In 2017, immediately before the now-infamous allegations against disgraced Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein came out, Michelle Pesce, a nightlife maven and DJ who performs under the name DJ PESCE, was having a casual lunch with two other DJ friends and music industry vets, Daisy O'Dell and Ana Calderon. Eventually, the conversation began to revolve around one question: "Why are all clubs and bars in L.A. owned by men?”
“We talked about our experiences, and how soul-crushing some of [them] are," Pesce, who spun tracks at Oscars, Golden Globes, and GRAMMYs parties earlier this year, tells the Recording Academy. "Some of these happenings in bars and clubs. And how much ego is involved… a lot of groups, not only women, but a lot of groups don't feel safe and in a lot of nightlife venues.”
Together, along with producer and marketing pro Kate Mazzuca, the group founded the Los Angeles-based consulting agency woman., which organizes curated industry events, brand collaborations, women’s workshops, safe space activations, philanthropic partnerships, and more, with the mission of creating “both emotional and physical spaces that are both engaging and inclusive to everyone, regardless of gender, background, and identity."
"Coming from the entertainment industry, we understood many of the problems, but not necessarily the solutions," explains O'Dell. "I immediately reached out to Eleuthera Lisch because I knew her expertise and ability to conceptualize highly specialized protocols and structure into a functional activation was imperative for us to be able to do this work with real impact. Her decades of experience in street safety and social justice and, really, just her sheer brilliance at adapting that work for this specialized environment, uniquely qualified her as we joined forces and named her Executive Director of one of woman.'s first major initiatives."
Now, as 2019 music festival season commences—most immediately at Coachella—the team behind woman. are working to get the word out about soteria.—a comprehensive safe-space initiative that is strategically designed for large-scale cultural gatherings and festivals—and "every one," a joint safe-space effort with Goldenvoice Productions that seeks to ensure all festival goers feel safe and comfortable while they attend.
Run by Goldenvoice Director of Equity and Inclusion Veline Mojarro, with additional oversight from Goldenvoice's Morgan Donly and Coachella and Stagecoach "every one" production manager Lauren Montgomery, "every one" offers safety ambassadors throughout the grounds, trained counselors on-site, all-gender restrooms, ADA accessibility, and a zero tolerance policy on assault and harassment.
Coachella attendees will have 24-hour access to mental health professionals specializing in sexual assault and harassment. "Every one" will also resurface later this month at Stagecoach Festival in Indio from April 26-28.
"There is so much power in woman.'s platform—as industry DJs, producers and pop culture curators—to amplify this critical shift," Mojarro said in a statement. "Their passion, commitment and willingness to co-create this initiative for 'every Oone' allows us to highlight and uplift the contributions of a fierce new team developing innovative practices in festival safety."
Speaking specifically to their original soteria. program, which is run in tandem with Executive Director Eleuthera Lisch, Pesce says, "Our initial goal was to open a bar/events space and run it in a more evolved fashion. Of course we want inspired DJs and musicians and to fill it with guests we trust. A level of privacy and safety to be truly free. It's also the small things: having female security, front door personnel that make sure you're getting into the correct Uber, sustainability. Drug-testing strips that you can test your cocktails if you want to. Gender-neutral bathrooms. Just a safer and more inclusive approach to nightlife and not a lot of attitude-at-the-door kind of stuff."
Named for the Greek goddess of safety, salvation, and preservation from harm, soteria. formally began in 2018 at the FORM Festival in Arizona and at Summit, L.A., and provided festivalgoers with first-responder "Safety Ambassadors," crisis de-escalation professionals, licensed healthcare professionals.
"There’s 24 hour access to clinicians and to self care care: coloring books, yoga mats, noise cancelling headphones and aroma therapy,” says Pesce, describing what a festival goer can expect to find in a typical soteria. space. "Sometimes it's as simple as needing safe passage. We were in downtown L.A. [for Summit]. Some people weren't comfortable leaving one of the parties at three in the morning and walking to their hotel." Also on site at Coachella will be the clinical coordinator of "every one," Dr. Paula Helu-Brown, who has worked extensively in relationship and sexual violence prevention at USC.
"I've being going to music festivals and concerts since I was a teenager, and eventually I moved to L.A. and started working at record labels, touring with artists and then touring myself as a DJ," says Calderon. "All along those two-plus decades of experiencing music festivals around the world, first as a fan then a music label boss and eventually as an artist, I felt a personal need for a space like this and would have been so much more comfortable going to festivals alone knowing these services existed."
So, what's next for soteria.? Pesce and the team plan to bring their safe space back to FORM Festival next month. Beyond that, they're doubling down on building awareness that a space like theirs—even if it isn't theirs—must exist in the music, nightlife and festival industries.
"We want to truly shift culture within the festival space," elaborates Pesce. "With an evolved approach to safety, mental health, sustainability and inclusion. Part of the soteria. initiative is about inclusion of all races, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability and identity."
The two goals for this," she continues, "are to let people know that they are not alone and that the support is available and to push other festivals to step up. We just want all attendees to know that this matters. Your safety, your peace of mind. It all matters."
So, listen up, Coachella attendees: To access "every one" spaces and services, look on your festival maps and keep an eye out for on-site locations, ask at the info kiosks or locate an "every one" ambassador, who will be outfitted in teal team T-shirts with the "every one" logo.