Austin music venues train staff to provide safer nightlife in new initiative

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several Red River Cultural District music venues are hosting the Safer Venues Fest Saturday night to recognize their commitment to a new training initiative to provide a safer nightlife.

The Sims Foundation, a group that helps musicians connect with mental health resources, developed the training with other nonprofits. They address three areas: mental health issues, substance abuse and sexual assault and harassment.

“We’re not really thinking that we want them to be the mental health police,” said Patsy Dolan Bouressa, interim executive director of the Sims Foundation. “It was really invented just to kind of offer support knowing that they do run into circumstances that maybe look a little off and they don’t know how to respond.”

Six venues who have gone through one or more training modules or have scheduled them participated in Saturday’s event, including Mohawk, Empire Control Room and Garage, Cheer Up Charlies, Barracuda, Swan Dive and Scratchouse.

Matt Robertson manages Scratchouse and was setting up Saturday evening for the night’s DJ shows.

“Between the people that are here at venues and the people that use the services at ARCH (the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless), we just want to try and raise some money to create a safe culture in the area,” Robertson said.

The festival also served as a fundraiser for the Sims Foundation. The group partners with nonprofits like Front Steps (which manages the ARCH) and Home Street Music, plus public agencies like the Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team, to provide the three training components.

Robertson said it’s necessary because he’s heard from women about being groped.

“And there are times where I’ve even had someone say they didn’t want to bother staff by asking that,” he said.

That’s what the training aims to combat. Dolan Bouressa wants staff members to be on the front lines, “not so that they can intervene and throw people out, but really, what can you do subtly to let the person know who maybe looks like they’re in trouble, that you’re there and that you’re a resource for them.”

The foundation will certify venues that complete all three training components. Venues have slowly started signing on over the past year, with some completing some of the training already.

Dolan Bouressa sits in on the sessions and said they’ve been “eye-opening,” both for her and for the staff members. “Going to hear live music my whole life, I never really gave much thought to what the staff have to deal with.”

Robertson said his venue would be going through the first round of training in the next week or two, and he hopes it opens more doors to helping people who may be in trouble.

“Having training so that we can watch out for any warning signs and then swiftly and appropriately deal with any situation, I think, is really important,” he said.

The Sims Foundation hopes to expand the training and certification to any venue throughout the city. “And then long-term,” Dolan Bouressa said, “it would be really cool if we had even more sections of town doing the festival with us next year.”

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