Ep. 2 The Walk & Talk

In this episode, Matthew Ché Kowal, co-founder of Majestic Collaborations, discusses the origins of the Art of Mass Gatherings with podcast co-host Bertrand Evans-Taylor– an arts advocate, arts administrator, and event producer on the Majestic Collaborations team. The two explore the role of cultural traditions and festivals as platforms for social change and community preparedness. The conversation touches on topics such as self-regulation, workforce development, and the integration of arts and emergency preparedness. It emphasizes the portability of self and culture, and the value of community resilience.

This episode also investigates the role of festivals as classrooms for preparedness and the unique approach of the Four Pillars event audit. The conversation highlights the power of art in activating new ways of understanding and knowing, and the importance of empathy and mutual aid in event planning. Plus, what do the Dakota Pipeline protests have to do with our history? Dive in to find out!

This episode is brought to you by Majestic Collaborations & Performing Arts Readiness.

We’ve included the direct-from-recording automated transcript here but will be updating with a more legible version shortly!
Welcome to the Art of Mass Gatherings podcast for conversations and insights at the nexus of festivals and emergency preparedness. Since 2017, my co -hosts and I have convened symposiums around the US and Puerto Rico and met some truly inspiring thinkers and doers. This podcast transcends traditional event management, exploring how arts and emergency professionals can inform each other to develop diverse and savvy leadership, to expand what we mean by accessible,
From temporary and improvised innovations to permanent infrastructure optimizations, we can learn through the best of times to survive and thrive in the hard times. I’m Matt Kowal, co -founder of Majestic Collaborations. Our mission is to advance and enhance the power of gatherings. By organizing hundreds of events for over a million attendees, we’ve cultivated a distinctive approach that focuses on creating a lasting positive impact. We refer to this approach as the four pillars.
of safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. There’s lots of advocates dedicated to each of these topics individually, but we’ll explore them collectively with my co -hosts and other topic experts. We’re grateful for the unwavering support from Performing Arts Readiness, whose dedication to venue preparedness has been crucial for numerous organizations. Join us in this exploration and become an active part of our conversation by sharing your insights directly in the Spotify player. Thanks for being here, and now let’s get into it.
I’ve got it for you, it’s fairly natural And it’s like a Northern Lights or a tornado
The Art of Mass Gatherings podcast explores the intersection of festivals and community resilience, focusing on climate and disaster preparedness. Launched in 2017, the Art of Mass Gathering symposium turned festivals across the U .S. into classrooms for sharing knowledge across diverse fields such as arts, planning, culture, and food. The podcast features dialogues with event producers and emergency experts, emphasizing the four pillars of resilient gatherings.
safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. We’re going to delve into the role of cultural traditions and festivals as platforms for social change and community preparedness. And we are here at Inspiration Point Park joined with me the co -founder of Majestic Collaborations, Matthew Ché Kowal Welcome, Matt. Hi Bertrand, nice to be out on a walk and talk with you. Yeah.
This, I’ve never done a recording while walking, but it’s definitely, it’s definitely better than a soundproof studio. We got, we’re in Denver, so we got the mountain view. The weather’s great. The birds are chirping. How you feeling, man? I’m feeling good. It’s a good morning. Hello. We’re passing people with a beautiful black dog and we’re, it’s good to have you in Colorado and.
I’m glad to be here. Got to hang out with my daughters and… Yes. Totally. Yeah, we had some biscuits and jam. It was a great way to start the morning. Are you caffeinated or…? Oh, yes. Matt made me some espresso. I think he watered it down a little bit, but it was tasty. Didn’t have to chew it. So, Matt, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Sure. My partner, Molly, and I…
For this podcast, the story of how Majestic Collaborations came up with the art of Mass Gatherings was an exciting story, kind of personal, and was a labor of love, and I’m excited to talk about it. I was an event producer, still do some, for about 12 years. Produced festivals around the country that were volunteer…
staffed fundraisers for bicycling called Tour de Fat for New Belgium Brewing Company. And then before that did a lot of music. I’m a musician and I’ve done a lot of sound at big gatherings, mass gatherings that might be for like protests or other things like that to sort of play into the story of where this came from. Right. And there’s a specific protest, Standing Rock, where all this sort of converged, right?
Yeah, Molly and I, she thought we should go out to Standing Rock and help support that demonstration against a pipeline. And I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing to help. I think I took out some cooking stuff and things like shovels and just sort of loaded up the car and the trailer to go out and do that. And when we got there, I just sort of realized that the…
Circumstances were pretty similar to a power damaged city or a refugee camp and a music festival sort of in the same place at the same time. And a lot of collaborative leadership going on, a lot of improvised power, waste, food systems going on, and then there was pretty high stakes with militarized police.
National Guard and could see that the moment we were in was not just for fun, but it was also a lot about sharing food. There was a lot of music. There was a lot of intergenerational, intercultural exchange going on. And it kind of humbled me and made me realize that culmination of a lot of the things that I grew up.
Thinking about with music like Woody Guthrie’s Ballad of Tom Joad is about Dust Bowl refugees coming across America. My grandparents came to Colorado during the Dust Bowl and that climate change migration was not all in our past, you know, maybe even more so in our future. And there was a role for arts and music and events and preparedness to come together. So that’s kind of my bell got rung and then some other things came after that with Performing Arts Readiness that…
I think was where I realized there was a place to do more of that with other people who are like -minded. Right. And that’s so interesting to me because I feel as if from like an event producer model, we’re not often, we’re the planners. We’re not often the, okay, everyone pitching and the labor be sort of like a potluck. But like at Standing Rock, it sounds like it was more…
okay, you can do this, so you’re in charge of that, and you can do this, so you do that. And I think as an event producer, it’s kind of stressful because you don’t know exactly what the outcome’s going to be, but a lot of times it converges into something better than you could have planned. Yeah, that’s well said. And there’s other things that you’ve got to sort through with seeing stuff set up in a way that seems like…
that best like weird and at worst dangerous by other folks and you’re like, how do I have a conversation about like, why did you get into that 100 amp electric service strip electric cord and plug it into the circuit directly and then it goes through a metal framework of a giant geodesic dome and somebody could get electric. Somebody, how do I not come in like the guy who’s like, yeah. And I mean,
Especially when we think about how we can be less patronizing and more empowering. For me, the question is, how can I give you the knowledge you need to be safe while letting you do your weird thing how it is? You know what I mean? Right. It was like, yeah, the potluck. If somebody is like,
Not washing their hands while they’re cooking. Right, like the food’s good, but I can’t. And it’s yeah, and people’s hearts are like so in it in those moments too, where having that crucial conversation in a way that’s sensitive across cultures. I’ll zip ahead to like a moment at the Indigenous Peoples Day Festival in Newton, Massachusetts. What year is that? Six years later, whatever that was.
Yeah, probably 22. And there was some of the best fry bread I’d ever had. And these grandmas were making food for this festival. And they had a big vat of boiling oil over a propane burner. And there wasn’t a fire extinguisher in sight. We were there to do a safety audit at the request of the leadership there. And so, yeah.
I was like, let’s find one and put it here. Right. We don’t have to like stop everything, but the fire extinguisher is not going to ruin the vibe. Yeah. And yeah, that it’s not your, you know, a lot of these public events like that, you know, it’s it’s almost partly a protest and it’s a festival at the same time. Right. You know, or I don’t want to say protest, but it’s like a demonstration of a community.
In that case, it was pretty hot because that neighborhood and out of sight of Boston had canceled Columbus Day, did Indigenous Peoples Day, and it was getting circled by trucks of like cement companies and landscape companies like, you know, with like American flags protesting the Indigenous Peoples Day event. And so there was an underlying current of a bit of a threat of
things being spicy. Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think that’s an interesting point you bring up of like community gatherings being an act of resistance, just in the sense that often indigenous people today are invisibilized. And a lot of times we talk about indigenous people as groups from the past. And so I think in a lot of ways, just…
Showing up and celebrating your culture and celebrating who you are is an act of resistance Yeah, there’s something real missing from like a land recognition of it’s like all Past looking versus now and later, right? Right
So the other places, Art of mass Gatherings hit that edge. And what I felt like is a good place for us in contrast to like our friends with the Event Safety Alliance who do like some of the biggest event planning thinking for Taylor Swift or a giant soccer conference and also smaller, but not on this kind of edge of like the Pride Fest in Denver was the first art of mass Gatherings. And we did it with
performing arts readiness I should mention we can talk about more in a minute but they have some of the best safety plans going back 30 years because or more 60 those Pride Fests were very much a simultaneous demonstration protest celebration right threats of active harmers you know.
realities of active farmers in those worlds. And so they’ve been exchanging safety plans internationally for a long time. And the Pride Fest in Denver offered their plan as a model for other events to use. So we use that like at Five Points Jazz Festival with modifications. And it’s a great one. It’s very, one of the things I remember from that safety plan that I’ve talked about since is when you’re doing like,
security, you know, maybe using volunteers, how you might have a confrontation between people. Maybe it’s a person who’s a anti gay rights person, or maybe it’s just two friends who are drunk and having a hard time, or maybe it’s a food vendor arguing with the, I don’t know, the stuff that happens at festivals, but the one boiled down recommendation it does when you’re intervening in that is to give.
people a way out with dignity. Right. I’m like, oh yeah. Exactly. That’s really, and I have not seen that before in other safety plans. Right. Only in a place where it’s, those stakes are a little bit higher, are people thinking about that sort of trauma informed community self -regulation. Right. But I honestly think that that’s the future. Because, so I live in South Carolina and South Carolina recently passed a bill,
that doesn’t require people to have concealed carry licenses to conceal carry. And it’s sort of an environment right now where we don’t really know what that’s going to mean. Like is it, okay, well these people have always been doing this, so we’ll just make it less illegal or will it encourage more people to have more firearms in more places? And so to me,
When you think about how can I deescalate this instead of how can I ratchet this to the back so they submit, if you don’t even know who has a gun and who doesn’t, giving people a way out with dignity starts to seem like a better idea. Yeah, it’s for sure that you’re not playing poker with jelly beans. Exactly. It’s for real. And…
And in a lot of these circumstances, it has been for a long time that real. I think my mass gatherings memories as a kid were like the Martin Luther King parades in Denver had a couple of years where the parade would start at East High and then would end at the Capitol. And some white nationalists got permits to hold demonstrations. I just rolled my eyes. The world is, most of the world should be rolling its eyes.
But like, so they’re like, we’re gonna throw our rally as all of these folks like land at the Capitol. Right. And there was a couple of times where I turned into riot or, I don’t know. Confrontations. Yeah, that was confrontations. And I think some of the first times I did audio at Civic Center Park in Denver were for Columbus Day counter.
organizations that were doing their music and their own speeches there. So they were doing their version of that, you know, where they were like, all right, Denver, Columbus Day, when you get to the park, we’re going to be here saying our thing. Right. Yeah, I think about Denver Civic Park, Civic Center Park a lot and where I have had those experiences of festival meets demonstration meets.
free speech and uh… right.
And I mean, just to bring it back to place a little bit, I think it’s really cool to have this conversation as we’re walking through a park with a bunch of different families. Yeah. And like, some people might know other people in the community, but I think it’s fair to assume a lot of people are strangers. But we all sort of self -regulate so that everyone can have a good time at the park.
Yeah, Molly North, my partner, life partner, business partner. Had this book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy by, oh gosh. Elijah Anderson.
So, and everyone’s sort of self -regulating so that everyone can have a good time at the park at the same time. Yeah, his book, he’s a sociologist from New England, I believe, or Philadelphia. What can you set up as a special event creator that makes it easier for people to self -regulate from the built environment and the cues and what’s there?
He was simplifying it, I think, to like food and greenery and outdoors and children. And that when that’s around, you don’t need as much police or other sorts of hard, constraining forces. I think we would add to that music and…
as a way that people can find a self -regulated kind of tone. Co -regulation is another term that came up at somebody who was at one of the Art of mass gatherings, was a psychiatrist, and talked about, oh, what you’re talking about here, I do in couples therapy. It’s about how you do co -regulation with someone that you’re, you know, your partner, if you’re in a conflict, like how do you send the signals to your partner, like friend, friend, you know?
And then how do you regulate yourself? How do you co -regulate with the person? And then how do you sort out ways as an event producer with a larger audience, you’re creating a co -regulated environment? Which I guess is why we call it the Art of Mass Gatherings. And is it like an enduring questions here of like, how do we do such things? Right. And so I guess when we’re talking about Art of Mass Gatherings, I…
wonder how did the workforce development piece come in. Like I can see how it’s useful because like if you’re thinking about a festival worker or an emergency planner or emergency manager, the way they’re not automatically going to be thinking in this way, but how did, how did,
majestic collaborations end up there at Workforce Development. North Carolina, Katherine Swain had a good feeling about us pretty early on. I was at a Music Cities Convention or a Vocal Alliance International and we met and she said something about, have you heard of this Art of mass Gatherings book that’s coming out? I said, there’s a book? Actually, I know those guys. That’s Molly and…
And I’m working on that and she’s like, well I do North Carolina’s… North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. You know it. And invited us to do an Art of mass Gatherings in Greensboro and then subsequently we’ve done a three event series with the state that touches on workforce development. We’ve proposed some for Build Back Better funds.
You know, we a few things intersected here, right? We had Art of mass Galleons 2017 global pandemic, the build back better dollars that are supposed to help us prepare for whatever, you know, disruption, how to mitigate whatever harm might come from what we learned from this and spend a lot of time during the pandemic talking about this with Molly and Tom and then with Jenny Filippetti has been a real.
thought partner in this. She is Phenomenal. Yeah. So it’s kind of a pressure cooker of, I mean pressure cooker and a pressure releaser of like a lot of time at home, but also like feeling the moment of like, this is a generationally significant amount of resources that are, you know. And incentive to change. And an incentive to change. And what would it look like if, if we were better prepared? And.
In the middle of the pandemic, we’re looking at all these arts and cultural workers at home, unable to make much of a living with their craft. A lot of people were transitioned from arts and cultural jobs into emergency preparedness stuff, whether it was putting together a covid testing sites and marking out the stadium parking lot and working with a lot of people experiencing homelessness.
A lot of people transitioned to that. We had friends in North Carolina, arts and venues in Denver, a lot of the same stories about getting redeployed as arts and cultural workers to that. So that led us to thinking about the art of creative resilience, and it led to a creative resilient responders role, what that would look like, what it would look like if there were reservists who had cross -trained, who during times of disruption could…
jump in on beat to that new tune. And then what sort of skills would be helpful to have as you jumped in. And so we built out some curriculums for that. And it looked like borrowing from a few different practices. Resilience Hub design is sort of like how you would make a building ready to transition to an emergency.
And we’re using a lot of that same thinking, but for a person, like how do you become a mobile resilient hub writer? And that would mean being fluent across waste, water, power, systems, accessibility design. And then the cross -training should happen, we think, between arts and cultural professionals and emergency responders to be in an exchange. And so they’re kind of filling in the gaps that they didn’t have with the other person.
and then you’re leaving that networking intact after you leave the workforce development. Right. Yeah. And I think arts and cultural workers are really great people to do that with. Because one thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how much, how many technical skills artists will pick up just to be able to do the work they want to do and to, what’s the word?
to make what they see in their heads real. Right, kind of scaffolding. Right. But yeah, to actualize. Yeah, and you do so much more work when you’ve got like the show coming. Right. You know it’s going to, you don’t want to look dumb. You want it to be beautiful. You want to change hearts and minds. Right. You work so hard. And you can see it in your head. See it in your head. Yeah. And I think that that sort of…
malleability is so useful in a disaster where we maybe did see this coming, maybe didn’t, but not everything in the book is going to be applicable. And we need that divergent thinking to be able to fill in gaps as they appear. Totally. And where that’s led us to is use the festival as a classroom. Right. And then the stuff you had to prepare to get
all these people taking care of in this temporary city is analogous to much of the same stuff like Sunbelt rentals. You get called one day to bring in a generator for a festival, wastewater, powers companies, it’s the same. And then the next day they’re called, you know, in the same infrastructure for a disaster. But yeah, you can practice. It’s like building the muscle memory for handling.
A lot of people needing fed moved around, communicated with kids getting taken care of, people with functional needs getting taken care of. Like you can do that in a parking lot with like a drill with EMS and public health and disaster emergency responders, or you can use a festival which gets you like 80 % of the way there for free and everybody’s.
eating good food, feeling open -hearted, feeling open -minded, ready to actually change their minds about something. We don’t have a lot of opportunities now outside of churches, I think, for that sort of community… Knowledge sharing. Knowledge sharing. Church, I’m interested that you brought up church because my first experience with audio production was at church. And this older man just pulled me…
And some of the guys my age into the studio was like, okay, I’m gonna teach you how to do this. He didn’t ask if we wanted to learn. He’s like, I’m teaching you how to do it. And I don’t still do it. But one of us still records church sessions to this day. Yep. And it’s, it’s almost like opposite to the like certification model of
You have to go do these specific classes, complete these specific assignments, and now you’re able to start experiencing what it’s like. And I think this is a good time for it because I am starting to get a sense that art for art’s sake is not sustainable at this point. And I think now is a fantastic time.
to start embracing art as a tool. And we’re seeing that coming out of COVID in a lot of different ways. For example,
how presenters format their contracts is starting to change in the sense that instead of, I’m going to pay you a lump sum after you perform your concert, I’m going to pay you in increments as you prepare. And a lot of that work is community work that you do leading up to the concert. And a lot of artists already do that work in their communities or in the communities that they’re performing. And…
until now has been unpaid, but it adds value to the performance. But we’re starting to recognize that that’s also valuable work that needs to be paid as well. I hear you. I think those sort of thoughts have been, I share that and I’ve worked a bit with like Sound Diplomacy that does Music Cities conferences and.
music cities, music strategies, things that have been made. Denver’s, we worked together with that a bit and was the first one that I know of that had emergency preparedness built into the music strategy. You know, when they’re looking at an economic sector and trying to figure out how to advocate for it at a policy level. And yeah, whether it’s, some of it to me felt like, why are we…
telling all these young folks that there’s like this job waiting for them. And part of me feels like that’s as true or more as it ever was for some folks. But for a lot of folks, like American Idol has like gotten in our headset, our head space to the extent that we’re not realizing how much we’re doing fame seeking stuff as like, you know. As the professionals.
Right. And, um…
Yeah, there’s a lot of ways that like there’s a lemonade stand and you learn from the lemonade stand how to make the lemonade, count the money, get your supplies and then the lemonade stand isn’t its own outcome, but it’s like a way to get there and I think adding this stuff to what young folks might be learning or anybody who’s professionally developing. I’ve noticed…
Rutgers University, certainly Leah Hamilton at University of Kentucky. A lot of the arts administration programs that are adding emergency preparedness curriculum, there’s not really any friction with those people thinking that it’s a good idea. Like a few years ago talking about it, a lot of people were like, oh, that’s a different lane, you know, that’s an emergency management lane. But since COVID, this is not as hard of a concept to say, what’s disruption planning.
got to do with it like a lot. For sure. I was with a group of friends yesterday and they’re like, so what are you doing tomorrow? I’m like, I’m working. Do you really want to know what we’re doing? It’s this. And I was just explaining like, this is majestic collaborations. We work at this intersection and everyone in the room, we all have different jobs, but they kind of got it. One person was like, what I’m hearing is like learning through play. Yes. And.
That’s very much what the symposiums are. And sort of like you say all the time, it’s way more stimulating than just being in a static classroom and reading your textbook. But I think also for me as an event producer, you sort of better understand the stakes and your role in keeping the good times rolling. Right on, yeah.
by having good electrics, by having accessibility so that everyone can enjoy themselves. And on the flip side, I think a lot of emergency managers and probably public health people are really frustrated with their ability to…
influence cultural change.
And COVID sort of unveiled that. And so I think a lot of emergency managers are looking for new ways to actually get those ideas into the zeitgeist so people can act in their own best interest. Yeah, go to the people is a pretty good, pretty good approach. Right. Yeah, we saw that in Boston a lot and that the community health and emergency manager.
people and Claire DeCerbo out of Rhode Island. They um…
they’re incredibly oriented towards community engagement. And then it seems paradoxical to have a stop the bleed Narcan training at a festival where everybody’s like having fun. But there’s also a lot to be said for, well, why not now? And if what we’re thinking is young people, if the anxieties that everybody’s going through, but I guess young people to pretty big extent these days is gonna be made better by not acknowledging.
The mass gatherings have really high stakes, great outcomes, great benefits, great vulnerabilities. Show the open bookkeeping of we are planning for hard problems. We are thinking about community safety. And so if that infrastructure at these events becomes more transparent, I think…
the benefit to people being able to relax and know that people are thinking about this outweighs the whole let’s not think of hard times, we’re just here to disassociate, rock out, dance. Both. I think with all that,
festivals, especially beloved community festivals, have an asset that apparently the CDC does not, which is community trust. When people show up to your event, they’re trusting that you have thought about it. It’s validated that, yes. They are trusting that you have good solutions to problems that might arise and that you’ll be okay going to this festival. And that’s invaluable.
and isn’t built overnight. Big time and a lot of the biggest things we’re thinking about now and you know we’re on top of a hill in Denver looking out over this north side that I grew up in and there’s a lot of a lot of changes to the cultural fabric of a city these last 20 years everybody’s talking about what their neighborhood used to be like and where you used to be able to get such and such food or hear this music or have your friends live next door instead of moving.
to the burbs or all of that cultural displacement. These beloved community events that we talk about are often like the headwaters, the breadcrumb trail back to that cultural goodness. And so like you said, if it’s laid out in front of us, like what are we working to protect? What are we working to preserve? This is it. These are these kids. This is food. This is the music. This is the stories. This is…
inviting different tapestries to come up than whatever might have been told to you by cities. I mean, there’s a lot of issues with cities saying we have a cultural program and then they curate whatever that programming is, but there’s festivals that’ll come up for their own reasons and say, hey, here’s what it is to us. And so portability of self is a gift that we can help with each other. Like I can move and I can still be me. I can make a living. I can keep track of.
identity and then portability of culture is another thing we have to think about is with a city like New Orleans was you know needed to get on its feet and move like how do we change the narrative from being like here’s a bunch of outlying migrants who are coming to hurt my city by moving in too fast but like sort out how to have cities that might receive the
benefit of that cultural diaspora before it happens as a gift rather than a threat is the other big thing I would love to see more people gathering around preparing because the preparedness it’s like a one to eight margin you know the preparedness saves one one dollar spent is eight dollar savings and I think that could be turned into other sorts it’s not just money it’s like loss it’s like loss that you’re mitigating by the preparedness is an eight to one
when it comes to cultural assets, people’s time, livelihood, spirit. Right. And so…
With those assets in mind, how can cities, regions, or even states invest in that?
Well, we said we’ll work for us development to get more people of mixed experience into your reservist corps. These are people who have other skills besides being a nurse or firefighter but is also valuable during a time of disruption from the cultural space. What kind of reservist corps? So the creative resilience reservist corps idea says let’s get event producers was our first thought.
of like these are people who know how to get a large gathering of people together, held together, thriving beyond surviving, get them in the mix so that when you need to put together a emergency site after a fire or a flood, they’re ready to jump in there right away because FEMA, National Guard, great, but they’ve come through.
background that isn’t the same as a person who’s put together cultural events. So invest in that network, being ready to respond, invest in these community events happening, not being afraid to happen. A lot of cities can come off as gatekeepers to cultural events. They can be scared of what they see in the news of the vulnerability of those things, which is also real, but then by not…
making it easy, safe for these events, beloved community events to occur. You’re going to have to learn those lessons a harder way than by using those events as a place for community resilience practice. I think the Build Back Better funds going towards something like the Save Our Venues, there was money that went out to save our venues during COVID that they could use for whatever they needed to use it for, staff.
income and so on. But if we incentivized arts and cultural venues and people to invest in infrastructure and training to get future monies, I think that could leave a lasting infrastructure and skill base. And so when cities are looking to do economic development for their music sector, building in these adjacent
usefulness is good. Like think about like what we were talking about before with workforce or youth programs at high schools, vocational programs that learn how to set up solar for temporary events, solar for emergencies, those infrastructures, you know, it’s not just solar on top of houses. You see a lot of these programs right now looking to kind of build.
what we already know we need which is like house solar but there’s so many good uses for portable electrics or some of the good uses for portable food creation and then when you’re building emergency preparedness plan for your city looking at arts and cultural partners who who can do participate in in the emergency response and have built their venues out to you know
We’ve seen that in Denver where an arts and cultural venue, McNichols, was used twice, three times for housing people that were homeless or newcomers. And that’s not gonna get any less, that we’re gonna need to use public spaces. Another infrastructure smart move would be if you’re gonna put in a park redesign.
that you distribute power and water in a way that’s, we’re calling it multimodal. My wife’s a planner. She’s like, I don’t know if that, you know, multimodal usually means bike, ped, you know, but we’re saying multimodal could be these other sorts of uses, whether it’s food trucks, a stage, a mobile clinic, a command center, like that these parks as we redesign them could be thought of to have accessible, sustainable power and.
And then a deeper reset with how our parks, after the Indigenous Peoples Day event we’ve worked with, I really have been, Robert Peterson is a Wampanoag culture bear who was like, we want to see these parks reset themselves with the land, beyond a land acknowledgement, but a co -stewardship with Indigenous communities to have.
you know, the ability to put in a fire and do sort of cultural events in these parks again and, and, um, re relaunch these parks with the, with, with some more community engagement of that kind. Um, and then I think, you know, community asset mapping, like, you know, well that who’s at the table for the mapping resources is, is, is important. Right. And so I think, I think there’s park,
idea is uniquely exciting to me. I live in Goose Creek, South Carolina, and we have a park now that has in -ground electrics for food trucks. And we’re building an outdoor amphitheater, and behind it, we’re going to have more in -ground electrics for food trucks. It’s going to be six hookups. And…
I think something like that is really a great example of the intersection that we see because it’s useful not just for festivals but for the environment in terms of generator and diesel and not just it’s environmentally clean, it’s healthier and it’s also less noisy. It smells better.
So it’s a better experience as well. But also we are able to use that when we need generators for emergency situations. And we’re able to…
understand that, okay, this is somewhere we can go and even if we don’t have fuel, even if we don’t have generators, we can still use this and maybe use that to distribute power across the city. And I think that’s really exciting. It is. We’ve had good demonstrations of this at some parks and there.
Following it up with real infrastructure afterwards and city of Lafayette and Colorado’s got, I think going on that too is where your car recharge stations, where would micro mobility devices, whether that’s scooters or accessible devices get charged in that city street and bike parking, recharge your bike. Once you break that concrete,
up to put in new infrastructure, a water refill station on corners. It’s interesting that I love that podcast about 99 % invisible about, you know, the design that we didn’t know was made, but we live inside of and some park benches are made to not be able to lay down on. We do the same thing with water. I really noticed that during the pandemic with the
bringing water stations out to the encampments for hand washing and for drinking is like we’re trying to starve people out, thirst them out of different spaces passively. It’s not always like totally intelligent. It’s not like overtly, but it’s kind of there. It’s like, well, why would we not gonna put a water refill station in the middle of downtown? Who’d use that? That we wouldn’t want to what unsavory? Right. But I think it makes.
the place less livable for everybody. My wife and I, we were walking downtown and we, it was, I think it was during August when the metro was free. So we just got on the train and went downtown for a day. And then we had to use the bathroom and all of a sudden it’s like, okay, where do I go? And.
quickly we learned that the only way you can use the bathroom downtown is if you buy something. And we went to a Chipotle and it’s not okay you can buy chips. You have to buy a meal. And there’s this huge – Do you need to go number one? I don’t know, you guys wanna make some jokes? But there’s this huge long line. And it’s like, I just have to use the bathroom. And like, even we were in a position where we could have bought the food, but we didn’t even want food.
We just wanted to use the bathroom. And the question is like when we’re being hostile to quote unquote unwanted people.
What are we sacrificing? What are we giving up just to be hostile to a specific group of people? Yeah, my friend Rick Griffith, I think I sent you something, his work with Matter, he’s a designer, taught me a lot about design. He said, good design has no victims. Yeah. And boy, that’s hard, I guess. Maybe it’s easier for people as smart as he is.
it’s the unintended consequences roll out pretty quick. Right. From what doesn’t get. I mean, I find that people who have a lot of privilege expect bespoke solutions and expect things to be designed with them in mind, which is okay, except for when it gets exclusive, where it’s designed for only them.
But I think schools do, compared to other institutions, a relatively good job at managing that, where they have free lunch systems that isn’t for everybody. And Denver has in -school clinics that people who have access to good health care may not need, but it provides access to health care to a limited degree for everybody.
Yeah, great place to do it too. Folks making a particular medical appointment is a real challenge versus meeting them when they’re doing something else. When I am required to be here eight hours a day anyway. Right. Yeah, well, how do we fix everything? I don’t know. Yeah, it’s a good laboratory I found though, is these temporary cities. When you make a temporary city, you…
You make it from the ground up. I think of our colleague Jessica Wallach. I’ve been thinking about Jessica. Yeah. And her design mind and who you’re building things for and who you’re not. Like, what does she say? That it’s always accessible to someone. It’s always… Right. Events are always accessible to someone. And it’s important to think about who that group is.
and how that design works to include and exclude. I’ve learned a lot from Jessica and her sort of accessible design thinking has really like transformed my design thinking. When I think about accessibility and resources that I want to provide, I think a lot about
What are we controlling for? For example, if you have an event where the only way to get to the room is upstairs, are you interested in controlling for exclusion of people who don’t use, who can’t use stairs? And is that what you actually want your event to be? Do you want your event to be something only for stair users? And I, in most of the events I plan,
That’s not what I’m actually trying to do. But like just thinking that choice, that choice had rolled out into those. Right. And it’s sort of making the implicit explicit. Yeah. Which allows you to grapple with it. Yeah. Yeah. Inserting that four pillars thinking is I’m sure there’s a fifth and sixth pillars that would be good. But if you go around the horn in your mind before your event happens of have I thought of.
each of these safety, sustainability, accessibility, and is the community engagement happening as like your pre -flight, you know, kick the tires. It shakes out a lot of things that a lot of times I would have missed. Right. And it pulls out wisdom from the community, I think. One thing I’ve always been impressed with in terms of majestic collaborations and Art of mass Gatherings is our hosting committee.
and how as event planners we move from like a patron, paternal planner into like facilitators of community events. And we really do a lot of work to facilitate people bringing the things that they want to see to their community.
And from a marketing perspective, it’s fantastic because you don’t have to bring out a bunch of strangers in this city that you’ve never been to before. But from a relevance of content and community buy -in perspective, it’s so much easier. It’s so much easier. Oh man, I love that when it’s working and sometimes you have to let your ego go a little bit when it’s working because we have a panel and somebody will be like,
You know what the great thing about using festivals as a classroom for preparedness is, and then you can kind of tell they’re just chewing, feeling it in their own mouth, letting it come out, and then they’re going to have a whole other thing that’s theirs. And you’re like, and then you might talk to them and be like, where is this company called? Magnificent corporations. I can’t remember. Maybe there’s a guy, Mike, or what’s his name? Bartholomew or whatever.
But fine, you know. But they’re thinking about you. But the bird flies, what, you know. Yeah. And I mean, I think it’s changed my approach to work. One time I was in a board meeting. I was well, I was managing a board meeting, I’ll put it that way. And I had like a whole agenda set out for how we were going to like get to where we’re trying to go. And halfway through, one of our board members was like, well.
I feel like we kind of skipped a step. So can we just make a jam board and put everything we want to talk about on the jam board? And it had never occurred to me to just do a brainstorming session. But like you said, like putting the ego on the shelf and like letting people determine for themselves what they think will work.
makes, because all of a sudden everyone was engaged and excited about doing this brainstorming and we ended up with like 90 entries on the Jamboard. We had to make a second page and everything of all the things that people wanted to advocate for. And I’d been trying for months to get people to talk to me about what their issues are and what is important to them. And it just hadn’t occurred to me and.
No one can think of everything.
And so just being able to talk that through with a group and like you said, being humble about knowing that you’re not gonna have every solution. That’s definitely like evolved my approach to work. Totally. And even humbling or humbling or even more humbling than that would be like, is if you sorted out pretty much the whole solution, at least in your mind, years ago.
somebody might grab it, add another 10 % to it, or just say it in a better way. And they’re going to rock it out in ways you never got to. And their timing, sometimes second mouse gets the cheese. And that’s just how it goes. Well, any conversation about the Art of  mass Gatherings has a big overt, like a theme through it of performing arts readiness. Tom Clarison, this partner that we’ve had.
in this work has been amazing. I know you have a relationship with Tom now too in the work that you guys get to share. And he’s a person who I’m so thankful to have met in terms of whatever the opposite of a banana peel is when you’re like moving along and like throws the throws sand down on the ice and helps people get traction to move things forward. And he.
He offers a lot and he gives a lot of space for people to work in this. Performing Arts Readiness is the organization that formed after Superstorm Sandy to give grants to performing arts organizations to do safety planning. They do free webinars. I took one after the webinar. Beginning of this whole thing, I reached out to him and said, hey, I’ve got this, I love what you’re doing, I’ve got this idea for festivals and classrooms and kind of off the back of envelopes.
A lot of this has been able to come together with his partnership and this podcast included. And I’m very, very thankful for his partnership, mentorship and commitment. Yeah, Tom’s fantastic because it feels like if you come to Tom with something that makes it super like, okay, well, we can find some money for that.
And can I come and we’ll hear music and uh and Yeah, he’s he’s in it for so many great reasons. Yes so um What are some other things that majestic collaborations does in this space? We’ve been doing more work with some churches and schools that want to do Maybe it starts with an audio system and accessibility system upgrades, but then moves into a whole
venue as a resilience hub planning and bringing in a committee that can do the four pillars audit and look at the roses and thorns of what’s already there in the venue and what could be there. And we’re always living in a time of limited resources, time and money. And so figuring out how to transparently choose.
investments for organizations is a place I really like doing that with this team. I like having Bertrand and Jessica and Jenny and Tom and Molly at a table with an organization and they bring their people and sort of look at what resources could help make that park, that school, that church, that performing arts organizations, starting with asset mapping, what you know about and have led. So event audits.
asset mapping exercises, infrastructure consulting, resilience hub design for arts and cultural people, workforce development for cities and states and governments looking to build more capacities, and interactions between their cultural workers and their emergency management and public health officials has been really exciting. And I’m still trying to sort out how all this might turn into a few songs. I feel like you were talking about earlier with…
Sometimes it it’s just so much clearer when it comes out as art in a way that you know You can’t get at with a PowerPoint, right? Yeah, I mean And like going back to like art as a tool like that You
I think that art sort of comes at you more holistically in a way that activates more ways of understanding and knowing than just intellectually this makes logical sense. Yep. Boy, we just know it’s true. Exactly. It could be. But it’s.
beyond getting past some defenses, it activates entirely new vistas and…
gets that self -regulating thing going on for each other. When somebody’s singing something. I was at the park, I’m often at the park when people are running their dogs around.
the playground off leash and since COVID, you know, people tend to be driving crazier, parking their cars in front of fire hydrants, running their dogs off leash around the children’s playground. And at first I would get a little bit like, would you put your dog on a leash, please? And then, and I’m with my kid and I don’t want to do that. And so what I’ve been challenging myself to do is to always turn it into a song.
So I’ll be like, hey, with the dog in the playground, we’re a little concerned about our children. And what if the dog did something surprising and hurt one? Would you please put your dog on a leash or whatever? And then, to me, that’s not disrupted. The dad’s yelling. Right. But the person, and then when I’ve even elicited the whole playground, if there’s other parents, I’ll be like.
I think we’re all a little concerned about your dog, right folks? And people will be like, yeah, maybe you should put it on a leash or whatever. And then it’s like power of 20 parents and their kids against the, because I’ve had to go wrong many times where I’ll be like, and they just want to talk back. They were ready for the argument. Even though there’s signs around and it’s illegal, they’ve sorted out why this is their civil disobedience. I don’t know. Turning into a song is the shortcut for me to not be.
mad, sounding mad, and it seems like it goes better. Right. Well, when are we going to make a song about this, Bert? Oh, man. Soon. OK, Bert. It’s got to be soon. I’m really glad we did this. OK, one more thing. Yeah. So what this conversation is definitely is an example of this, but what do you feel like makes the Four Pillars audit unique?
to a typical safety audit? So if you have a person who’s real savvy about sustainability and they come into the festival, they might say, you know what you need to do is three stream recycling and do solar powered stages. And that’s when your hammer of the whole world might look like a nail. And if you’re in accessibility,
person you might say, hey, the first thing we need to do here is sign language interpreting. And somebody else might be like, first thing we need to do is more marketing so that people know that this is happening. There’s only 50 people here. There should be 500. There should be 5 ,000. OK, so everybody and then the safety folks are going to say.
great, you’ve got way too many people here and no safety plan. It’s super accessible and super sustainable, but you didn’t think about safety. Okay, we’re all in the same place. We’re all going to write up the report together. And this event is going to see it laid out in such a way that they can make the best choices they can with the resources they have. So that’s our approach. And some of the smartest folks around have come and been a part of this Betty Siegel from Kennedy Center, Accessibility Program, Richard cadena, Neil vas Aveda, from
Overdrive Solutions, Jim Digme from the Event Safety Alliance, folks from Puerto Rican Emergency Management. And we’re just honored to have them involved in this. And they’re all exchanging from each other as they look at that event together.
we’re kind of changing on a genetic level, each other and the event, you know, gets the benefit of these folks who’ve come in. And then like we always do work with a local hosting committee of the stakeholders who are gonna be left with that event, who maybe are getting brought in from outside of who are particularly involved with that event. Maybe they’re a person with an accessibility or a functional need. And then we get to…
activate empathy and see it through other people’s eyes and learn from from each other and then we’re going to do the whole darn thing during an actual event when there’s music and there’s food and there’s kids and beloved it’s under load and it’s the it’s under load is what we say right it’s um the the the system is under some load and you get to study you know is the
How’s the security working? How are the communications working? How’s food service working? How is the transportation getting in and out of the place working? How are the authorities with jurisdiction in the city handling it? What are the frictions with law enforcement? All of that under load. That’s when we study it.
So it gives you a chance to look at somebody else’s event, you know, and when you’re an event producer, you’re often just in the fire, and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. And a lot of this you can do in your own community, if you go to somebody else’s event, and with soft eyes, look around at what’s happening and what’s not happening at the event, and you can share that with them and have them do it for you. That’s the beginning of a mutual aid relationship with events and venues one to another, that will give you a lot of
of these benefits just you know not being at your own event too stressed to learn that’s the first thing. Right and I think one of the cool things about our audits is that it gives us a chance to I guess move from best practices to the best practices for you because what works in one city isn’t gonna work in the other.
in the next. And we’re able to see what works and even sharpen ourselves on each other in the sense that, okay, this is a safety best practice. But sort of like Jessica was saying in Nevada, like, okay, shelter in place makes sense to you. But when you think about it from an accessibility perspective,
it’s not really a best practice. Go to this room and wait for it to get rescued. Exactly. It did not work out in 9 -11. Exactly. And so it gives people a chance to challenge their own understandings, but also say, okay, well, I can see how here in this situation, I understand why you didn’t use that type of cord. I understand why you didn’t use that type of, those type of plates for the vendors. But,
this is what I know about this and maybe you should try it this way. That’s that’s great. And maybe a little bit of it comes down like in worst case conflict deescalation, you’re giving a person a way out with dignity so that the conflict can end. But even in a more simple learning situation, so many of the times we’re attached to our own idea of something that we need a way out of with dignity to learn. Right. And then that festival and that shared space, it makes it easier.
place for people’s aha moments to have. Exactly. Exactly. This has been great. All right. Well, let’s give each other a hug and turn the microphones off and head back to our day. Thank you. Mike hug. Mike’s on here. All right. Thank you, Bert, for making time. I’m glad we did it. Of course. Yes, I’m glad we are.
in the same place at the same time, physically, and not always physically. I’m with you.

Timestamps are approximate.


We mention the Event Safety Alliance, a fantastic US-based organization dedicated to promoting safety across all phases of event production and execution. Frequent collaborators, they host an annual summit, a podcast, and a variety of in-person and online workshops.

Starting at 12:50

Matt shares one of the most memorable safety lessons he learned from Denver Pride Fest, where we hosted the first Art of Mass Gatherings: always leave people a way out a conflict with dignity. He and Bert talk through some examples of why this might be an especially important idea the more politically or culturally charged an event is

16:40 – 18:00

Bert observes how we self-regulate in public even among strangers to let everyone enjoy shared space… launching a conversation about how event producers and emergency managers alike might think about self-regulation and co-regulation as design factors in their work. Want to know more about Elijah Anderson’s book The Cosmopolitan Canopy (mentioned at 17:10)? You’re welcome.


Matt mentions that every dollar spent on disaster mitigation efforts saves approximately $8 in damages that would otherwise be incurred. This is the commonly cited statistic, although some analyses have found that each dollar invested saves upwards of $10: for example this analysis from Lousiana recovery efforts, a 2020 study by the National Institute of Building Sciences.


What’s this Four Pillars event audit thing? It’s a way to assess the resilience of your event using the four pillars of the Art of Mass Gatherings: safety, accessibility, sustainability, and community engagement. Learn more or apply for a Four Pillars assessment of your very own! Our partners at Performing Arts Readiness are making five audits available through 2025 at no cost to the recipient.


Testing “under load” is a phrase borrowed from engineering that we find helpful to transfer to mass gatherings. Just like with physical equipment or systems, there are particular pressures that an event or city might not experience 100% of the time, but which have important repercussions. For example, a new building built in an earthquake-prone area would be built not only to withstand everyday conditions but also stay stable during an earthquake. Festivals and other local events are regular, fun ways that places can experience their public parks or venues “under load” and ensure they’re up to the task. After all, festivals and disaster response sites share many factors in common, including large groups of people and the need for temporary infrastructure.


Learn more here about moving from “best practices” to what Bert nicknames “the best practices for you:” how factoring in local settings, individual abilities, and other considerations can lead to safer, more accessible, more sustainable and more engaged events and communities.

Available on
Apple Podcasts Logo Spotify Logo

Artist Credits

The artwork used in the podcast thumbnail was created for us by illustrator, graphic novelist & concept artist Dion Harris. It represents the intersectional roles that professionals trained in the Art of Mass Gatherings might play in their communities: from performers to event producers to teachers to emergency response professionals.

The intro & outro music is written & performed by podcast host Matthew Kowal with his band The Reals. Listen to the original song, "Fairly Natural."

We're thrilled to be partnering with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals in an act of mutual aid this season! Don't miss the latest episodes of their award-winning podcast ARTS. WORK. LIFE, featuring bold, untold stories from arts workers about what it's like to work in the performing arts. We love their behind-the-scenes look at how fellow professionals are navigating industry challenges and thriving in the field, sharing both moments of failure and heartbreak as well as triumph and success. 

The Four Pillars of Resilient Gatherings

The foundation of the Art of Mass Gatherings is a unique four pillar framework: safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. These factors are critical for the safety and success of public gatherings of all kinds, from festivals to political demonstrations to disaster response sites.

This podcast is brought to you by