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MusicCrossroads initiative aims to draw not-for-profit performing arts groups

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Indianapolis' success at living up to its self-proclaimed status as the amateur sports capital of the world is legendary. Now city and civic leaders are trying to build a similar hub of not-for-profit music organizations through a lower-key initiative dubbed MusicCrossroads.

Its first big score: the former Bands of America organization--now called Music for All Inc.--which moved from Chicago in 2003. Momentum grew in 2007 and this year, when two other groups joined the chorus.

The effort targets groups with large events, but organizers want more than the temporary infusion of free-spending visitors such gatherings attract. MusicCrossroads wants the organizations to set up shop in Indianapolis.

Eventually, they'd like to draw attention to hometown performing arts groups with signature events such as the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, JazzFest and the Heartland Film Festival.

So far, it's working. The three organizations that already moved to Indianapolis brought with them competitions and conventions that boost MusicCrossroads' total impact to an estimated 700,000-plus visitors and $300 million in visitor spending in the next 10 years.

Housed at the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau, MusicCrossroads is a coalition of several not-for-profits focused on the music and arts overseen by a board of advisers. Its goal is to support music groups, helping them grow and collaborate with one another.

MusicCrossroads' $350,000 annual budget comes from the ICVA and a $100,000 grant from the Indianapolis Foundation.

With support from city and civic leaders, the initiative now is going after three more groups and plans to launch several locally based pilot programs to tie the community together via music.

Mayor Greg Ballard has high hopes for the effort.

"The next big discipline that we're pushing right now is the music community," Ballard said at an April 30 speech to business leaders. "[We] are going to use music as we used sports 30 years ago, that's the intent. I'm on board with that."

Ballard, a member of the advisory board, did not respond to IBJ's requests to discuss MusicCrossroads.

Building on success

The initiative has its roots in the late 1990s, when ICVA executive Matt Carter was charged with reviewing convention clients to see if they were fiscally sound and how likely it was that their events would grow.

But association leaders also encouraged him to think above and beyond the norm of just trying to land the hottest, growing events.

By then, the city was about two decades into its effort to attract amateur sports organizations and their events. That push gave birth to the Indiana Sports Corp. in 1979, which has since helped attract and stage more than 400 events that have generated an estimated $3 billion or more in direct economic impact.

Indianapolis now is home to a number of such organizations, including the NCAA, USA Track and Field, and USA Gymnastics.

Given that success, ICVA leaders encouraged staff to look creatively at other events and the host organizations. One of Carter's assignments was Bands of America, which has since merged with another group and been renamed Music for All Inc.

What he saw was "a diamond in the rough," he said--a not-for-profit with a huge national marching band championship, a national fund-raising base, and a lot of potential for growth that could be nurtured in Indianapolis.

And a strategy was born: Instead of trying to sweet-talk music groups into bringing their events to Indianapolis, the city would court them with a more complete package, including relocation support and professional guidance.

"We want to be the wind in their sails," said Carter, now the ICVA's vice president of strategic development.

Cultural cache

Besides boosting business at the Indiana Convention Center and other venues, the effort is seen as a way to use music to improve education in Indiana.

Several studies, including a recently released compilation of more than two decades' worth of research by the Sounds of Learning project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, find a tie between music program participation and high academic achievement.

Plus, Carter preached, having more musical talent in the city would add to its funkiness and cultural allure. He found a proponent in Central Indiana Corporate Partnership President Mark Miles, a trombone player who "was into music in a serious way" while growing up.

"We hope that, over time, we can increase our students' involvement in music," Miles said. "Kids who get involved with music become better students and higher achievers."

Miles also headed up the city's successful bid to host the Pan Am Games in 1987, which helped launch the city's quest to be an amateur-sports hub. Others who were part of the sports push also are involved, including Indiana Pacers executive Jim Morris.

The board also includes some West Coast music-industry leaders, including executives from Los Angeles-based instrument makers Remo Inc. and Yamaha Corporation of America, and San Diego-based NAMM, the trade group for music products.

With the board's guidance, Music-Crossroads has developed a three-pronged approach to luring groups:

The effort is targeting fiscally strong not-for-profits that already have a national fund-raising base to avoid competition with home-grown member organizations that rely mostly on local donors.

Organizers are offering relocation assistance, including financial support for the move and training such as courses through the Lacy Leadership Association and Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy.

And finally, MusicCrossroads is working on plans to offer technical support through a partnership with the IU School of Informatics.

"Once we unlock the value by attracting certain events, then we can reinvest the proceeds," Carter said.

International Violin Competition of Indianapolis Executive Director Glen Kwok acknowledges that more groups in Indianapolis could mean more fund-raisers "going to the same wells for money."

But, he said, the groups' missions are diverse enough now that it hasn't been a problem yet.

"Each of these arts organizations moving to town is diversely different from others already in the city," he said.

One-of-a-kind

It's a thoroughly unique pitch, partner organizations said.

Take Music for All. Before it moved from the Chicago area in 2003, other cities routinely called its leaders about hosting the organization's annual marching band competitions. But none offered the basic question Indianapolis did: What can we do to help you grow?

Though the entire vision for MusicCrossroads wasn't there yet, the intent showed.

"We had not been approached on that front," said Music for All CEO Scott McCormick. "It really differentiated Indianapolis from anyone else out there."

Drum Corps International, which moved to the city this year, is the first organization to get the full treatment. MusicCrossroads is organizing volunteers for its International World Championships in Bloomington, Indianapolis and Michigan City in August.

"MusicCrossroads has helped guide us in the community," said Drum Corps International Executive Director Dan Acheson. "It is this kind of collaboration that attracted us to make the move we did."

As the initiative picks up steam, MusicCrossroads will backtrack to offer the full array of training and technical support for each partner organization.

Though MusicCrossroads' efforts mirror the city's amateur sports initiative, Carter said he doesn't want the music effort to achieve the same scale. Currently, he and one contract employee run the show, and he said any growth would mean creating another not-for-profit that would potentially overlap existing expertise.

Carter said he's already in talks with three more not-for-profit music groups that host large events. He wouldn't name names, but said he's happy no other city appears to be copying the strategy yet.

It's a strategy that some watchers said is so unusual, it could work.

Many cities and states don't work to attract not-for-profit groups because the organizations don't pay corporate income tax, said Larry Gigerich, managing director of locally based Ginovus LLC, a corporate relocation adviser.

"Indianapolis has an enlightened view on this because employees still pay personal property taxes, individual income taxes and if you capture these organizations' events, it can be critical," he said.

MusicCrossroads is on the verge of launching several pilot programs that bring member organizations together. For example, this fall, a new concert series called "Finding the Groove" will start at Indiana University.

Hosted by IU's Jacobs School of Music, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Music for All, the concerts will be geared toward kids age 7 to 12 and will be linked with an online social network.

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