an activist trying to keep a legendary music venue open is getting the names of donors tattooed

This isn’t the first time Collingwood’s The Tote needs saving, but Shane Hilton predicts it will be the last.

Hilton and his partner, Leanne, are hoping to secure the future of the legendary live music venue with a financing model that could keep other struggling venues out of developer hands.

Related: ‘We need to bring down their power’: Why Australian music is facing an ‘existential threat’

“The Last Chance to Save the Tote” has been called the largest crowdfunding campaign in the history of live music and has been hailed as a model for preserving the halls of other bands, which are increasingly under threat in the age of Spotify and of gastro-pubs.

They just need $3 million to do it.

Hilton is so committed to saving the venue, he’s even started tattooing the names of donors on his body as part of what he calls a $1,000 “lifetime membership.”

The campaign raised nearly $1.5 million, but the couple must double that by May 6. The current owners, Jon Perring and Sam Crupi, must therefore accept the offer.

The Tote is listed for sale through commercial property agents Miglic Dean with a price tag of $6-$6.6 million. While the listing highlights the hotel’s rich four-decade history “supporting Melbourne’s live music scene,” it is also marketed as an opportunity for “a mixed-use development that incorporates the hotel as a hub.”

In their Pozible campaign, Shane and Leanne – who are also co-owners of Melbourne’s rock ‘n’ roll bar Last Chance – say the hotel is in danger of being ‘turned into apartments, or worse one of those awful pubs converted into tissue boxes running to make as much money as possible with no dirty rock & roll in sight.”

If they can buy the Tote, Hilton said they would set up a charity to run the venue, which they say would be the first of its kind in Australia.

“We’re going to put it in trust, and ultimately what happens is we’re handing the building over to an independent charity who will own the Tote the rest of the time,” Hilton said.

Melbourne is a cornerstone of Australia’s live music scene: last year, five of the six Australian acts at Glastonbury were from Victoria.

But locals have struggled since the end of the pandemic lockdowns, with the closure of Jimmy Hornet and Color.

The Curtin was saved when the new owner agreed to sign a 10-year lease and Footscray’s Westwood Hotel is up for sale.

Hilton has said that without drastic action, the closures will continue to happen.

“Live music venues and pubs are in prime development ground,” he said. “So many of them have been turned into apartments. These spaces are disappearing.

“We think it’s a model that can be used in other places to protect spaces. It’s something that governments could look at and fine-tune.

“These spaces are important, they are community spaces. It’s not the walls, it’s what goes on inside them.

In addition to fundraising, the couple contributed what they could. While I can’t say how much the offer was, it was less than the $6.6 million asking price.

Hilton said: “We entered an offer that we could basically afford.

“We entered it with the hopes that the campaign would go to $3 million.”

So far, in terms of offering tattoos to lifetime member donors, he has over 70 tattoos.

“I have more than 650 still to be tattooed on me,” Hilton said. “I have a lot of space, I only have one whole leg, one thigh and my buttocks.

“Even if we fail, it will be a reminder of how strong the community is.”

Alan Crabbe of Pozible said the campaign was the largest in the history of live music.

“With over 5,200 supporters, I can’t think of any campaign in the music industry internationally that has garnered that much support,” Crabbe said.

“Overwhelmingly, many supporters see this venue as a Melbourne institution, one that needs to be preserved for future generations to experience, as they have.”

The current co-owners did not respond to questions before the deadline but said earlier they would look “welcome to proposals that ensure a live music component”.

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