While Greater Boston still has far more private plutocratic social clubs than it does open and inclusive venues, there seem to be more attempts to break formats and explore intersectional interests and genres. At the forefront of the hopeful practice is photographer-writer-musician Anna Rae, who, outside of playing with her band Hemway, organizes All Together Now, an ongoing “multi-sensory experiment” designed to “create stronger connections between artists and audiences across genres” and “make space for marginalized artists.”
The ninth, 10th, and 11th installments of ATN are slated for next week, October, and November, respectively, with the September leg bringing performance artist Catherine Siller, Boston hip-hop soloist Kay Wattz, multimedia artist Jane Park, photographer Braden Nesin, and Rex Mac, an Asian American musician, journalist, and organizer. Now three years in, we asked Rae, the ATN artistic director, about what she’s learned since launching the series in 2016 “as an experiment” that she paid for out of pocket.
What’s your personal backstory that brought you to organize these events?
I’ve been in Boston for about 10 years, and I spent the first five years just trying to orient and figure out what was going on. About five years in, I had been in the rock scene. … It was all very straight white male, and it was all getting a bit boring, same bands and rituals, you know what to expect. I was also starting to take in how racially segregated Boston is and just kind of putting together that all of these subcultures were siloed by genres. So if I wanted to create any sort of space where people of different identities can co-exist and co-create, that place needs to be multigenre. You’re not going to get anywhere by telling black hip-hop artists that they have to write folk songs.
What kind of crew must one put together to make something like this successful?
I have people that I have been talking about these issues with for a long time. There’s a core group of female musicians I am close to who I’d commiserate with about how there’s only ever one woman on stage. I would have this group over here and another over there, and it just kind of occurred to me as an idea, so I just decided to book some shows and see what the reaction was, see if people were into it or not.
Now, there’s a Korean-American performer named [Jane Park aka Poor Eliza] who was on one of the first shows, and she has been helping me with it since then and been someone who I can go to and say things like, “I feel that I am colonizing in the context of this organizing.” Officially she does marketing—she does that work, and has been doing it for us for a few years. But our relationship is much deeper, and she even developed her own variety series, Asian Glow [Ed. note: Be sure to read our dispatch from the latest Asian Glow in this week’s issue]. We collaborate very closely. She’s the main advisor.
What are some things you definitely did wrong at the beginning, and how did you attempt to correct them?
There are a couple of things that I changed that were less about [concerns regarding] colonizing other people [and more because] things just weren’t working. It was a very ambitious idea and was financially risky—I lost a ton of money [in 2016, the first year]. I made some adjustments over time. [ATN is now supported in part by the Boston Foundation through a Live Arts Boston 2019 grant.]
What’s the perfect space for this kind of event?
Smaller, intimate rooms, like 125 [capacity] or less. A big factor is that the staff of the venue, or whoever’s booking at that venue, is open to a lot of weirdness. These shows have a lot of experimental shit; I sometimes bring in people with equipment that even I don’t know how to use, so the [staff] has to be willing to help figure things out and not be bent out of shape if it’s not a perfect technical sound. And basic shit, like they can’t be racist. The first couple of years was a lot of conversations about trying to get hip-hop into venues, and there were a lot of venues that were flat-out no, while there were others that were at least open to sitting and talking about it. There has to at least be that openness to having hip-hop and other predominantly black genres—that’s a must-have.
How about the crowd? Does that kind of take care of itself with this kind of event that is clearly coming from an open and inclusive place? Or is there some kind of preemptive measure that you recommend? Anything to look out for so that the night runs smoothly?
Everything that I publish—the ticket page, the Facebook page—everything starts with saying that this is about making space for marginalized artists. It’s clear from the beginning, from the first contact that people have, what it’s about. I also get up at the beginning and say some words about it. There’s a pretty steady core following too, and once you have enough people in the room who get it, they kind of set the tone for others around them. And I think just by virtue of putting that many people with that many identities on stage together—they all have their own people who follow them, so what you get are a bunch of audience members who support people with different identities, or who are challenging themselves around identity. That’s just what comes into the room. People have sometimes reacted a little bit weirdly to the more extreme experimental art
What’s the selection process? How did you put together these next few productions and what can we expect?
Now that I’ve been doing it for a handful of years, I have performers who have done it before and who I know are exceptional. That’s like 50%, and for the other 50% I like to focus on emerging artists or people who are just about to break, if you will. I go out to a lot of shows, and since I’m from the rock scene, I try to spend time at other kinds of events, like hip-hop, or anything else. It’s mostly based on my own response to the work they’re making and their work in the community. I’m not out here for people who are selfish. If you show a sign that you care about other people, and your art is good, then you move up a notch.
It’s a really good opportunity for artists to connect with creatives who are doing another kind of work. Artists will meet at these shows and then book each other for other stuff. It’s a huge opportunity to expand what you’re doing in the scene.
ALL TOGETHER NOW. SAT 9.7 AT 6:30PM. AT THE LILYPAD, CAMBRIDGE. MORE INFO AND TICKETS AT ALLTOGETHERBOS.COM.