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Chamber's music initiative aims to turn up volume on Indy's scene

August 21, 2018

Indianapolis doesn't trip off the tongue, either as a song lyric or as a city synonymous with the music industry.

The Indy Chamber thinks it could.

The local economic development and business advocacy group is working with city officials and a consultant to see how Indianapolis can develop a strategy around promoting its existing and historical musical scene—and then write the next verse in a higher key and more robust tempo.

“Indianapolis’ musical assets are greater than most people would know, the most obvious being our legacy as a jazz city that reached its peak in the 1940s through 1960s on Indiana Avenue,” said Indy Chamber President Michael Huber, who plays keyboards and sings background vocals for a Chamber band.

Huber said it will be important not to “set out to be something we’re not.” Rather, he said, to capitalize on the assets that are already here, such as Indiana Avenue, music programs at local universities, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, local artists and venues like Fountain Square's The Hi-Fi.

“If we tie them together, we really think there’s a story there about who we are,” Huber said.

The chamber will contract with London-based firm Sound Diplomacy, which according to the chamber “advises communities on creating and capitalizing on their music cultures,” to develop a three-year strategy for the city’s music scene, and will outline the city’s musical assets, determine direct and indirect economic impact, and outline possible policy ideas.

Sound Diplomacy has worked with the city of London and advised government officials in Cuba, Vancouver, San Francisco and Alabama, according to the group’s website.

Huber said the effort is in the early stages, but possible activities could include developing music venues, housing or creative spaces for musicians, and grant-making or incentives to attract concerts and organize community events.

At the least, stepping up the city’s external marketing is a priority, Huber said, making “music a bigger piece of how the Indianapolis region is presented in terms of culture and economic development.”

“We’ve got all these music communities that exist but we could do more to tie them together—the roots rock, jazz and hip-hop communities,” Huber said. 

The strategy will be partly funded by the chamber but the group will also be fundraising. Huber said the chamber is “still trying to determine the project budget.”

Chamber officials acknowledge that investing in music seems a bit outside the group’s wheelhouse, but they believes developing cultural assets is increasingly important to retaining and attracting talent.

“Music is inextricably tied to the economies, and brands, of many of our thriving American cities: think Nashville, Seattle, Atlanta, and Austin, to name a few,” according to the chamber’s website for the initiative. “A closer look at Indianapolis’ music assets indicates that with some effort and coordination, Indianapolis could and should be included on that short list.”

The website also acknowledges that “artists struggle to reach regional success, venues and artists face legality and policy hurdles, and conversation about music is met with exclusion.”

Also, Huber said, most people don’t realize the number of small, music-related businesses that Indianapolis has, from venues to small record labels, that are in the chamber’s membership. Helping those businesses grow is within its interest, Huber said.

“These businesses sometimes fly under the radar,” Huber said.

The chamber’s effort will work collaboratively with the city’s Create Indy program announced last week.

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