By Jeff Kronenfeld
Briannin Gross loves the Valley’s music and art scenes almost as much the people that make them up. Gross, who uses the pronoun they/them, volunteers as director for a pair of local booking brands and anti-authoritarian political organizations. Even a global pandemic hasn’t stopped the ceaseless stalwart from helping local creatives. Gross recently organized an emergency rent drive for members of the Valley’s music and art communities.
Gross got involved with Mutiny Phoenix four years ago after attending a show the group organized at the Cornish Pasty in Tempe. They befriended Josh Smusz, the group’s founder, and helped setup and breakdown shows. Gross also assisted with marketing events like a Smith versus Morrissey night at Spinelli’s Pizzeria. When Smusz moved back to his home country of Greece, Gross was the logical person to take his place.
Gross happily sacrificed personal time to coordinate the various musicians, volunteers and revelers. They continuing to schedule dance nights at local bars for Mutiny Phoenix, which served a broad cross section of people. However, Gross wanted to start something closer to their own identity as a queer bi person. Gross’s started organizing events such as Riot! Women’s Dance Night at the Palo Verde Lounge and Spellbound at the Bikini Lounge. “It was about having an inclusive space for LGBTQ people,” Gross said. “A place where everybody, especially queer people, could feel like they belong.”
Overtime, Gross combined the LGBTQ-focused events under a new “mini-brand” called The Coven. The LGBTQ outreach and culture organization carved out a loyal following. Despite all the partying and work, Gross continued to raise money for worthy causes and conduct neighborhood-specific direct action. They battled gentrification, campaigning fiercely for affordable housing. “We have a political aspect to it, but mostly we stoke the culture,” Gross explained.
One of The Coven’s more ambitious projects aimed to donate the money earned from events to individuals who were transitioning. A Night at the Roadhouse was initially a huge hit according to Gross. The first night featured a live performance by BaNdula. There were plans to donate to a different person’s transition fund every month. Unfortunately, the dream-pop, shoegaze-y sound slowly faded out.
Gross continued to try and raise money for the cause using social media, but with limited success. In part, they pointed to the large sums required for transitioning as being disheartening to donors on limited budgets. Still, the process of trial and error helped Gross refine methods for future campaigns.
When a person Gross knew became homeless for several months, empathy again took the driver’s seat. Gross put the hard-won lessons to work. They started an online and word-of-mouth fundraiser to cover move-in and rent costs. Gross promoted it through Mutiny Phoenix, The Coven and their own social media. The campaign started gaining traction towards the end of its first month. It reached something of a tipping point when two mutual aid groups on Facebook activated their thousands strong networks. After that, funds started pouring in.
Still, keep the scene alive has proved a challenge as COVID-19 prompted the closure of music venues, bars, and many other businesses. Most of the people Gross worked with fell on hard times as their income streams cut off abruptly. Gross helped friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who asked file for government assistance while keeping active on social media. “I've been stressed out. I've been homeless. I've been struggling for rent,” Gross said. “The pressure is immense. I just didn't need any of my friends feeling like that.”
The initial success of the emergency rent drive buoyed Gross’s determination to help others. Cassius King was next one the list. King’s job at a sushi restaurant had evaporated, but not the goodwill of local music aficionados. Evan Liggins, a local music producer, also received financial help. Gross was able to see the immediate impact of the funds, which to date total nearly $2,000.
Gross has a fourth recipient in mind but is still finalizing the details. They encourage people to donate to the emergency rent drive through the Cash App or another service. If anyone wants to donate or get involved with Mutiny Phoenix or The Coven, they can also reach out to Gross on social media.
“We have had a lot of successes and failures in the charity wing of Mutiny and have recently expanded upon our past social media strategies to raise funds for locals and neighbors,” Gross explained. “That led to the simple idea of helping to pay each other’s rents."