La Dispute Talks Nonprofit Work in Music


December, 2019
AUTHOR: Half Access
Category: Interviews

Interview by Luciano Ferrara and Cassie Wilson

Our whole mission at Half Access is about informing people. We want accessibility and awareness across the country (read: whole world), and we understand that it starts at the individual level. Any charitable cause begins when someone starts informing others of injustices or needs, and all those individuals come together to make a positive change. This is the same mentality of La Dispute, a band known for their charitable work and dedication to equal rights and accessibility for everyone. Half Access has had the pleasure of working with the band throughout 2019, so we asked them a few questions about their beginnings in supporting nonprofits and their advice on how to contribute, especially within the music scene.

La Dispute by Pooneh Ghana

How did you originally get involved in charity work? Was it a collective effort as a band, or did one person in particular bring attention to it in the beginning?

To be honest, I don’t recall the initial impulse. Since very early on we’ve tried to utilize whatever platform we had to elevate issues that mattered to us and to our community, the catalyst being I believe just belonging to the subculture that we did and still do. Growing up, music wasn’t just entertainment, it was a lifestyle. We found a means to grow through the music we loved and the scene that allowed us to thrive while making our own. It was a home and a community and I think we all learned through it to give back to the people that gave to us in whatever way we could. It was sort of second nature for all of us.

What motivates you to keep up that work on top of playing music?

The longer we’ve been a band the larger the platform we have for reaching people has become, so there’s a slight sense of obligation to use it, but I think the bigger thing is the people we’ve met at our shows over the years. When you hear directly from people who come to see you that they appreciated the non-entertainment aspects of the band/audience exchange, it makes you cherish your ability to contribute, to help foster a healthy environment for people, especially for people who are actively robbed of environments that allow them to be who they are and to thrive. Letting people know through your actions as well as your words really cements the idea that you’re welcoming of people and interested in helping. And, going back to the first question, the bands that made me want to make life better for me and for my friends genuinely changed my perception of what music can be and the community it can build, so if we can be that for a younger person or people than that’s a huge victory. And it doesn’t require much on our part.

Is it easy to incorporate nonprofit initiatives into what you do? For example, gathering accessibility info for our database and having nonprofits out to table shows.

Something like gathering accessibility information is fairly easy to do, although I should mention that our manager Kirk has really spearheaded that for us and puts a lot of work into it. It’s one of those things where if everyone in a community communicates effectively than we can really tangibly improve the experience for a whole demographic of people who are interested but boxed out. I think ideas like that can really blossom within the community of music. But it doesn’t happen without somebody to get the ball rolling, so thank you for that. 

It’s a bit harder when causes aren’t specifically related to the music industry, which is I think due to a few different reasons. I think most non-profits are spread pretty thin, so getting people involved in the context of live music might not be the top of the priority list, and the system probably prioritizes more lucrative forms of outreach. But people by and large do try to come out when we reach out to different places. It’s just hard.

What do you think artists with smaller fan interactions or funding can do to assist charities, besides playing at fundraiser events? How can those bands best use their platform when it comes to charity involvement, based on your experience?

That’s a hard question. I think, for us, a big way that we could channel our time and effort into productively contributing to charity work early on in particular was to focus locally. Oftentimes, smaller local charities are doing the absolute most community good, and also need the most help, and are more willing to be hands on in helping. I’d also suggest working with charities that specifically benefit groups of marginalized people. In certain work, the monetary benefit you contribute might not outweigh the intangible benefit of having added to public discussion, in which case saying out loud and on the internet that you support a charity that supports a particular group of people is saying to that group of people that you see them and welcome them. Worth noting that I say this as a white, cishet, non-disabled person. But I think the biggest thing we can do sometimes in positions of limited power is to make people feel accepted and welcomed.

You’re known for actively involving organizations at your shows. Have you seen positive effects from showgoers connecting with charities at your shows? Do you feel that shows are a good place for that?

Yes! Absolutely. We’ve been pretty floored by what we’ve heard from volunteers who’ve made it to our shows to flyer, raise money, and field more volunteers for various organizations at our shows. They have almost always been blown away by the amount of people who engage or take information. I really think that a large portion of people in the music world, particularly the non-mainstream music world, want to help, but it can be difficult to know how, and inviting people out to table gives them a really easy point of access.

When and how did you start noticing inaccessibility at venues?

It’s embarrassing that accessibility didn’t occur earlier to us, and it wasn’t until we started communicating with you that we really turned a consistent critical eye toward live music writ large in regards to venue accessibility. Which is not to say we hadn’t noticed or worked with venues and people for access in the past, we had, but there’s a way of treating each situation as isolated and not considering how widespread inaccessibility really is at shows. But, thankfully, having had the conversation now, and being mindful of how exclusive live music can be to people with disabilities, it’s impossible to not notice and I think we can already see some tangible change. I would also like to shoutout this dude from our hometown named Ty who is a constant presence in live music in West Michigan and is doing an incredible job of pushing accessibility in music.

Why does accessibility matter to you?

Music gave all of us a community. It made our lives tangibly better, helped us through dark times, gave us a means to express and to communicate and to build a genuinely better world for our friends and families. The world can be hostile, and more so to some than others, but I truly believe that art and the community it creates can be a refuge for everyone. But it has to be everyone. We can’t draw arbitrary lines or we’re contradicting the spirit of the enterprise. We don’t often enough talk about physical barriers but we need to for this to be what it can and should be.

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