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Macon Telegraph Editorial: Investing in a Creative Class

For the Macon Telegraph.

During the past several years, the idea of a rehearsal space for local musicians has come up frequently. It’s often spoken of as some sort of panacea for Macon’s music scene, or as an invisible mecca that once reached, can save the soul of a city swimming in musical heritage but dreadfully treading water as a sustainable music scene attempts to establish and support itself.

In lieu of a detailed plan for such a space, the strategy for its inception usually seems to be to throw money at a state-of-the-art facility with all the bells and whistles — something very clean, something very fancy, constructed on the Field of Dreams principle.

However, Macon should know full well that state-of-the-art buildings do not guarantee attendance or solely create any tangible economic impact. In case the short-term memory has failed, take the example of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which was built upon the same principle.

The city of Macon, for all its boosterism of its musical past, never truly supported the organization — never fully invested in its continued success — and it ultimately ended up as a messy failure.

As the music scene stands now, there isn’t support for another such brick-and-mortar monstrosity, which seems like another doomed case of putting the cart before the horse at this point. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to think about the problem from the opposite perspective — a bottom-up investment in musicians themselves rather than in another building.

Instead, I might suggest a series of partnerships that benefit not only the music scene, but the community as a whole: Offer bands incentives to move to Macon; partner with building owners to offer reduced — or free — rent in the scores of unused properties around town in exchange for some sort of creative product; partner with business owners to facilitate part-time jobs; create a do-it-yourself network that provides assistance to musicians with anything from T-shirt screening to finding healthcare.

Spaces that can be used for musical rehearsal are already extant and adequate, but the people to occupy them are not. Construction of another facility tips the scales in the wrong direction, but an investment in people creates a communitywide base of support.

Think of it as an investment in the “creative class” that usually accompanies (and often precedes) real change in a city. As has been discussed in this column in the past, larger cities such as Atlanta (or even mid-sized cities such as Charleston) have scenes that came together organically.

There is no formula. It seems the recurring trait is a community that values and supports original music by attending shows, venues booking local acts, and providing a place for them to live and work. Another facet of all of this is attracting musicians and bands from other areas, as they bring in fresh ideas that can strengthen and invigorate a scene.

Of course, all these things require a much broader and complex investment than throwing a lump sum of money at a building in hopes that it will be a catalyst. There is no doubt that money is always involved in changing a city for the better, but in a city and economic climate where resources are still severely limited, it is incumbent that it be spent wisely.