Q&A: Introducing Brisbane’s Newest Event Series 'The Courage Collective'



More than ever before, there’s a push in the music industry to create much-needed safe spaces for women and non-binary people. The Courage Collective are bringing this cultural shift to Brisbane with their exciting new project. Founded by Zoe Maras (97 Joyride Agency Founder) and JESA (Artist & Educator), this event is a celebration of women and non-binary people in the creative arts field. Inspired by their experiences in the industry, Zoe and JESA want to empower others navigating male-dominated spaces in the music industry.


In partnership with the Brisbane City Council & QMusic Winter Sessions Festival, this event will take place at The Zoo on 8 August 2021. The Courage Collective features an incredible line-up of local artists including BBTK, Cheap Date, Ivey, JESA & MARLOE.. You can listen in on some exclusive discussions from panel speakers including Leanne De Souza, Ali Tomoana, Andrea Kirwin, Damien Johnson and Zoe Maras. This is a unique opportunity to engage in open conversations with industry experts about the barriers faced by women and non-binary people. There will be free roaming art by Jodi Metta and The Courage Collective will be donating to Healing Foundation & Zig Zag. Grab your tickets here for a must-see night of live music, conversation and art from local creatives.

Zoe and JESA were kind to chat with us about the work behind this ground-breaking project and what they hope to achieve.


How did you come up with the idea for The Courage Collective? What impact do you want to make on the Brisbane music scene?

Zoe: "The Courage Collective has been made to make positive change within the music industry, and it has been made to provide a safe space for minority groups within a field that is still very male heavy. I want individuals to express, create and speak freely without judgement, and I hope that the event can provide a safe space for people to do so." "The name dawned on me one afternoon, and I ran it past Jess and without even completing the “so what do you think of The Courage Collective as the nam-“ question, she jumped at the event name. Conceptually, Jess and I kept having regular conversations about how overwhelming it was to be women in the music industry in respect to the current Me Too Movement in Australian music, which was arguably shuttled into the spotlight thanks to the brave Jaguar Jonze last year." "I made a brief remark over text earlier in the year to Jess about how we should make a safe space event, she love reacted it and then left it. A few days later, we found ourselves having the same conversation about how overwhelming it is being a woman in music, and I brought the event up again and Jess replied “… actually, yeah, let’s make this event’, and the next day we had a three hour Zoom call and the rest is history."

JESA: "I think like all things creative ,The Courage Collective was an idea floating out in the world that we simply caught. Inspired by Zoe’s and I conversation about feeling exhausted by the male-domination in the music industry we felt the push to do something positive and productive about it. My friend Mykaela has been holding smaller more imitate community events here in the Northern Rivers celebrating women & non-binary people and seeing her work has always made me want to create something similar. It began as wanting a safe space to talk about our issues which eventually turned into a full-scale event. In a brainstorming session Zoe came up with ‘The Courage Collective’ and I knew she’d stumbled onto something special almost immediately."

"For me feeling safe at a show is paramount to how I perform and interact with the audience. Given everything that has come to light with Jaguar Jonze I found myself angry, upset and frustrated with the lack of inclusivity, diversity and safety for women and non-binary people in the arts. Essentially I want to help create a space where we can all co-exist and honour and celebrate one another especially for minority groups like BIPOC and LGBTIA+ women and non-binary people who experience discrimination the most."

What unique music industry backgrounds do you both bring to the table?


Zoe: "A lot of my mentors call me an “all rounder” music industry professional, haha. I have 5 years worth of work experience as a venue booker, publicist, festivals, events, artist bookings, tour management, A&R and artist management. I’ve had the privilege to learn with some amazingly well-versed people so far, including some amazing female presenting professionals, who have paved the way for women like me." "Taking personal variables into account as well, I’ve been told to always have and uphold a high standard of work ethic from my cultural background, and these personal variables further enhance why I am so passionate about feminism, equality and advocacy. I am also a professional who is pro-mental health, and anyone who has worked with me professionally (and as a person) knows the three non-negotiables I uphold, which I usually clarify within meetings, internal company operations and morally and ethically as a person on a regular basis."

JESA: "I’m a singer/songwriter, self-managed artist (JESA), band leader, educator and advocate for human rights. I make folk/pop/rock music with hints of soul and blues driven by contagious melodies, punchy guitar and philosophical messages. I believe art is activism and I have been writing songs about social inequalities since age 8. I grew up busking at markets, playing open mic nights, being in as many school bands as possible and performing at Byron Bay Bluesfest at age 15. I then went on to study a Bachelor of Music (Major in Songwriting) and have been creating special live events such as Song Circle Series, the Bushfire Fundraiser and Queendom that were focussed on community, connection and storytelling. This year I organised an East Coast Tour with 2 sold-out shows and am currently working on my second EP which features songs with themes about mental health, body image, self-worth and empowerment. By day I teach guitar, piano, ukulele, songwriting and voice at the local music shop Resonator Music in Ballina and I’m incredibly passionate about watching others grow and use music to express themself."

How have you found the response to the event so far?

Zoe: "The public response has been so positively overwhelming. My emails and messenger was inundated with congratulations, gratitude and media requests after announce, and everyone who I am working with BTS has also shown their appreciation and respect which allows for working on events like these, which can be quite exhausting, a tad bit easier to create." "While the response to this event has been quite positive overall, but it has further reinstated the need for events like these: events that focus on creating safe spaces for minority groups, not just within the music industry, but within life. Its no easy feat, but paving the way in a positive way will continue to break down systemic injustice, and like I was told once in life, “you don’t make change when you’re comfortable."


JESA: "The response has been overwhelmingly incredible. From music industry publications to personal messages to organisations reaching out to be on board with this project it’s really made us feel like this is purposeful. Behind the scenes everyone we’ve worked with has been so supportive with our cause and the sponsors and crew have donated time to ensure this project has as much impact as possible. I want to thank every single person involved for their kindness, love and help. This event has shown me the power of community once again and my heart is so full."


Photo: Scout Cook-Long

What can music lovers do to support women and non-binary people in their local music community?

Zoe: "The list is endless, but people can start by donating to women specific charities, attending women specific protests, signing petitions, using their personal and professional platforms to advocate, buying from and supporting business with women at the fore front of their operations, as well as having active, productive and informing conversations with themselves and others about the topic of feminism and sexism respectably and just pulling people up whenever they see something happening." "People need to book more bills with, at the bare minimum, one female or gender fluid person, talk to the appropriate people if you see a gender imbalance on lineups, at venues and so forth. Some people don’t really realise they aren’t being inclusive until you pull them up. It’s no ones fault, but it further reinstates that the issue of sexism is so deeply engrained in society." "People need to prioritise hiring women in recruitment processes, work with more women, talk to women and give them a platform to speak, and people need to believe, support and nurture survivors. The issue also revolves around men being allies to the cause. Sly Withers are a band I recently worked with who have an amazing manager (Skinny, you legend) and team who really amplify their voices and platforms as men in music." '"Sexism, misogony, and any other gender-based bias is such a deeply complex issue, and change starts by re-evaluting pre-existing bigotry within yourself and then outwardly. I could harp on for hours about how society can change, but it’s a collective (pun intended) effort."

What advice would you give women and non-binary people trying to navigate male-dominated spaces in the music industry? Zoe: "I know it’s cheesy, but “know your worth.” I think it’s important to know your moral and ethical standard as a person and a professional and find a community that respects those things. Also, try and not let anyone silence you. If you feel uncomfortable, express it, and always retain your boundaries. Boundaries have helped me." "There are also so many little remarks, mannerisms and ways of being that people portray, whether intentional or unintentional, which belittle women on a daily basis. It’s that type of sublet sexism that you don’t really pick up until someone looking in says “woah, that was pretty sexist dont you think?” … that’s happened to me heaps. The whole explaining a story and someone, usually a woman in music, flagging the casual sexism. Having someone flag these things, however, has helped me identify and remedy it as a professional within the music industry, and I am all the more better for it."


JESA: "Don’t change. Your art is incredibly important, authentic and we need your voice now more than ever. There may be people who will try and they are not the ones to focus on. It’s isolating at times, I know, BUT there are many women and non-binary people who share your experiences and don’t be afraid to reach out to them, they will hold you. It’s okay to be upset, angry, frustrated, annoyed or exhausted when the system does not favour you and that is tiresome, but if you can channel these emotions into creativity in some way I promise it will feel better. Find people who really see you in the music industry and care deeply about you not just what you do and surround yourself with as many of those people as possible. They will be there when you sell less tickets, or have a bad show, or are unable to feel creative or are struggling with mental health. You don’t ever need a reason to say no, if something doesn’t feel right then that is a reason."

What can attendees expect from The Courage Collective Event?


Zoe: "Safety, inclusivity and empowerment through music, live art and panel discussions. The event also has First Nations, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and Non Binary representation, so there is a vast array of perspectives to be displayed and from this, event attendees will be provided with a vast array of perspectives to enable a platform to educate."


JESA: "From our artists B.B.T.K, Cheap Date, IVEY, JESA and MARLOE. You can expect everything from hip-hip to rnb to pop grooves, amazing powerhouse vocals, killer guitar riffs, soul touching lyrics and the all encompassing feminine energy tearing up the stage. From our panelists Ali Tomoana, Andrea Kirwin, Damien Creates, Leanne De Souza and Zoe Maras you can expect vital conversations from differing perspectives around reshaping the music industry. We will explore topics that are sensitive with LGBTIA+ and BIPOC voices at the forefront of the discussion. We’re also really excited to be having JinX doing an incredible live mural art on the day which attendees can join in on. Thanks to our incredible sponsors Death by Decaf, Merlo Coffee, Heaps Normal, Support Act, Netherworld and 4ZZZ Radio (official sponsor) we will have a raffle, non-alcoholic beverages, mental health pamphlets and have the event broadcasted live on 4ZZZ. It will be an evening with a cross-sections of arts with all proceeds giving back to not-for-profit organisations Healing Foundation (First Nations charity) and Zig Zag (Women’s crisis support charity)."


A huge thank you to Zoe and JESA for sharing their passion with us! Don't miss this incredible chance to fight for change within the industry by showing support for talented minority artists.


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