Forget SXSW: Give That $250,000 to Colorado Artists Instead

Bands playing at the Colorado Music Party in 2013.
Bands playing at the Colorado Music Party in 2013.
Mary Willson

For someone like me, who comes from working within the DIY music world, $250,000 is a lot of money. Like, a shitload of money. But $250,000 was what was spent last year on the Colorado Music Party, a five-day, five-night unofficial showcase at South by Southwest in Austin. Organized by the Fort Collins nonprofit SpokesBUZZ, Colorado Creative Industries and the Colorado Tourism Office, the event brought more than 100 local bands to Texas for the industry-focused festival.

A quarter of a million dollars went to creating a space for musicians from the Denver metro area and beyond to perform in another state, the value of which is hard for me to comprehend. On one hand, it's great that so many local acts were able to go and play outside of Colorado, something that doesn't happen enough. But on the other hand, thinking about how much bands could do if they were given any of that money outright — it just seems like so much cash that could have been better utilized in other ways beyond a music showcase crowded with dozens of bands. 

I make that last comment because this year, SpokesBUZZ decided that hosting another Colorado Music Party at SXSW wasn't a financially viable option (organizer Dani Grant goes into greater detail in a conversation earlier this week with Colorado Public Radio). More than $50,000 of 2015's event funding came from the government in the form of grants, but the rest was raised by the nonprofit itself. That's a lot of money for a relatively small organization to come up with while also working to fiscally sustain itself.

The thing is, in Colorado, SpokesBUZZ is already consistently doing great work supporting its musicians up north. The organization runs an incubator in Fort Collins that allows artists to learn about the inner workings of the music industry directly from professionals immersed in it. It has also hosted BandSwap, a program that "traded" well-performing Colorado bands with bands from other similar-sized music scenes in other states, in an effort to help build new fan bases. 

I know there are many factors that contribute to this opinion, but I just wish we could invest more directly in our artists. I hear so much about how Denver has a booming creative community and creative industries that are finally getting attention from the city, and that's great. But what I want to know is: Where are the jobs that provide enough money and flexibility for musicians and artists who want to devote their life to their art? Where is the support at a city level for affordable housing and practice spaces and workspaces?

When looking at a number like $250,000, I wonder: What if Colorado had a grant program that did more of the things that SpokesBUZZ has already started doing in Fort Collins on a multi-city level? Or, what if the state government dispersed $250,000 to ten musical acts directly? Twenty-five thousand dollars could change an artist's life. Bands could buy reliable vans, and artists could finally afford to make a great record and adequately promote it. Musicians could quit the jobs that hadn't allowed them to tour and get on the road and push for full-time musicianship.

Or with a quarter of a million dollars, the state could open an all-ages DIY venue — like the Bernie Sanders-sanctioned 242 Main in Burlington, Vermont, which is owned by the city and run by the parks and rec department, along with several generations of volunteer kids for the past thirty years. The city would be doing a huge service to the creative community by giving music-minded young people a place to learn how to run a venue, operate a soundboard, book and promote shows and become the next era of concert promoters.

In reality, the state should have a lot of interest in the actual survival of our arts community; it's one of those things being used as a selling point for people and companies looking to move here. Our many museums, music venues, restaurants, comedy nights, theater productions and arts and music festivals aren't just for tourists; they are reasons that Colorado is looking more cool to outsiders every day. Why not take $250,000 and invest it directly in Colorado artists and, in turn, the Colorado economy?

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In Denver, we're lucky to have Arts & Venues, a government agency that works directly with artists and performance spaces to elevate our creative community. Colorado Creative Industries — which worked with SpokesBUZZ on the Colorado Music Party last year — is also a state-connected program helping artists and communities across the front range. We are well on our way to being a state that actually supports its artists instead of just vaguely pontificating about the possibility of providing aid. But getting money directly to artists and giving them the necessary freedom to make what they want to see in the world would help a lot.

I'm not saying that Colorado musicians or music-supporting organizations shouldn't make an effort to get to festivals like SXSW. SXSW and other out-of-state festivals can be of great value to Colorado acts when it comes to exposure and connection. But I do think there are better ways to spend a quarter of a million dollars supporting local musicians: by giving it to them directly, so that they can make the art that keeps Colorado interesting and viable.

Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies


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