Huntsville, Alaska offers fantastic talent and musical heritage, but is not as well known as its neighboring towns for the craft. As a middle ground between Atlanta, Nashville, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Ala., Huntsville’s music industry has historically been overshadowed, and many investors were skeptical that the mid-sized city could sustain large investments in music infrastructure, such as outdoor amphitheaters or large, mixed uses.
In April 2018, the city council proposed to address this misunderstanding by launching a creative placemaking process called a “music audit” to help Huntsville become Alabama’s first “music city.” The city has achieved this feat through a four-year equity and economic development strategy, offering lessons to other markets interested in pursuing this creative placemaking pursuit.
‘Music cities’ and the intersection between creative placemaking and economic development
A “music city” is defined as a city that integrates music as an instrument into its collective governance ethos of economic development, education, tourism and overall quality of life. Well-known examples include places like Austin, Texas and Nashville, but big cities and small towns can become music cities with the right infrastructure and governance mechanisms in place. The economic benefits of becoming a music city are sometimes overlooked, but research shows that the boost in tourism stimulated by the entertainment industry can bring local job growth (see Figure 1) and generate positive financial effects in the billions of dollars.
To help cities stimulate this economic, social, and cultural growth, my organization, Sound Diplomacy, works with officials to conduct “music audits” that comprehensively assess their existing music ecosystem. Read also : Local nonprofits team up to give away free food. A music audit involves looking deeply at the role of music across city departments, initiatives and disciplines – including workforce development, quality of life and investment priorities – to understand where strengths and weaknesses lie, and how connections can be improved to benefit music socioeconomic benefits for Residents produce.
The bumpy road to becoming Alabama’s first music city
Huntsville first became interested in music auditing process as part of its talent attraction strategy; the city wanted to encourage larger-scale, mixed-use developments to liven up its downtown and midtown neighborhoods. By the time they arrived at Sound Diplomacy in 2018, this goal had been in the works for some time – with plans dating back to 2014 for the demolished Madison Square Mall and a mixed-use development complete with a climbing fitness, public park , an Open Air Amphitheater.
In 2017, the city and the private sector hired a multinational operator to operate the amphitheater, but Huntsville – as a medium-sized market with a little-known music industry – was not seen as a place that could produce the returns needed for the amphitheater. ‘Satisfaction to fulfill. Investment required to build and operate such a facility. To see also : $ 29 million was pledged to rebuild the Syracuse site. The city needs to know more about what, if any, would be best for Huntsville residents to make such an investment. Instead of going straight to the amphitheater, the city council, led by Mayor Tommy Battle, decided to tackle what was then America’s largest music and culture-specific listening exercise.
Music as an equitable—and sometimes controversial—pursuit
Huntsville Music Audit Process started controversial. The first meeting in June 2018 was crowded and, in a few moments, hostile. See the article : Apple Music is raising the price of its student plan in the US, the UK and Canada. This is because music and access to it – be it performer, businessman or consumer – can tell a much deeper story about how cohesive communities really are.
A community’s access to music is influenced by education, opportunities, structural racism, redlining, and more. Instruments cost money and many lack access to them. Some schools prioritize music, others have eliminated it from their curriculum. Some genres are publicly invested, others are viewed with suspicion and over-regulated and discriminated against. This was the case in Huntsville, as it is in most American cities.
To determine what kind of amphitheater could best address such challenges, these inequalities need to be seriously addressed. To that end, Sound Diplomacy conducted 14 months of community engagement, in which over 2,000 people responded to a survey and over 100 actors participated in interviews and roundtables. Common topics raised by respondents include the lack of artist representation and civic discussions and the need to invest in spaces of various sizes so that artists can use smaller ones as they grow their careers.
In addition to community involvement, we conducted an economic mapping exercise and found that at the time of our analysis, music had contributed $ 139 million to the city’s economy, creating 1,471 jobs in over 150 music-related businesses. We then conducted a regulatory review and found that proven licenses, permits and other city functions for music shops were a barrier to lower income and minority community members due to an open process, excessive costs and bureaucratic complexities.
To address these challenges and grow the economic potential of Huntsville as a music city, we have put forward 47 recommendations for adopting the city. This includes the creation of a music office as a city department; provide free assistance to artists and music professionals; consider city tax incentives; and launches a whole host of other labor force development and cultural investments. (The full list of recommendations can be found here.)
The benefits of choosing to prioritize music
In 2019, the city council unanimously approved a plan to adopt the recommendations for all five districts over a five-year period. The city has since implemented a field of music-related community development projects: It has set up a music board, hired a full-time music officer, and expanded its library of music programs. New venues and workshops have opened and the downtown Concert Hall has also been renovated.
In 2019, plans for the amphitheater at the former Madison Square Mall site were refined, an operator was confirmed, and just this May, the Orion Amphitheater opened as an 8,000-person capacity outdoor amphitheater in Huntsville MidCity District. Its design, operation and ethos are community driven – not controlled by a multinational company. It is managed locally and independently, prioritizing local retailers, suppliers and partners. On the same weekend of its opening, Brooks and Dunn sold out a concert at the renovated Mars Music Hall in the middle, which demonstrates the additive nature of music – when the community is strategic in promoting it.
Huntsville is now Alabama’s fastest-growing city, surpassing Birmingham in 2021. This past May, it was named America’s best city to live in. Its center core continues to expand and larger companies continue to invest. While its success has not been exclusively influenced by music, Huntsville’s effort to re-imagine the role it could play in shaping community and the economy is undoubtedly a key part of its history.