In 2017, Michael Fichman, aka DJ Michael the Lion (formerly DJ Apt One), set out to champion Philly’s nightlife through 24HrPHL, a community engagement campaign aimed to foster change in how lawmakers and nightlifers deal with regulatory, economic and social issues.
The campaign was initially inspired the emergence of “Night Mayors” in cities like New York, Amsterdam, London, Paris and Berlin and made possible by the Knight Foundation’s Emerging City Champions Fellowship.
In a brief chat, Fichman updated us on where 24HrPHL stands today, emphasizing that the organization has no political ambitions, but instead is focused on community building, education and inclusion.
Indie-Life Mag (ILM): The last time we spoke you were in the explorative stages of 24HrPHL. How has the campaign evolved since?
Michael Fichman (MF): Philadelphia has a history of dysfunction in how nightlife, arts and culture are treated as an industry and a community. There have been persistent issues affecting the nightlife community, ranging from city laws to code enforcement; issues that cause venues to be consistently in danger of closing or people leaving the city to pursue better creative opportunities elsewhere. These issues don’t really register much with the city or with the public-at-large, even though Philadelphia is widely considered a place that generates culture.
Using the fellowship, I began conducting interviews with community nightlife stakeholders to in Philadelphia to explore these issues. I also started a Facebook group that has since grown to about 400 members. We have used the group for discussions about issues the nightlife community deals with, and this, ultimately, has lead to meetings and panel discussions.
For one panel, we invited Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the Berlin Club Commission. He presented the commission’s model, which is partly an activist organization, partly a trade organization, but in essence a collective of working groups for different projects. And that’s what we modeled 24HrPHL after.
Through these conversations, we identified the issues that mattered most to us and figured out ways to apply ourselves to fix them. We decided that we were interested in not political advocacy per se, but in community engagement and providing informational resources. Now, there’s a core group of 24HrPHL members that have their specific kinds of projects they work on.
ILM: Sounds like you used that fellowship to find your niche in this new space. What are some of the projects, and who is behind them?
MF: Projects that I’ve been working on include mostly things that have to do with city planning, urban policy, transportation and doing survey research to figure out what issues are important to Philadelphians.
Right now, I am working with Lily Goodspeed, Sean Agnew and PennPraxis of UPenn’s Weitzman School of Design on finalizing and publishing our “Venue Playbook,” a guide to all of the steps one needs to take in order to open a venue with the highest level of assembly licensure in Philadelphia, and also a bunch of different alternatives. These resources are hard to find on the city’s websites and a lot of people come to ask us about how to open a venue. The guide should be completed in the next couple of months.
Then we have a subgroup, spearheaded by Cristina Caudill, Kerri Hughes and L’Oreal McCollum that has worked with the city’s rape crisis center and professional sexual health educators on developing sexual assault, harassment identification and bystander intervention trainings for nightlife venues. Another subgroup, led by Michael Lasday and Allison Herens, is working with a team of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health on drug harm reduction which includes narcan trainings for venue staff. The group also provides venue staff with supplies, everything from narcan kits to condoms, to keep people safe. And then, there is a group dedicated to largely developing safer and more inclusive spaces by providing educational signage, gender neutral bathrooms to security training.
ILM: So in true DIY fashion, 24HrPHL members have been focusing more on what they can do from within the group than relying on the city and its elected officials to fix the issues that plague the nightlife community?
MF: Right. There are things that are implicitly political about the issues that we’re involved in, but we are not banging the drum for specific policies the way that a lobbying group would. Still, one thing that’s very important to us is building good relationships with elected officials and non-elected officials of the various city departments. A lot of the hard work to be done in making a better city has to do with access to relevant policy makers and being able to translate what it is that’s important to us about music, community and the city at night.
ILM: What are some of your campaigns long-term goals?
MF: A goal — and challenge — is ongoing community engagement. It would be great to continue to raise awareness and expand the realm of possibilities in terms of what people think that Philadelphia can be. There’s a lot of opportunity for improving the characteristics of creative spaces to be either, safer, more accommodating or more inclusive. I don’t think everybody feels like they can go anywhere in Philadelphia and feel like that place is for them. Be it because of a lack of wheelchair access, safe transportation from one place or another, or because they don’t feel like their identity or community is being respected or affirmed by the establishment and its people.
These issues are ongoing, as is the need for a culture shift for the city and the public to not just treat the nightlife community as a kind of nuisance or an economic afterthought. It will require more education and discussions to improve the communication between the city, the state of Pennsylvania and the nightlife arts and culture stakeholders.