Madison Can Support The Best Artistic Talent

I’ve followed the Madison music scene for almost 35 years, and this is what I’ve learned: The scene rises and falls, rises and falls, but the baseline never advances and success is never built upon. Invariably the best talent packs up and moves on. In a cover story for Isthmus, I make the case this can change:

Let’s imagine another reality, a parallel universe where the Madison scene is so stimulating, so remunerative, so stone-cold happening that [sax player Patrick] Breiner felt compelled to stay. Imagine if the same could be said for Carl Johns, Nate Palan, Joy Dragland, Leo Sidran, Nika Roza Danilova, Alicia Smith and a long line of other inspired performers who packed up and left?

And what about Butch Vig, for crying out loud?

That’s the case I want to make here — that Madison can attract and hold the best artistic talent if it finally starts seeing music, and the arts in general, as an industry cluster that can bring wealth, jobs and renown to the city. Surprisingly similar, in other words, to the papermaking cluster in the Fox River Valley, the printing cluster in Milwaukee and the biotechnology cluster in Madison.

But here’s the catch: To turn an “art” into an “industry,” Madison needs a change in attitude and a change in strategy. I saw just this sort of thinking in Austin, Texas, almost a quarter-century ago.

In 1988 I worked for The Capital Times. The paper sent me down to Austin to figure out why another famous university town with a state capitol and a glorified tradition of progressivism and eccentricity had vaulted ahead of Madison in population growth and high-tech development.

I heard something in Austin that I never heard in Madison. City leaders and the go-getters in the chamber of commerce loved their music scene (outlaw country was still in full flower) and saw it in utterly pragmatic terms: It was a moneymaker and a draw for the creative class. The Austin chamber had a staff member dedicated to furthering the Austin music scene, doing everything from advocating for the city’s entertainment district, to pulling together the legal, marketing, financial services and recording infrastructure for musicians.

“It’s all part of our effort to diversify the economy,” a chamber exec told me.

I hope the story prompts a smarter discussion on how to promote the arts in Madison. To read more, please go here.

As for my bona fides: Well, I’m just a fan who sees a lot of music. Here’s a link to my 2010 year-end music wrap up. Links to summary stories for earlier years  can also be found there.

Explore posts in the same categories: Development, Music,

One Comment on “Madison Can Support The Best Artistic Talent”

  1. John Says:

    Great piece in the Isthmus. You may want to read this from Hypebot, detailing the economic impact of live music in Australia as researched by Ernst & Young. If only Madison knew this.

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