By: Audrey Larcher
On July 20, 2016, four collective members welcomed artists and musicians to Shirley’s Temple for the first time. The warehouse-turned-music-venue, planted between Lamar and Airport Boulevard, was envisioned as an all-ages, sober space to cultivate art of all kinds and revive Austin’s lulling DIY scene. Less than a year after volunteers first hauled open the Temple’s industrial garage doors, the collective is dissolving, and 6910 Shirley Avenue will no longer host artists.
Andrew Malesky, one of the four original collective members, posted on Facebook a week ago to announce the closure, blaming a landlord’s hasty eviction. But Shirley’s shouldered more than just property management troubles these past few weeks. An open letter titled “The Real Truth About Shirley’s Temple,” which accused a Shirley’s co-founder of misogyny, received more than 50 Facebook shares in early May.
The sudden end that followed Shirley’s messy last month leaves many questions unanswered. Now, Austin DIY is tasked to face the void Shirley’s left behind when it closed, while simultaneously confronting a slew of vague accusations within the community.
Wanting to learn more about the accusations, I reached out to former collective members, women in DIY, booking agencies and bands. My discussions with these many community members helped me to paint a clearer picture of what went wrong with Shirley’s, how the venue’s issues relate to larger trends in DIY and what developments we can expect from the scene in the future.
Writing this story was equal parts personal and professional. As an occasional musician and frequent audience member in the space, I grew to love Shirley’s Temple. On the flipside, being a woman in punk, as well as a friend to people who feel victimized by Shirley’s, made navigating certain issues difficult, but I tried to remain as objective as possible.
“The Real Truth About Shirley’s Temple” was the public’s first clue that Shirley’s may not have been the DIY savior many thought of it as. The letter, penned by co-founder and former collective member Kris Marshall and posted by former volunteer Alex Freeman, presented a laundry list of vague accusations, including verbal abuse, harassment, manipulation, and gaslighting. Accompanying “The Real Truth,” Freeman wrote a caption that detailed allegations of money laundering and TABC regulation violations against Shirley’s Temple.
Within 24 hours after Freeman published “The Real Truth about Shirley’s Temple,” the venue responded on their Facebook page, reinstating their commitment to inclusivity, explaining the venue’s shift from sobriety to BYOB and confirming their non-profit status. But neither of the vague open letters did more than plant seeds of confusion, fear and disillusionment in the DIY scene. Uncertain of what exactly transpired, some community members and artists boycotted the space, while others continued to support Shirley’s events. Unless venue goers spoke directly with Marshall or with Shirley’s, they had very little idea how events transpired or how seriously misogyny was at play.
Speaking with former collective members, it is clear that conflicting visions for the space plagued Shirley’s Temple from day one. Marshall prioritized keeping the space safe and made the substance ban an ultimatum, say former collective members. While all other decisions were made democratically, Marshall would not allow alcohol in the space, even though she was often the only member who would vote against BYOB. “I think her feelings of having a sober space and its importance to her… trumped her involvement in the space, and that was the number one issue,” observes the co-founder accused of misogyny.
This dissonance seeped into other aspects of Shirley Temple’s management. Most notable and frequent was the venue’s issue with double booking. Often times, collective members were simply not coordinating properly and reserving the same date for different bands. Noah Seiji, founder of Unsettled Culture, fell victim to this disorganization. In January, Seiji hosted an art exhibition for the anonymous street artist Bort at the space. After the event was double booked with another show, he was forced to shift his plans back one week. “I had to pay 200 bucks out of pocket, and the artist had to pay 100 bucks out of pocket for a flight change from Southern California…[Shirley’s Temple was] gonna pay me back, but they didn’t,” he says. From KVRX to Black Flamingo, many local bookers often dealt with this recurring problem at Shirley’s.
From Marshall’s perspective, arguments over logistics were always characterized by a theme much darker than just conflicting management. “[A Shirley’s co-founder] spun his negative, harmful words always in his favor and deflected the blame for his abusive deeds, pointing the finger at me. He constantly manipulated me into questioning the validity of my own values, boundaries, feelings and experiences, by either belittling or denying them all together,” Marshall says.
When I emailed Marshall and asked her to describe the sexism and abuse she faced, she did not provide dates and times, but rather, a long explanation of how a co-founder gradually and persistently manipulated her over time. “That’s the thing about misogyny, like I said in my open letter, it’s a lot more than just sexist slurs and assault. Some of the manipulation and micro-aggressions are more damaging than outward signs because they’re so likely to slip through the cracks of conscious recognition and instead just leave you feeling disparaged, minimized and devalued—slowly eating away at your self respect until there’s nothing left,” she says.
This observation leaves us no option but to unravel the complex, tangled mess that is gender relations within DIY. The sexism in our scene does not always presents itself in cut-and-dry, definable instances of disrespect. A lot more often, women and people who aren’t cisgender-heterosexual males are made to feel intimidated by speech patterns or body language that men are not even conscious of and others cannot easily call out.
For Charles Anderson, bassist of the local punk band Jicky, this abstract masculinity is a problem that DIY must actively address to foster inclusivity. “There are ways that bands and people who create these spaces don’t even realize that they’re being unwelcoming. I don’t have that insight because I’m a white guy and I would never feel uncomfortable entering [a DIY space], but there are things that are kind of intangible to us and a lot of people who play and who run these venues,” says Anderson.
In other cases, the abuse in DIY is more intrusive. Daniela Rivera, a former DIY booker, fell subject to a Shirley’s Temple co-founder’s aggression while involved with the Austin Blood Alliance, a since-dissolved booking agency. “I would never trust [this co-founder] with my money or anything, period. When I left ABA DIY he was begging me to continue to be a part of it and he even came to my house and asked me to stay with the collective,” she says. Remaining complicit with subtle sexism, DIY allows microaggressions to escalate to physical abuse and puts people – especially women of color and trans folks – in positions of vulnerability.
Shirley’s made a point of supporting femme artists at their shows, and I’d say it typically did a fair job of doing so. But DIY runs deeper than the art it promotes. DIY is a community that extends past setlists and permeates settings beyond moshpits. DIY is ultimately about respect—respect for expression, respect for background, respect for feelings and emotions. And if allies only manifest their respect in a female-fronted lineup, it’s little more than just lip service.
Shirley’s management never made me feel uncomfortable while the venue was open. But when multiple women share their experiences with misogyny, it is difficult to think unprofessional management was the venue’s only flaw. The nature of microaggressions and the abuse Marshall and others say they faced is such that outsiders will never know exactly what happened. But we can’t ignore that similar patterns permutate in DIY all the time. So given this opportunity to start a new chapter of DIY in Shirley’s wake, we should learn from our community’s mistakes and cultivate a more positive, inclusive environment for the future.
Looking forward, DIY projects will continue defining themselves with their rules on alcohol. Marshall believes that sobriety is the foundation to DIY’s longevity. “The truth is, many people have their own reasons for not drinking or not feeling safe around alcohol. Whether they're under aged, or a victim of abuse, or in addiction recovery, it's important to for a music scene to not rely completely on booking bands in bars purely as a capitalist venture to increase bar sales—there needs to be inclusive alternative spaces where everyone can feel free to participate and share art in a safe environment,” Marshall explains.
On the other hand, former Shirley’s collective member Rachel Kirk sees Marshall’s outlook as unrealistic. “I think [a substance-ban] is a very noble idea, but in a city like Austin, it’s going to detract from your business. And yes, [Shirley’s Temple was] a nonprofit, but we [wanted] to stay open,” says Kirk.
In Malesky’s opinion, sobriety should not be a requirement in DIY. “DIY means something different to everybody. However you encompass DIY in your mind, that’s how it should be. If booker’s want it to be a sober show, it can be a sober show, but if you want BYOB, BYOB is fine,” Malesky says.
As gentrification continues to encroach on Austin artists, these opinions will only grow more polarized, and DIY will have to find a balance between inclusion and making rent.
The next bridge to cross is that of financial transparency. Although no one at Shirley’s was making any money off of door fees, donations were still being placed in a bank account that lacked non-profit status. If DIY is committed to making a long-lasting home for itself in the next venue, managers must also be clear in communicating where donations go and how they are spent.
And most importantly, let’s respect women. Let’s open up dialogue on how DIY culture is dominated by men and what we can do to change that. Let’s learn how subconscious communication can often be tinged with internalized misogyny. Let’s try to address microaggressions and subtle sexism. Let’s hold meetings and town halls and open mics to facilitate all this. Let’s prioritize women of color, trans folks and their voices in our discussions. Let’s listen to one another. Doing otherwise is not very punk rock.
“I think it's important to have compassion for all sentient beings,” Marshall says. “When someone lashes out, you have to understand that you're dealing with a wounded animal. And the only response is to cultivate compassion.”