2020 has served us all a harsh reminder that “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Late-night hangs with friends are cut short…big celebrations are canceled or reimagined in a new way fitting of a dystopian novel…things that were once a lighthouse amidst the storm of life have gone dim. I mean, things weren’t perfect before COVID, but at least we had those small sanctuaries of respite. Now, as society begins to rebuild itself to a “new normal,” many will be left struggling to keep their heads above water. And unfortunately, many of those will be members who have brought us that joy and happiness that we took for granted—from artists and musicians to venue workers and small business owners, everyone in the music and entertainment industry has inevitably been affected. To make matters worse, the disparity of who will be affected is disheartening with minority-owned businesses and BIPOC & LGBTQIA spaces being most at risk at closing due to financial struggles.
And this is where we come in. A collective of New York’s finest–ranging from community organizers to music professionals–have come together under the organization, NYC Nightlife United, to support the community that has given them so much life and joy, and they are asking for our help. The organization has launched a fundraiser via Kickstarter to raise $20,000 for NYC’s nightlife–specifically the cultural hubs that have fostered a kinship of community and creativity in BIPOC and LGBTQIA spaces. Kickstarter works off a “pledge” system where you can pledge a specific amount of money and get a reward in return. Rewards include specially curated NNU merchandise, vinyl bundles, and some amazing works by Ebru Yildiz, including exclusive zine prints from For The Record and her photography book documenting the days leading up to the closing of Brooklyn music venue staple, Death by Audio.
You know…there’s one more thing 2020 has taught us—the importance of community. I think it goes without saying that we all have a strong love and appreciation for the arts and for the feelings of camaraderie and pure bliss that come along with it. While NYC is miles and miles away from Virginia, I’d like to think of them as part of our community…and us a part of theirs.
To learn a little more about the initiative, check out the Q+A I did below with NNU member, Morgan Schaffner, and don’t forget to view the Kickstarter here!
Did NYC Nightlife United form as a response to COVID-19 and the closures that came along with it? If so, do you see the organization branching off into other avenues of action in the future?
Yes! We formed back in March as an emergency relief fund to save NYC’s nightlife cultural spaces and those in the nightlife ecosystem. Since initially forming NYC Nightlife United, we’ve refocused our efforts on prioritizing aid for the most vulnerable, specifically BIPOC-owned and led businesses who create safe spaces for the BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities.
Why choose Kickstarter as your platform for funding?
We decided to roll with Kickstarter as a fundraising platform because we wanted to give something back (ie: rewards) to the individuals who wanted to donate to our cause. With Kickstarter, we found it incredibly easy to tell our story and display a lot of the awesome rewards!
In what ways are you all aiming for this fundraiser to tangibly provide?
Our Kickstarter profits will be going towards providing venues and individuals in the NYC nightlife ecosystem with emergency relief grants.
How does the organization plan on distributing the donations? Is there a process?
The first round of applications for the grants just closed on 9/23, but the money from this Kickstarter will be going towards the second round of emergency grants. Once the applications open for the second round of grants, we hope to help even more folks in the community!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about BIPOC and LGBTQIA cultural spaces, such as music venues and nightlife hubs? Music and entertainment industry?
If you take anything from these words, please know that nightlife IS culture. And specifically, throughout much of popular American, music and culture has always been appropriated from BIPOC and LGBTQIA cultural spaces. You see it again and again from American music’s black roots–where white artists became the faces (and highest earners) of genres with overlooked, underpaid black originators.
You also see it in the co-opting of “Voguing” culture from the young, brown, queer youth of NYC’s ballroom scene. Ultimately, we need to work hard to protect our cultural spaces where folks gather–the music venues…the nightlife hubs–because without them, we don’t have culture. And without culture, what do we have?
Will the NYC Nightlife United Sessions livestream series continue after the fundraiser deadline?
Yes! Absolutely. We’re already planning Volume 2 of the next NYC Nightlife United Sessions livestream series. 🙂
Any more plans for another pledge reward to be added amongst the great options you all have already provided?
Yes! We are adding more pledge rewards every day between now and the end of the campaign (which is Oct. 17 @ 9AM EST).
Have you all found much support outside of New York? (Sidenote: We are based in Norfolk, VA)
We’ve surprisingly found a lot of support outside of the NYC area! I think it’s humbling and honestly awesome that our cause relates and speaks to so many folks, especially since so many artists have had their first “break through” moment in their careers while in NYC.
The current pandemic has illuminated a significant amount of flaws within our society at every level possible. What, if any, flaws have become glaringly apparent during this new environment within the music and entertainment industry?
There’s so many flaws, especially in NYC, that have been incredibly obvious. Flaws that come to mind include the lack of rent protections for commercial lease holders, the lack of federal funding and support for small businesses outside of the PPP loan, as well as venue and live entertainment businesses’ inability to thrive at a reduced capacity.
Concert venues were the first businesses to close due to COVID-19 and will be among the last to return–while there’s some talk of venues re-opening with social distancing and 25% capacity, that’s just really not a sustainable business model. While it hasn’t been easy, I do also believe that the Paycheck Protection Program and rent moratoriums in NYC are the only reason more venues haven’t closed permanently (yet).
In what ways do you think NYC Nightlife United will provide education, or spur conversation, on these flaws? Is education of such topics something you all are interested into exploring more?
Yes! I hope with the work we’ve done, we can continue to educate folks on the issues that those in NYC nightlife ecosystem face, along with providing secure funding for those who are truly in need.
What is one thing you all hope people will take away from this?
I hope that folks will recognize, that while organizations like NIVA + NYIVA are doing amazing work actively lobbying local and federal governments, our aim is to provide direct IMMEDIATE emergency relief for folks in the NYC nightlife ecosystem. We established our Kickstarter campaign as a way to provide rewards and something in return for all the folks who are interested in helping the community ASAP. ❤️
We wish Morgan and the rest of NYC Nightlife United the best of luck and success in their mission to providing BIPOC and LGBTQIA spaces the help they need during this time! The fundraiser only has 4 MORE DAYS before the deadline on Oct. 17th @9AM EST, and they are just under $2,000 shy of their goal to $20K. For more information on the cause, and to donate, click here!