I had no idea what to expect as the Uber bounced across a narrow bridge into an empty lot and halted to a stop in front of what seemed like an abandoned warehouse. The Uber had ventured west of Wegmans, beyond the limit of my freshman map of Ithaca. When I stepped out of the car, however, I grew eager. Perched atop an inlet of Cayuga Lake with pink light oozing out of its few windows and music throbbing, POP’d at The Cherry Artspace already had me and my friends under its spell.
The Halloween-themed POP’d event on October 19th was an all-inclusive, consent-oriented pop-up nightclub experience where I finally learned how to dance. The attendance of the event was diverse in age, race, costume design and talent — but not in attitude. Whether attendees were sporting harnesses and duct tape or work clothes, everyone was enjoying themselves. Local dancers, drag and burlesque performers heightened the energy of the space. My personal favorite was a performer’s Us themed performance, where she and her scissors terrified and delighted the crowd. On one wall read a sign “dance your tits off” and the other wall played a video montage of spooky clips.
To learn more about the event, I met with three of its creators: Samuel Buggeln, artistic director of The Cherry Artspace, Mickie Quinn, emcee of POP’d, and Jonny Tunnel of the DJ group Spirit Posse. I was dying to ask them how this perfect party was born.
Tunnell and Quinn had met while attending “Barstander” training, a program run by the Tompkins Advocacy Center that provides bartenders with the tools to recognize predatory behavior and to safely intervene. Quinn and Tunnell said that their personalities “clicked” when they met, and they immediately began brainstorming ways to combine their complementary talents. They came up with the idea for a consent-oriented nightclub experience after experiencing frustration with the toxicity of some of Ithaca’s nightlife.
A “culture of consent and inclusion isn’t being promoted” in Ithaca’s nightlife spaces, Quinn told me. Tunnell explained his personal discomfort. “Every time [Spirit Possey] did a party in town, there was always something that would happen… it’s heavy when you’re an event promoter and something happens at your event, and there’s not much you can do about it.” The two artists decided they wanted to have more control over a party space, yet still include the freedom and sexiness typical of nightlife. They chose The Cherry, champion of multidisciplinary arts, to host the event; familiar with Quinn and Tunnell’s work, Buggeln was thrilled to enable such a safe and colorful space. Buggeln smiled as he explained to me that he and The Cherry support “radical self expression” and “exploring our most extreme selves.”
Having a safe space to do just that is POP’d’s biggest success. Quinn described that making clear in the physical space that POP’d supports consensual fun creates a new kind of positive atmosphere. Signs posted on each wall gently reminded attendees to be respectful to one another. On paper, it would seem that these physical reminders could’ve imposed on the space, but they truly did make the environment feel safer. POP’d sold alcohol, but its creators told me that they didn’t want alcohol to be the event’s main attraction. The de-emphasis on alcohol contributed to the space’s safe vibe, as everyone was in control.
POP’d is open to all over 18, but the event attracted a visible celebration of marginalized communities. Buggeln expressed that while POP’d is not for any specific group of people, “homes for the arts have always been homes for the queer community.” Quinn said proudly that the POP’d supports “intersections of many communities.”
“We are our own art,” Buggeln said. POP’d is the perfect space for anyone to bask in this.
Emma Plowe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]