Feature Friday: Ellie Hart of LEAD DIY

Written by Kayla Albee

Live music is enjoyable for a multitude of reasons — from arriving early and eagerly awaiting the moment an artist you love takes the stage, to singing along to your favorite song with a crowded room, to buying exclusive merch…it’s all exciting! However, for people with light / sensory sensitivity as well as epilepsy, intense strobe and flashing lights used at concerts can be dangerous. These lights can not only cause migraines, but can also cause someone to have a seizure.

Founded by Ellie Hart with help from Hannah Feldman, LEAD DIY stands for “lighting & epilepsy awareness development” and is an organization based out of New Jersey that works to educate both artists and venues on the harmful impact of strobe and flashing lights in order to create a safe environment for all show-goers. LEAD aims to provide information regarding lighting at shows to display at venues so that people know what to expect before the show beings (ex: “Low Risk Lighting,” etc).

I spoke with Ellie Hart about how LEAD came together, tips for approaching an artist / venue about the impact of intense flashing lights at shows, how to get involved with LEAD, and more. You can check out our interview below!

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Q: After having the initial idea to create LEAD DIY, how long did it take to put the plans in motion, and how did Hannah become involved in the project?

A: It really didn’t take that long! We came up with the idea and after some fundraising we were able to develop a process and start distributing signs via mail. It’s honestly just been steady growth from that point with building a website, developing a store, throwing benefits, and tabling shows. The overall growth process has been pretty swift—we’ve gotten to work with a ton of artists we truly appreciate and admire like Future Teens, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Save Face, Oso Oso, and Mom Jeans. The biggest show we tabled so far was a sold-out show at Asbury Lanes, a 750 person capacity venue, which still baffles me.

Hannah and I just knew each other from online somehow! I would pretty consistently bounce ideas for LEAD off her, and eventually she just became more ingrained in the project. She basically keeps me alive, I’m really not sure what I’d do without her, she’s one of the most organized people I’ve ever met.

Q: When approaching a venue / artist about the harmful impact that certain lights can have on concert goers with epilepsy and light sensitivity, what's are the top three pieces of information that you feel are the most important to share? 

A: If I only have a quick second to ask the lighting person I usually just say: “Hi, I have epilepsy and I’m sensitive to bright flashing lights, would you be okay with not using super intense lighting?” and they have always said yes in the past. But as a person who isn’t personally affected, if you’re asking to have the lights toned down you could say something along the lines of “One in 26 people have epilepsy, and many more have light sensitivity, and I’m sure they’d really appreciate your not using strobes or super bright flashing.”

The unfortunate thing about this is that a lot of (mostly larger) tours bring their own lighting rig and have basically complete creative control—and while it can be dangerous, it’s still a method of creative expression that they quite frankly spend a lot of money on. There’s not really much we can do about that at the moment, just encourage and artists on social media to try to a) post warnings both at and before their shows and b) try to phase out intense lighting eventually.

Q: What alternative options to intense strobe lights, flashing lights, etc, would you like to see artists incorporate into their live performances? 

A: Honestly, it’s not really my job to offer those alternatives! We’re here to educate artists on what they’re doing that is dangerous, and help people understand that those things can be unsafe. The onus for safety really shouldn’t fall on us as an organization or on the people with disabilities. It’s the artists’ creative vision, and it’s their responsibility to correct it or at least give warning to show-goers with light sensitivity. If they’d like to find an alternative to dangerous lighting they can work with a lighting designer who may have some ideas.

Q: Have you been met with any resistance from an artist / venue when approaching them about harmful lighting, and if so, how did you respond?

A: The only real resistance we’ve been met with is a situation where we were turned down from tabling a show because tabling was against a policy for the artists or venue. It makes sense in most cases, but it’s still disheartening as hell because we work so hard to make it something that people pay attention to and care about. Stuff like that is rough for me personally because I actually have epilepsy. When we get turned down for something like that it’s not just a professional scenario that doesn’t work out, it feels like someone legitimately does not care about my personal safety, whether or not that’s actually true. It’s something I’m working on, but I struggle with that feeling a lot.

Q: What’s the best way for someone to get involved with LEAD DIY in their city?

A: LEAD is slowly but surely working on expanding to having a street team! But while we get that going, the best way to get involved is to request a packet of signs (for free!) on our website and hang them at your shows. You could also encourage your friends to do the same, and just be more conscious of how lighting is used at shows! If you have any questions for us at all, please feel free to hit up our DM’s on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram at @LEADDIY, use our contact form on the website, or email info@leaddiy.org.

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