“It’s Illegal!” SASS helps break down barriers in Calgary music scene

The Calgary arts community has found someone to advocate for a more inclusive music scene. The Society for the Advocacy of Safer Spaces is a fairly new organization, founded in January of this year. SASS recognizes the importance of creating a safe environment for everyone involved in the Calgary music and arts scene. 

“All we’re really trying to do is make it harder for people to get away with stuff that’s illegal. Sexual assault is illegal. Discriminating against trans people is illegal. Discriminating against people of colour is illegal. We’re asking you to just not do things that are illegal.” Veronica Lawrence, co-founder of SASS, says. “Ultimately, if you’re offended by us telling you to not do something illegal, you shouldn’t really be taking it up with us. You should be taking it up with the government. We’re just asking you to follow the law.”

It may seem like a simple concept, but it’s one that still isn’t necessarily being enforced. The Calgary music scene, as great as it is, is still mainly dominated by cis, white, heterosexual men. While this in itself doesn’t pose a problem, it becomes difficult to deal with when individuals feel like they aren’t a part of the community they dedicate so much time to.

“There are a lot of people from other marginalized communities; people of colour, LGBTQ people, that have left the community because they didn’t feel safe anymore. For me, that’s not okay. I’m not okay with accepting that we just completely marginalize a number of communities that are already marginalized enough, and I wanted to try and do something to make it a little bit better.” Lawrence explains.

That’s where SASS comes into play. Lawrence and her co-founder, Sarah Adams, saw a gap in the local music community. A dominated and underrepresented community is not a welcoming one, and they recognize this. By making partnerships with local organizations like the Hifi Club, CJSW, and Sled Island, SASS runs workshops and provides resources so that these spaces can become more aware of the kind of environment they are fostering.

“Equality is already in the law, and ultimately it’s just about how that looks in practice and what SASS is trying to offer is ‘this is how it looks’. We’re trying to give [organizations] a blueprint to make your life easier and provide you with the resources and support so that you understand what you’re doing, how to do it, and where it can go.” Lawrence says.

They’ve been doing it well so far, and all the feedback they’ve gotten has been mainly positive. Music is a space that should be dominated by artistic creativity, and the more diverse a group is, the more creative it can be. Breaking down the barriers as a collective is something that SASS plans to play a big part in, but it’s also important to break them down individually.
“The most important thing is to educate yourself. If you’re angry about something that other people seem to care about, understand why they care about it.” Lawrence says. “Don’t get angry, educate yourself.”