Editor's note: Sarah Schmader, who runs the Saving Space Showcase, is a senior advertising account executive at the INDY. While we're not in the habit of awarding our own staff, we would commit a greater disservice by not recognizing her hard work with Saving Space.
When Sarah Schmader first moved to the Triangle five years ago, she was immediately blown away by the local arts scene.
"I was just overwhelmed by all of the options here. Like most people say—it's a pretty special place in that sense," she says. "You kind of have this ownership of the Triangle music scene, because it's so tight-knit and there are so many options all of the time."
This year, Schmader has leveraged that tight-knit atmosphere with her own skills as a concert promoter to book shows that do some extra good. In February, feeling shocked and powerless following the presidential election, she launched the Saving Space Showcase, a local concert series devoted to raising money for nonprofits and featuring diverse voices that are not heard often enough.
"After the election, I realized that I had to focus a little bit. Trump's the president and everyone's kind of looking around to find out how they can be helpful—no one's able to really give that much money because we're all broke and young," she says. "I was like, OK, how can I use what I know how to do to help this situation? So that's how the showcase came to be. I wanted to do a local series that raised money for smaller nonprofits that are really not getting enough help, and that these shows would also raise awareness and exposure for bands that are nonbinary, queer, female, and people of color."
As a longtime college d.j. and occasional show promoter at her alma mater, Longwood University, Schmader had been familiar with the Triangle area's propensity for producing and nurturing talent in droves. What surprised her was the kindness, reciprocity, and the unity of purpose that seemed to characterize the local community.
"No one's going for one big role or a big goal. No one's like, Oh, I'm gonna go out and play these shows with my friends because I'm trying to get signed. Everyone is friends, and there's just a passion for what they're doing," she says.
Grateful to have been accepted into the Triangle scene, Schmader didn't take the good fortune for granted. Instead she set about wondering what she might do to contribute and enhance things. At Local 506, she cut her teeth booking local acts and familiarizing herself with the diverse personalities and talents that populate the region. During her tenure, she prioritized the placement of area talent alongside bigger national acts, in an effort to create the greatest amount of exposure. Her commitment to championing both the local and the underdog would grow steadily more manifest as her ambitions grew larger.
She ran her own boutique booking agency, Burn Sweet Booking, to help local acts like Body Games and Shirlette Ammons set up national tours. But Schmader still felt like she could do more. She saw a need for better representation of bands that weren't entirely made up of straight white guys, as well an opportunity to support nonprofits in need. And so the Saving Space Showcase was born.
The showcases were an immediate success, attracting audiences and raising $1500 for various nonprofits within the first few months. To date, she's raised $4392. Bands featured on the bills have been thrilled with their experiences—Laylatul Qadr, who fronts Durham-based agit-punks The Muslims, was effusive in assessing the series.
"Sarah's showcase, intentionally uplifting queer/femme/persons of color/nonbinary folks is so necessary for the music scene to fully thrive. Saving Space Showcase is giving a platform to folks who are often and easily overlooked, then adding another layer of impact by donating proceeds to amazing causes that benefit us all," Qadr says, adding, "It's been a gift working with Sarah, cocreating more radical spaces for folks like us to be seen and heard, quite literally."
Even with an increasingly hectic schedule, Schmader expects to keep the Saving Space Showcase a priority going forward. Animated by a restless idealism, an unflagging commitment to community, and a tireless work ethic, Schmader envisions a future for the Saving Space Showcase that includes bigger bands, greater genre representation, and an opportunity to remake an already proud and thriving scene into something even more diverse and accepting.
"I think a big challenge for promoters is booking stuff that you're not super comfortable with. When you have benefit shows or queer-concentrated shows, it's generally associated with punk, and I think that excludes a lot of people," Schmader says. "I'm not personally into bluegrass, but I had a bluegrass showcase. I had a power violence showcase. We can't exclude the queer kid that plays in a metal band or a folk duo. My goal is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be a part of this."