Follow-Up Report on the Town Hall to Discuss “Strengthening Madison’s Music Infrastructure”

Follow-Up Report on the Town Hall to Discuss “Strengthening Madison’s Music Infrastructure”


(For the initial article on the Town hall and some background on the budget initiatives read this previous post first – Ed.)


There was a fairly good turnout of about one hundred people at the Bartell Theater on the evening of November 8 to partake in a Town Hall session to discuss Madison’s music scene and the items mayor Paul Soglin had proposed in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The four panelists, the Mayor, Jose J. Madera, Chair of the Madison Arts Commission, Aldersperson Scott Resnick and Make Music Madison coordinator Michael Rothschild, were surprised at the turnout and probably not quite prepared for some of the tough questions thrown at them.

Things got started with Madera who read the Arts Commission mission statement followed by another statement the Commission apparently just released (although I couldn’t locate this on their site).Madera referred to the ongoing Arts Study the Commission has been undertaking for the last few years.Madera then turned it over to Soglin and that’s when things began to get surreal.

Soglin had the support of those in the room initially, delivering a heartfelt statement about how artists in the city need to be paid for what they do. He referred to this again later on identifying it as “a problem that we have to fix.”  It seemed odd then that a large part of the discussion was centered on a one-day summer solstice festival that by all appearances is designed to pay no one. In fact, the only people who would receive any funds from the proposed initiatives, by all accounts, are the producers of the proposed $50,000 music video and the $20,000 item for a consultant to do a study to determine whether Madison could mimic Austin by holding an event similar to that city’s SxSW event.

It was a relief to me, and I believe many others, that the SxSW study had already been shelved from further exploration but I believe many of us were a bit surprised to find the $50,000 video, designed to go viral on YouTube and stimulate tourism, still had such strong legs.

What happened next was just downright weird. The mayor called for a clip of the Grand Rapids video which wouldn’t function for technical reasons then remarked that the idea was we could do much better. The Grand Rapids video uses Don McClean’s “American Pie” to promote the city in a way that can only be compared to that Dr. Pepper commercial where everybody rips their clothing off to reveal some slogan in truly distasteful mob scene fashion. The Mayor then wanted to give a hipper example of what we could do so he called for a clip of a promotional video made by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which featured a guy syncing to – I shit you not – “Gangnam Style.” Thankfully that only lasted a few painful seconds before the technical glitches kicked in. The mayor remarked that “If I saw that I’d be saying, “I’m going to MIT!’”  What?? Never mind that 1). It’s made in Korea 2.) It sucks ass and 3.) Not one of the 30 million people who’ve seen it can name the guy who stars in it.

Alder Resnick seemed to be there to defend the production of the $50,000 video but had little to offer other than “this has to be professionally done.” He brought up the “Teach me How to Bucky” video. It just so happened that the producer of that video was sitting right behind me, leaned up to me and said that they did that video for practically nothing.

The mayor made a few other comments that he wasn’t pressed to clarify. One was a statement that our venues are nurturing local talent but didn’t clarify how. One would have to deduct he’s talking about exposure – the same principal that is driving the Make Music Madison event. As Clyde Stubblefield has been heard to say, “Exposure? People die from that.” The mayor also remarked the city has made some enormous investments but indicated that it’s nowhere near what is possible. While this seems true enough he wasn’t pressed to give examples beyond this obvious reference to Overture. He also stated there were four “Madison songs” being considered for the video but did not specify what those were. Lastly he lavished the Dane Dances program with praise stating that the increased funding for that program is intact. Why a $5,000 increase to Dane Dances is lumped in as part of these initiatives is perplexing. While a LOT of are wondering, “Why their program to the exclusion of everyone else’s?” this is hardly a “new” initiative.

The Q&A section proved truly bizarre. When I questioned the panel about how a $50,000 video that goes viral was going to improve conditions for musicians that already live and work here, Soglin responded with some tripped-out nonsense about active waterways and how musicians are the sons and daughters of pirates and scoundrels. The Mayor had a similarly empty response when Brian Standing, a local activist and trombonist with the Forward Marching Band, asked how the Mayor could support musicians being paid while also supporting an ordinance that prevents street musicians from soliciting money. He also had no answer for questions relating to issues such as what could be done to address the fact the musicians make no money here and that talented musicians are compelled to leave the city in order to find success in other cities that are more supportive and have more industry. Another question was asked about how the city could subsidize rehearsal space and possibly even living space for artists. The mayor seemed to have a revelation about this one – as if he had never entertained the idea before.

Rothschild gave some brief history about how his idea for Make Music Madison evolved from a French festival he witnessed. Rothschild is very enthused if a bit overwhelmed about the prospect of pulling this event off. He’s very organized, however, and continued on for another hour afterward discussing the event and the volunteers he needs to pull it off. Rothschild was actually prepared to answer a question of what’s going on to support hip-hop inMadison as the city has a reputation for not being hip-hop friendly. “There’s a box on our organization chart for Make Music Madison that has hip-hop written on it,” he explained. He then suggested the questioner get involved and take ownership of it. Good answer.

This is not meant to be a put-down to these initiatives. It was heartening to see this discussion take place and wouldn’t it be sweet if the city and the Arts Commission had this conversation on a regular basis? There is a much larger conversation to have, obviously, and it’s encouraging to see efforts being made to connect those with the ideas and solutions with those capable of putting them into action. The current initiatives underscore the city’s approach to music as being a way to support the city and not the other way around. With increased dialogue perhaps the city will come to the realization that it needs to involve the musician-citizen as part of the planning, not just the implementation.

← Thankful A Look at Madison's Music Scene and the Mayor's Proposed Budget; Town Hall at the Bartell Theater Nov. 8 →

About the author

Rick Tvedt

Rick is publisher of Local Sounds Magazine, formerly Rick's Cafe, Wisconsin's Regional Music Newspaper. He is also the Executive Director for MAMA, Inc., a non-profit organization that produces the Madison Area Music Awards and raises funds to promote youth music programs.

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