As Sound Diplomacy announces plans for American outpost, get to know our first boots on the ground
Guest post by Elizabeth Cawein.
I don’t remember the exact day, month or year that I became obsessed with music – I imagine it really set in far too early for my recorded memory – but I do remember when I became obsessed with music and cities.
It was 2015, and I’d been spending the better part of the year working to build a nonprofit export office in my hometown of Memphis that would focus on leveraging our music for talent attraction, tourism and economic development, while creating a needed pipeline for our musicians to grow their national audiences. In the midst of that work I’d become interested in the interesting ways other cities – in the U.S. and across the globe – were approaching supports for their music ecosystems.
Enter Sound Diplomacy and the Music Cities Convention, the first-ever in the states, held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in October of 2015. I saw a Billboard story about the conference by chance and was immediately intrigued. But it was just a few weeks away, so I figured it wasn’t practical to try to make it work. I decided to check flights, just in case, sure that the last-minute price gouging would make the decision for me.
Somehow, the flights were hovering around $115.
Almost as soon as I closed my Kayak.com search tab, I had an e-mail from my husband – he would need to be in D.C. at the end of the month for a conference. The exact dates of the Music Cities Convention. If I didn’t think it was kismet then (I did), I certainly know it was now.
That one-day event left me feeling the best kind of exhausted: my brain absolutely swimming with ideas, my passions ignited, and my preconceived notions smashed. I was hooked.
At the close of the conference I marched up to Shain Shapiro, Sound Diplomacy President and Founder, and asked what I needed to do to bring the Music Cities Convention to Memphis. Two years later, that’s exactly what it did. The Memphis edition of Music Cities Convention, held in October 2017, was in a way the beginning of my working relationship with Sound Diplomacy, as I spent a year working with them to put together the conference programming and logistics.
A year later, I had the pleasure of working with the Music Cities team again for the Music Cities Convention in Lafayette, La., handling publicity and marketing for the convening. And in January of this year, we made it official. I’m thrilled to join the Sound Diplomacy team, especially at such an exciting time of growth with the opening of a new U.S. home base.
The reality is that America traditionally has lagged behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to funding and supports for arts and culture, so to see so many U.S. cities interested in thinking about innovative ways to grow their music ecosystems and understanding the broad impact that a healthy music community can have for their citizens is exciting, and I hope a sign of a paradigm shift ahead. The prospect of being invited to so many incredible places to discover their music cultures and to help them realize the potential in their own cities is a thrill for my music-and-cities obsessed brain, and an honor.
And beyond my hometown of Memphis – one of America’s richest and most important music cities – Sound Diplomacy is already working with some of my favorite American music hubs: New Orleans, Muscle Shoals and San Francisco.
I also can’t wait to discover the music of Indianapolis, Fort Worth, and Huntsville. (And so many others I can’t mention just yet!) What I know to be true is that music makes our cities better. It drives economic impact, it creates jobs and attracts talent. It invites people to our cities, brings in hotel tax dollars and creates cultural connection through tourism. It improves education, it brings life to our neighborhoods. It gives us pride in a shared civic identity and makes us invest and care deeply in who we are as a city. And when our musicians thrive, our cities are full of creative people who can very often bring creative solutions to civic problems.
When our musicians thrive, our cities thrive. I’m driven by that belief, and lucky to be part of an organization that believes it, too.