The future of the internationally acclaimed Day for Night multimedia music festival is in serious jeopardy following claims of sexual assault and workplace harassment against co-founder and executive director, Omar Afra.
Day for Night creditors removed him from the position on August 12 when posts by three women came to light via Facebook. Afra promptly responded to the allegations via his Facebook page, acknowledging he'd be stepping down from his duties with the festival as well as his publisher position with the online publication, Free Press Houston.
The claims came to light late on August 9 in public social media posts by two women, Veronica Ramos and Phoenix Hamilton, both who described, in sometimes graphic language, accounts of sexual assault by Afra. The posts included screenshots of what appeared to be texts written by Afra as well as a sworn affidavit by Hamilton of the events that occurred.
Hamilton and Ramos shared a link to a Google doc named Healing and Transformations are Possible for those who wish to share any similar experiences they may have had with Afra.
Their accounts were followed by an allegation of workplace harassment by Amanda Hart, who formerly did work for Free Press Houston, on her Facebook account. “I have personally seen him cultivate a toxic work environment where people are manipulated, mistreated and abused emotionally,” she said.
Afra has vowed to fight the allegations, claiming that they are “patently false.” He took to Facebook in response: “It would do no justice to anyone for me to capitulate to lies and fabrications. There is so much more to know about this coordinated attempt but this is clearly not the forum to do so. If I am to move forward on a path of true integrity I need to apologize for what were bad decisions but fight falsehoods tooth and nail.”
The festival founder declined an interview, but supplied CultureMap with an additional statement.
What these women are claiming is patently false. This will be proven with screenshots, video, and correspondence. We believe their affidavits were falsified and perjured and I believe we have supporting evidence. More importantly, HPD and DA’s office quickly disposed of these claims almost instantaneously. What they claimed was clearly not sexual assault and the rule of law very quickly made that judgement.
Day for Night responded on August 12 in a short statement on its Facebook page, stating that creditors had foreclosed on Day for Night ownership, thereby removing Afra from his position with the festival. Marini van Smirren, who is listed as general manager of Day for Night on her LinkedIn page, offered this statement to CultureMap.
“We at Day for Night find it inappropriate to discuss the future of the festival at this time. We want to give this space to those who are dealing with this traumatic event. Thank you.”
Day for Night started in 2015 and received widespread praise for its expertly curated, varied line-up of music acts and cutting-edge visual artists. By attracting huge names such as Nine Inch Nails, Thom Yorke, Kendrick Lamar, New Order, Bjork, and more, it gained attention from international music press, including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and many others. Online music publication, Consequence of Sound, included Day for Night on its Top 100 Music Festival Lineups of All-Time earlier this year, a huge accolade for a Houston-based event seen as an fresh alternative to the country-and-western flavor of RodeoHouston.
There is no indication of how Afra’s ouster will affect the future of the festival. No dates or lineup has been announced for 2018. Programming, planning, and booking artists often take place months before a festival date. There is no word on how long organizers and creditors knew about the allegations leveled against Afra.
The fallout of the allegations has been swift in other ways in what are sure to be the first shockwaves throughout the Houston music community. On August 11, Girls Rock Camp Houston, a music non-profit dedicated to empowering girls and women through musical education, and beneficiary of monetary donations and event partnership with Afra, also cut all ties.
“It probably is because we have had a relationship with Omar that even while we are sickened by what we have learned and wanting to see justice for these and all women, we also want him to get help,” the post on the group’s Facebook page said. “We want him to realize this behavior is wrong and change. We want all men to realize this behavior is wrong and change.”