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Ten days before doors open on the 2018 Real Love Summer Fest, a group of festival organizers and volunteers gather in a small classroom downtown to do their Red Tent training.

The Red Tent provides education and creates awareness about sexual consent, respect and anti-oppression to create a safer space for women, trans and two-spirit people, and in this three-hour training session led by Red Tent co-founder Sarah Martens, the volunteers learn about safer spaces, anti-oppression strategies, listening and responding techniques, as well as how to break down their own biases to understand that creating a safer space can only happen by first looking inward to create safer people.

This is the second year Real Love Summer Fest volunteers have done Red Tent training prior to the event and the first year an actual Red Tent will be set up on their festival site at the Ignite Retreat near Teulon. However, the founders of Real Love have had a formal safer-spaces policy implemented for several years that applies to all of the shows the independent concert-promotion company books year-round.

"I think when we first started we were much more green and didn’t really know that much, to be honest, and thought running a music festival was just having a stage in a field and having a bunch of bands, but I think throughout our work in the music community throughout the year and just from experience and going to other festivals and events it became clear we needed something like this," says Real Love co-founder Gil Carroll.

"Gil and I go on tour a lot with our band (Living Hour), and every city we go to and all the venues we play in other cities have safer-spaces policies that we’ve learned from. So I think it kind of became mandatory in our heads that we needed to have this," adds Adam Soloway, another co-founder of Real Love.

"People are silenced when they don’t have somewhere specific to go or someone to talk to, and we’re aware of that. So we think putting it in writing... and also just so people feel when they are attending a Real Love event, they’re supporting a community that actually cares about who is there and we want to encourage people to be at our events and for it to be as accessible and safe as possible," says Carroll.

The Real Love Summer Fest begins Friday, July 27 at the Ignite Retreat near Teulon. (Supplied photos)

The Real Love Summer Fest begins Friday, July 27 at the Ignite Retreat near Teulon. (Supplied photos)

At Real Love Summer Fest, the physical Red Tent will be available during set hours and will have the trained volunteers available to anyone who needs to speak with them.

After hours, St. John’s Ambulance will be on site to help connect attendees with organizers at any time, who will then assess the situation and make a plan of action.

Real Love isn’t the only festival that has developed a relationship with Red Tent, says Martens; they also work with the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Big Fun Fest, Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg Pride, Rainbow Trout Festival, Harvest Moon Festival, the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival and Girls Rock Camp, among others.

There are common issues that pop up at most festivals, but those located outside the city come with their own unique set of challenges, says Martens. The distance from major cities limits the resources that are available and often attendees are participating in substance use, which can potentially amplify dangerous situations.

"Festivals have different audiences and different communities and different cultures within those festivals, right? So I think the important thing is we know oppression and sexualized violence and different kinds of discrimination happen everywhere in our society, and so obviously they also happen at festivals too," Martens says.

"I think the challenge is there is a lot of people, often substance use happening and, yeah, I think there are common challenges that festivals have, like making sure the resources available are transparent, making sure everyone is aware of the safer spaces policies and what will happen if someone is being oppressive or using discrimination or violence."

The Red Tent isn’t just a crisis-response service, either; it also acts as a general community space used for education, workshops, or other self-care activities such as colouring pages or gathering supplies and resources.

Through their training with the Red Tent, Real Love Summer Fest is focusing on creating a festival where discrimination will not be tolerated.</p>

Through their training with the Red Tent, Real Love Summer Fest is focusing on creating a festival where discrimination will not be tolerated.

Requests for Red Tent training sessions and availability to set up physical tents at events has spiked during the past three years, says Martens, and the small volunteer staff is struggling to fill the need — but it’s a good problem to have.

"Definitely in the last three years the requests have increased and I think sometimes we hear people saying things like, ‘Oh it’s because society is more politically correct now because there’s more problems now.’ But that’s actually not the case, it’s just that people are more aware of it and people are taking action to prevent oppression or discrimination or violence from happening and create spaces where people can get help when it does happen, rather than it being silenced. It’s not that it didn’t happen before," she says.

"l think it’s a really positive thing, actually, that so many people are talking about these things now; it’s almost like a cultural shift, instead of violence being silenced, or oppression or discrimination being silenced, people are talking about and are being mindful of creating safer spaces and deconstructing their own power and privilege in society."

Carroll and Soloway, too, say they have noticed a general increase in mindfulness when it comes to making spaces safe and accessible for those who previously may have felt excluded or wary of attending festivals and similar events, and they encourage those who attend Real Love’s concerts and festival to send any and all feedback their way.

"We are very open-minded and we want to hear about people’s experience at the festival for how to make it better in the future and develop and grow the festival to something everyone wants to be a part of and that our community can grow around," Carroll says.

"A lot of our stuff that is in our safer spaces policy is ultimately what Real Love is about — it’s about music, but it’s more than that, it’s about a welcoming place."

If you would like to get in touch with the Red Tent, you can email them at redtentwpg@gmail.com.


Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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