The first place we head to socialise and feel like we belong in good times and bad is our local – the hub of community gathering. The second is a much more personal place in-between the lines of the music we love so much, which also luckily finds its home within our venues.
Australians are a pretty diverse bunch, with one in four of us being born overseas and one in two of us having at least one multi-cultural parent. This makes us a melting pot of different ethnicities, physical abilities, social groups, cultures, genders, languages, disabilities, and socio-economic backgrounds, all trying to find a way to co-exist and feel like we belong.
Besides the economic benefits such as patronage and business that diversity will bring to your venues, there’s so much rich culture and heritage that your venue could add to the community, becoming a true stomping ground for meaningful interactions and connection beyond drinking culture and entertainment.
With all the highs and lows that the world is facing right now, combined with the fact that we’ve all been fighting a global pandemic that has spared no one, customers are seeking a more meaningful experience. And since helping others can only help you in return, here are 12 ways that your venue can set the tone for a more inclusive experience for everyone.
1. Check your lineup
The most obvious place to start is to check the diversity of your lineup. Besides the fact that there is still a gender disparity between the number of women vs. men on the gig lineup as well as the forever-looming gender pay gap, this could mean digging deeper to find new musical and cultural inspirations.
If you’re struggling, get some expert help from a cultural music-booker to diversify your roster with community-based artists, or put a call out to local groups and youth organisations. And of course, there’s always the local legends on Muso’s online booking platform.
2. Ladies’ night: The 2023 Edition
Ladies’ night used to be the worst, most successful cliche to hit the bar roster. Cheap drinks to get the girls while inadvertently using them as bait to hook in the guys. But not these days, Satan!
Fast forward to modern times, and they can be a symbol of solidarity and acknowledgement that encourages the best of your local girl gang and gets them to assemble at your venue. All-female lineups, policy-change signatures, and #SafetyRespectEquity pics for social media campaigns. Or you could collaborate with local women’s shelters and have the girls/gang drop off blankets and other items that may be in demand in the area.
Also, planning a safe night out for girls with an ongoing theme of awareness could be exactly what the women of your community want and need to see in a venue. One in two Australian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, and a lot of the violence towards women starts when they are out at our bars and clubs and continues on their journey home.
Put together pamphlets, get creative with drink-cup covers to raise awareness of drink-spiking, and get the guys involved too.
3. Non-alcoholic choices
“Alcohol-free” and “fully-licensed bar” may not be two things that go together in a sentence or a regular night out. But times have changed thanks to a global pandemic, and it’s becoming knowledge that alcohol consumption has been decreasing over the years, as “mindful drinking” culture cements its place in a more conscious lifestyle for Australians.
The first non-alcoholic bar opened in Australia last year, getting ahead of the wave, and the sober young generation coming up has increased from 8% to 22% in the past decade. It might be time to diversify your offering and arrange activities that take the spotlight off consumption culture, like all-ages gigs, earlier set times, and non-alcoholic drink specials.
4. Supporting a cause
Just like significant landmarks and venues lit up around the world in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, your venue can “light up” for causes close to the heart of the community. By hosting music, colours, awareness, drinks, and meals associated with certain countries, unify the community’s solidarity and drive proceeds into a charity or organisation.
A prime example is banding together to rally for the Australian flood relief efforts. Venues are in an insider position where they keep direct contact with distributors and vendors from all over our nation. Team up and start a fundraiser to raise money for a venue in need in an affected region, support the farmers or isolated local communities in general.
Make a directory of organisations they can donate to, or if you need inspiration, check out the link on @RevivetheNorthernRivers Instagram page, showing you where you can “donate elsewhere”.
5. Music with a message
Hiring bands to set the vibe is pretty standard practice, but why not be the venue that makes a meaningful contribution to the world narrative?
We all need an outlet to process our feelings about everything that is going on in the world today, and who better to guide us through it than hearing our favourite musos express it through song?
Host a night for bands to freely express their songs about the world, tell stories about their cultures and lived experiences, and address events like global warming, war, or equal rights.
Have paper and pens available so the audience can write down their stories, share them on your socials gig-highlights, or compile them to send out in the next venue newsletter.
6. Music from other languages and cultures
If there’s one thing we all have in common right now, it’s that we are all dealing with something, as different as all our struggles may be.
But you could give a whole new meaning to “focussing on our differences” by celebrating them and offering your locals some insight into the culture and heritage of some of their neighbours.
7. Opportunities for networking
You’ve been clued into pubs becoming the new co-working space, and now it’s time to elevate your venue space further by creating a cultural hub for networking, facilitating the meetups of like-minded groups in your community – you are the club!
A Lot of the time, people want to join in discussions but find the idea of attending a private group a bit confronting. Set in the safety of their chill zone, with their local vouching for the groups attending, it allows a relaxed, familiar atmosphere for trying something new and meeting the rest of the community.
8. Disability-friendly spaces
Over 4 million Australians live with a disability of some kind. Our nation severely lacks measures for the fans who face difficulties with health to attend a gig safely. Take a leaf out of Ability-Festival’s book, the first(and only) Australian festival dedicated to full-inclusivity, and make your venue the safe space for everyone to get down to the music without the inconveniences and lack of access to bathrooms, standing room, and impossible bar lines!
There are even grants to help venues with disability access.
Ensure your security guards and staff receive training to recognise and help people with specific needs. Many who live with disabilities deal with more prejudice while trying to participate, often being turned away after being mistaken for being drunk or incoherent, so they shy away.
Try holding events where aspects like lighting, allocated areas with less crowding, and a spatially-conscious audience are considerations that alleviate some of the setbacks for patrons who want to attend live music. Then let local groups and the entire world know that you’re open for business for everyone!
9. Inclusive language, signage, and appropriate symbolism
The most obvious place to start is your gender-specific bathroom signs, then work your way up to sign language cues, braille, and the language your staff addresses your patrons. Use simple language in your messaging and an easy to navigate point of contact to make customers feel comfortable when trying to reach you when they
Acknowledge the land that your venue stands on, cultural misappropriation, other symbols that may be offensive to different cultures, and respect the cultural practices of the patrons who may attend your venues, such as profanity in music or dietary and seating requirements.
Making important information clear by using big lettering, avoiding neon signs, making sure they are eye-level, that chairs and couches are comfortable, and that bathrooms are accessible are just the tip of the iceberg.
10. Update your inclusivity plan
What does inclusivity mean to you and your customers? We use Google analytics tools to investigate foot traffic and habits of our customers so we can reach them better with our promo, but what are their needs outside of food and good music?
One thing our venues killed it at was implementing COVID-safe plans for social-distancing measures, which certainly may have eased the once overwhelming idea of changing our mode of operations.
Now that we’ve shaken up our service, there is room to improve disability access for shows, talking the language, and having tough conversations with our patrons about tolerance and the kind of behaviour and inclusion we expect in our venues.
Contact services that can help with your plan:
Diversity Council of Australia
Australian Government’s Department of Health
11. Promote your events at new community hubs
The community noticeboard is cool again, and so is community radio. Facebook and Instagram may help you communicate with all your usual suspects, but a big part of reaching a group is through their interests, as it shows that you understand what they like.
Check out your online social atlas in your area and get to know which societies, nationalities, and other demographics are around your venue, then jump on board with organisers to collaborate.
12. Keep a calendar of important community dates
Fairly self-explanatory and laden with ideas that you can implement into your menu and venue offerings, such as the music roster or specialty foods. We all celebrate our customs in private, but it hits different and says a lot about your world perspective when you take the time to acknowledge other cultures and wish someone a happy New Year.