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OTwo Interviews: Sam Stewart of Sam’s Collective


Deputy Editor Ilaria Riccio sits down with Sam Stewart, founder of the Sam’s Collective, in a conversation about fostering a respectful and inclusive community where everyone is equally valued.

By Ilaria Riccio | Feb 27 2024


This LGBTQ+ History Month special issue is an opportunity for The University Observer – and OTwo Magazine – to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community by spotlighting queer voices and experiences. In this way, while we reflect on our shared past, we may look towards the future of the queer community in Dublin with hope. 


Greater inclusivity has certainly been a positive development for the LGBTQ+ community worldwide, and in Ireland more specifically, with the emergence of several spaces that celebrate queer identities by providing a safe social experience. Dublin houses one such space, the Sam’s Collective. Founded in May 2022 by Sam Stewart (they/them), the Sam’s Collective is an event agency that guarantees a non-judgemental, respectful space for the Dublin queer community. Specifically, the Collective’s core values include helping people by fostering an inclusive and respectful community. This is achieved through events that make the Collective stand out from the rest of the Dublin nightlife scene, offering alternatives to traditional club-like events. I witnessed the Collective practising what they preach at one of their events I attended in November 2023; my own experience with the Collective made me even more excited to sit down with Stewart in a conversation that touched on the origins of the Collective, its events, and the role it plays for the Dublin queer community.


As soon as we began talking, it became clear to me that the Sam’s Collective mission statement perfectly embodies the reasons why it was founded. An Irish native, Stewart lived in New York  – specifically in Brooklyn  – for four and half years; there, they attended several artistic events including open mic nights. When they moved back to Dublin, Stewart revealed that they struggled with their mental health to the point that they were in a psychiatric hospital five days a week. When Pride 2022 rolled around, Stewart expressed their desire to organise something special for the Dublin LGBTQ+ community. The Collective’s first-ever open mic night was thus born from Stewart looking for an event similar to the ones they attended in New York and an inclusive space to share the poetry they had written while in the day hospital. Interestingly, that June 2022 open mic was “supposed to be the one-off pride event” but eventually “grew into something way bigger than I thought.” 


Stewart admitted that they had never hosted events before, but organising the Pride open mic gave them “something to focus on when I was in the day hospital: it was something exciting, something positive.” Indeed, this one-off event garnered so much positive feedback that Stewart decided to host more. Alongside the relative lack of open mic nights in the Dublin nightlife scene, Stewart cited a “need” for events like this as one of the main reasons open mic nights remain the Sam’s Collective’s ‘main event.’ In Stewart’s words, this ‘need’ is mostly related to how “everyone says that they felt so held, comfortable and safe in the space that they could [...] get up for the first time ever behind the microphone.” 


I attended one of Sam’s Collective open mic nights last November, and my conversation with Stewart allowed me to reflect on my feelings whilst at the event. The atmosphere in the basement of Wigwam on Abbey Street, where the Collective’s open mic nights are currently held, was filled with comfort and mutual respect, despite many attendees having likely never seen each other before. This sense of respect was reinforced by the presence of several posters on the walls of the Wigwam basement that reminded the crowd that ‘this is not a space for: homophobia, misogyny, racism’ and other examples of discriminatory acts that could spoil the experience for attendees and the Collective’s crew. Another poster recites ‘In this house we respect each other’s pronouns.’

The atmosphere in the basement of Wigwam on Abbey Street, where the Collective’s open mic nights are currently held, was filled with comfort and mutual respect, despite many attendees having likely never seen each other before.

Stewart played a pivotal role in ensuring that the Sam’s Collective remains a safe and inclusive space at all times. In fact, at the beginning of every open mic night, Stewart outlines a set of rules for the crowd to follow; these rules include not talking during performances, clapping at the end of each performance, and encouraging performers to get back on stage even if they happen to mess up the first time. However, these rules serve an educational purpose: specifically, Stewart described the rules as “a contract between the crew and the audience, and the performer and the audience;” a mutual “agreement” rather than a code of conduct. Another important ‘rule’ the audience agrees to is to be escorted out of the space should they break any of the other rules. These rare occurrences were described by Stewart as “gentle” rather than antagonistic; Stewart specified that escorting someone out does not mean that transgressors are “not allowed in the space anymore” but that their behaviour in that specific moment did not comply with the values of the Collective. The posters around the place, Stewart argues, act as reminders of what behaviours are not tolerated in the space throughout the events. 

At the beginning of every open mic night, Stewart outlines a set of rules that the crowd will be required to follow throughout the night; these rules include not talking during performances, clapping at the end of each performance, and encouraging performers to get back on stage even if they happen to mess up the first time. However, these rules serve an educational purpose.

Stewart is the one responsible for enunciating the rules, and I was able to witness the graceful way they do this and wait for everyone to give their non-verbal agreement before proceeding with the event. Alongside being educational, I was astonished by the confidence with which Stewart protects the inclusivity of the Collective: it is not pretentious, but full of understanding and experience. I was thus curious about how Stewart manages to foster such a respectful relationship with their audience without sounding threatening; I was unsurprised to learn that they had done volunteer work and took part in bystander and sexual harassment training courses. Importantly, the rest of the crew of the Collective also participated in these courses, which contributed to the overall respect and inclusiveness of the space. Stewart was particularly pleased with the readiness with which the Collective’s crew also took part in the training since “it really showed me that the team that I have, all care: they want to be a part of it and want to understand what we’re doing, but they’re also learning the skill to curate the safe spaces, alongside with me.”


Stewart’s experience with volunteering and training are not the only reasons why safety, mutual respect, and inclusivity are the standards in any event hosted by the Sam’s Collective; the New York nightlife scene, which Stewart personally experienced, profoundly influenced the Collective. For instance, Stewart mentioned a queer nightclub in New York called House of Yes where they first encountered the ‘no room for...’ posters in a nightlife space. Furthermore, Stewart explained that having rules guiding the crowd’s behaviour throughout the events has its roots in the New York burlesque scene: “Their events are all about consent and making sure that everyone is respected. [...] the lines can be easily misconstrued in those spaces: there have to be clear rules.”

The New York nightlife scene, with which Stewart had a first-hand experience, profoundly influenced the space.

The posters, the rules, and Stewart adopting an attitude that facilitates fostering an inclusive environment are only one side of how the Sam’s Collective has created an inclusive community that has each other’s back. Another way this is achieved is through the Collective’s ‘research corner.’ The research corner, a table with leaflets from different agencies and helplines, was the first thing I encountered when I entered the Wigwam basement at the open mic night. The physical version of the research corner is complemented and expanded by the list of links to resources available on the Collective’s website. Stewart cited their personal experience as the primary reason for signposting people to relevant services they might need: “I had just come home from New York [...] the hardest part for me was finding where to go and what it was that they gave.” By having resources readily available, the Collective ensures that people are aware of the services Dublin – and Ireland in general – offers; on this matter, Stewart emphasised how signposting is “an important part of the work that we do.” 

The availability of helpful resources, coupled with the overall inclusive atmosphere led me to think that the Sam’s Collective represents a safe haven for the queer community in Dublin. I shared this thought with Stewart, whose response struck me for its humility: “I would like to think that people are coming through our doors knowing that [accepting everyone for who they are] is the standard.” At the open mic nights, these ‘standards’ are not limited to ensuring inclusive energy but also include ensuring all performers feel comfortable to go on stage. Stewart recalled several instances where first-timers beat the initial awkwardness and reached a point where they felt comfortable enough to continue performing: “We had someone recently come onto the stage, I had read out their name and there was a bit of hesitation, and I was like ‘you don’t have to get up, it’s totally fine if you’ve changed your mind.’ They got up on stage and said, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever gotten up behind a microphone and I’m terrified.’ [...] The second that they started speaking… everyone's jaws were on the floor. They have come back three or four times since then.” Stewart highlighted the rewarding aspect of seeing the performers’ increasing comfort on stage, and I could sense the pride in their tone as they thought back at the growth of many individuals who trusted Stewart and the Collective with their art. 

The availability of helpful resources, coupled with the overall inclusive atmosphere led me to think that the Sam’s Collective represents a safe haven for the queer community in Dublin. I shared this thought with Stewart, whose response struck me for its humility: ‘I would like to think that people are coming through our doors knowing that that’s [accepting everyone for who they are] the standard.’

Open mic nights are only one of the three regular events the Sam’s Collective currently hosts. The other events are the Gender-Free Clothes Swap and the Mental Health Check-In Coffee Mornings. Although different in terms of ‘content’ – between themselves and the open mics – these events retain the Collective’s mission statement of fostering a community and helping its members. I was particularly curious about the Clothes Swap, and Stewart enthusiastically replied that as with the open mic nights, this event stemmed from their personal experience. “I love clothes. It’s a creative, artistic thing for me” – which led to Stewart owning “too many clothes.” At the same time, Stewart reflected on their privilege of being able to juggle between the women's and men’s sections of clothes stores knowing that “no one would bat an eye at me,” which many members of the LGBTQ+ community cannot relate to. The main purpose of the Gender-Free Clothes Swap is thus to “make clothes accessible for everyone” by “taking the labels out” – in terms of sizing, gender, and so on. The Clothes Swaps are a place for mutual help: alongside Stewart ensuring people can choose the clothes they want without fear of being judged, attendees share their own experiences finding a style that best reflects their gender identity. In Stewart’s words, they often witness people “who might have been raised and socialised a certain gender... having a conversation with someone who is trans and learning [how to express themselves through clothes] as they go.” 

The Clothes Swaps are a place for mutual help: alongside Stewart ensuring people can choose the clothes they want without fear of being judged, attendees share their own experiences finding a style that best reflects their gender identity.

The Gender-Free Clothes Swap takes place in the Beckett Locke Hotel by the 3Arena, which is also where the Mental Health Check-In Coffee Mornings happen. As expected, this event was conceived from Stewart’s personal experience, too. “There was so much that I learnt in the day hospital, like the nurses and the other patients who taught me skills. [...] At one point I was like, ‘Why aren’t we all taught this in school?’” Stewart elaborated that the main goal of the Mental Health Coffee Mornings is to “start conversations between groups of people” through, for instance, prompt cards. There are also other activities, such as mindfulness colouring and board games. Importantly, there are “a couple of therapists who donate their time to come to the mental health mornings... if anyone’s in distress or to help signpost them to certain organisations.” The Mental Health Coffee Mornings are free to attend and represent a secure and inclusive space where mental health is not treated like a taboo, but open discussions are encouraged and valued. 

The Mental Health Coffee Mornings are free to attend and represent a secure and inclusive space where mental health is not treated like a taboo but open discussions are encouraged and valued.

Whilst making it stand out within the Dublin nightlife scene by offering ‘quieter’ events, the Sam’s Collective has also hosted more ‘traditional’ nightlife events, notably club nights. These club nights retain the inclusivity of the other Collective’s events and allow attendees the opportunity to enjoy a night out in a space where they will be respected for who they are. Stewart explained that at the club nights, “We had the door person greet people and tell them the rules for the night, and then they were allowed in with the agreement of the rules.” Furthermore, the Collective’s crew spends the event “walking around making themselves accessible for people if something was to happen or if someone needed help.” That these club nights have taken place in the Wigwam basement adds to the overall safety of these events by being set in an environment most attendees are already familiar with. These club nights also represent an opportunity for some student DJs who have collaborated with the Collective and shared its values to showcase their craft in an event that suits their art best. In this way, club nights are “a learning experience” much like the open mics, as DJs become more comfortable in their art through performing.  

Club nights are ‘a learning experience’ much like the open mics, as DJs become more comfortable in their art through performing.

Since the Collective caters specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, I inquired whether Stewart encountered resistance when organising events – for instance, from venue managers. I was pleased to hear that it has been “more like the contrary: a lot of the managers and event owners come in and see that we had quite a special thing, that there’s something different about this.” Instead, obstacles are mostly related to ensuring venues are accessible to everyone. On this matter, Stewart expressed disappointment that the Wigwam basement is not accessible for wheelchair users but explained that this choice of venue was related to the closure of the previous space the Collective used in the Beckett Locke hotel. These accessibility issues thus prevent the Sam’s Collective from being fully accessible to everyone, which is upsetting to Stewart: “It’s been hard because I say ‘we’re an inclusive space;’ it’s hard finding spaces that... suit everyone: that’s the main obstacle.” 


These logistic difficulties do not undermine the Collective’s mission to help the members of its community. Notably, this objective extends beyond their events; last December, the Sam’s Collective organised its first Secret Santa initiative. Started as an initiative that would also celebrate Stewart’s birthday, the Secret Santa aimed at raising money for members of the queer community “who needed any gender-affirming items or any necessity.” The money raised was used to buy the items the people who had applied had asked for, and the initiative was a complete success: “We got something for everyone that had applied. That was probably the most rewarding thing that we’ve done to date.”


This statement was a brilliant segway for me to ask Stewart for other examples that made them feel that the people who are involved with the Collective are receiving its message of inclusivity. They shared two specific anecdotes that demonstrate that the Collective is succeeding in fostering a safe nightlife environment for the queer community. For instance, Stewart mentioned a bartender who once told them that the Collective’s open mic nights are his “favourite shift to work” because the atmosphere in the space made him “feel so held... so wholesome and so cosy.” Another occurrence Stewart recalled – which I found extremely touching – involves a couple who stood out from the rest of the typical audience at an open mic night; at the end of the event, the couple approached Stewart and told them that their son had recently come out so they “wanted to check out the type of LGBTQ spaces in Dublin. We wanted to make sure that he’s safe and that there are spaces like this; thank you for doing this because we know he comes here, he’s safe and he’s okay.” 

At the end of the event, the couple approached Stewart and told them that their son had recently come out so they ‘wanted to check out the type of LGBTQ spaces in Dublin. We wanted to make sure that he’s safe and that there are spaces like this; thank you for doing this because we know he comes here, he’s safe and he’s okay.’

I was at a loss for words after Stewart recalled this event as I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to hear those words. On their part, Stewart admitted they feel a slight awkwardness whenever somebody compliments them and thanks them for what they are doing with the Collective: “I find it quite surreal that this has happened, so when people come up and acknowledge it, I’m like, ‘it wasn’t me [...] there is a group of us, it wouldn’t work without the crew.’” However, Stewart admitted that seeing the community grow with every passing event is another incredibly rewarding aspect of what they do: “I’ve seen people have friendships of months since I’ve introduced them [..] or we’ve had a couple of ‘collective couples’ that have met and moved in together.” 


What I gathered throughout my conversation with Stewart was that the reason why they do not feel what the Collective is doing is particularly groundbreaking relates to how inclusivity should be the norm in social spaces – not only queer ones. Indeed, Stewart stated that greater emphasis on safety and inclusivity is what they hope to see change for the better for the Dublin LGBTQ+ community as the year continues. A way to achieve this, Stewart suggests, is by having venue staff undertake training courses that will allow them to handle different situations and ensure a safe nightlife scene. 


As we wrapped our conversation, Stewart teased the return of the regular events and incoming events that are currently still in their planning stages. Furthermore, they stressed that Sam’s Collective guarantees a learning space for performers as well as photographers, sound engineers, DJs, and other creative roles. Should you simply be looking for a night out in an inclusive and safe environment, the Sam’s Collective is the right place to be. 


To stay updated on the Sam’s Collective events, make sure to follow @samscollective on Instagram or visit https://www.samscollective.com/. For other inquiries, email info@samscollective.ie.

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