At Cambridge’s iconic Club Passim, the idea that performers, patrons, and staff alike are responsible for co-creating a safe and creative space together was part of their messaging long prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this past year has emphasized the importance of transparency in communications
“You realize you shouldn’t make assumptions,” explains the Club’s longtime managing director Matt Smith, reflecting on their shift in communicating safety precautions over the course of last year. “Be explicit to ensure safety.”
It’s an important model for inclusivity all around, whether communicating safety precautions, accessibility accommodations, or a code of conduct. A published or spoken statement backs up your commitment to a safe space with the authority of an implementable plan, including expectations, consequences, and mechanisms for reporting incidents. It’s even more effective if audiences hear this messaging from various kinds of leaders, for example, not just venue staff but also the performers they have come to see.
At Club Passim, the idea of effectively communicating safety precautions took on several dimensions. Even at live-streamed events with no live audience, they began each show by describing the protocols in place, even invisible ones like keeping doors open for increased airflow, any staff wearing masks, and ensuring that performers got a negative COVID-19 test before arriving at the venue. These communications took on a visual dimension when a performer wanted to livestream from the venue in January 2021 with a few other singers and musicians sharing the stage. Given known increased transmission risks surrounding vocal performance, the performer built a structure of three hermetically sealed boxes. Each singer would enter their box and shut the door, creating an environment where they could share the stage and see each other while maintaining total physical isolation. The performers had also all tested negative for COVID-19 prior to the event, but this was an immediate visual way to communicate to viewers that safety was a value built into the production. Even as pandemic restrictions ease, what are the ways we might communicate an increased commitment to safety, accessibility, sustainability, or community engagement in similarly immediate and multisensory ways?
Of course, communications are only transparent if your organization is genuinely taking on the commitment you say you are. Some of the ways Club Passim is pursuing include improving their HVAC infrastructure, considering revisions to their refund policy when it comes to illness of any kind, and making masks and hand sanitizer available at the box office, even for when it comes to protecting against the common cold.
“Even when we get to being in the club all the time,” Matt Smith says, “we want to normalize awareness that it is our privilege to be able to do these things. It’s about an awareness and a caring for people around you, and we want to make that as easy as possible for everyone. Safety is a part of taking care of each other. Taking care of each other is a part of taking care of each other, too.”