival they attend this summer. While i do try and keep the projects separate (i.e. I have never audited Bass Coast due to my inherent bias working for them), I naturally operate from a feminist framework – meaning that it is built into my volley training, my goals for the team, and “rules” about the sanctuary space – So I work very hard to create an environment at Bass Coast that does prioritize safety, consent and a resistance to rape culture. Even if a person doesn’t take the survey, I hope they leave Bass Coast knowing what safety feels like – safety to be yourself, in your body, expressing yourself in what ever way feels best – and try to seek and fight for that in their daily “real world” lives. The completed surveys give me tangible feedback that allows me to address any aspects that I overlooked, or didn’t see as I am so focused on the sanctuary, as well as allows me to see what our success were, to continue to devote resources to them and replicate those aspects in future incarnations of the festival.
Alli is a wildcard. Faux fur is her wingman. She is constantly moved by art, cool parties, and independent film, and continues to create her own projects. She wishes her photographic memory did her Instagram more justice. Check out her blog at http://www.thewildcardwins.com.