(Our reason for being)
“In addition to being generally awesome, BHW operates on a shoestring budget as a record label, public listening library, online music shop and community radio station, among myriad other noble pursuits that make the rest of us seem really, really lazy by comparison.” — Dan Bolles, Seven Days
A CONTEXT FOR BIG HEAVY WORLD
Big Heavy World seeks to engage young Vermont volunteers in the creation of live and recorded music, and to become the official Vermont Music Office in the fashion of those found in Texas, Washington and other states.
Live and recorded original music by Vermonters contributes to the social and economic wellbeing of Vermont. Music punctuates the uniqueness of the Vermont brand, generates a sense of place, and provides a platform of shared values and experiences that are the foundations of community. Big Heavy World was founded to preserve and promote the music of Vermont; to create economic opportunity for Vermont’s musicians and businesses relating to live and recorded music; to bring Vermont musicians together as a self-empowered community and represent this cultural treasure to ever wider audiences; and to accomplish these goals while engaging and inspiring young Vermont volunteers.
Big Heavy World’s objectives and programs support the recommendations of The Vermont Council on Culture and Innovation, coordinated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, in pursuit of a vision in which “our cultural expressions and heritage are central to the fabric of each and every Vermont community.” Big Heavy World is a music office after the model of those found in Texas, Washington, Illinois, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia and New Mexico.
Recommendations of the 2004 report by the Vermont Council on Culture and Innovation, Advancing Vermont’s Creative Economy:
Support the Growth of Creative Enterprises by expanding markets, unifying promotion, enhancing the Vermont brand, producing celebratory events, building a Vermont artists and artisans market identity, and providing technical support and access to capital for culturally-based businesses and creative entrepreneurs.
Promote and document the roles that creativity, culture, and innovation play in Vermont’s economic future by tracking and reporting this economic sector, reinforcing arts and heritage education, and instituting a statewide public information campaign.
Invest in communities so they may build on their past while adapting for a vibrant future by making culture and heritage priority community investments… expanding cultural facilities funding, and encouraging creative entrepreneurial development in vacant industrial space.
Develop Vermont’s creative economy through community-based planning and improved statewide collaboration by facilitating locally designed creative economy projects, building a collaborative umbrella between statewide cultural organizations, and establishing a nonpartisan Governor’s Commission to provide leadership for the growth ofVermont’s creative economy.
AN OVERVIEW OF BIG HEAVY WORLD, A COLLABORATIVE INNOVATOR
Big Heavy World, established in 1996, deploys the internet, radio, and other technologies to bring expanded awareness of Vermont made music. This includes the streaming of live concerts and the digitization of thousands of recorded songs with partners such as Yahoo!, Broadcast.com, Fox and MTV.
Big Heavy World was established in 1996 as the Internet emerged into public awareness, with volunteers deploying the World Wide Web and other technologies to bring expanded awareness to Vermont-made music. The organization brought youthful, tech-savvy entrepreneurial energy to the task of promoting Vermont-made music and created diverse projects to forward this goal. Information about Vermont’s music industry was published in online directories at www.bigheavyworld.com; live concerts were streamed online at the advent of streaming technology in partnership with Mark Cuban’s AudioNet and later Broadcast.com and Yahoo! Broadcast; digital audio and video recordings captured Vermont’s unfolding music history; thousands of songs were made available digitally in partnership with Liquid Audio; Vermont music was packaged with new portable digital music (MP3) players by numerous companies; and synchronization licenses were facilitated with broadcasters like Fox, MTV, and live televised European winter sport events.
As relationships with Vermont’s musicians grew in number and geographical scope, a public archive of Vermont recordings and an online music shop were established. Collaborative projects were conceived to bring Vermont-made music to the 3,000,000+ travelers that visit the state’s Visitor Information Centers or ride the Champlain Ferries. Collections of music by various Vermont artists were released on CD, marketing more than a dozen genres. The organization created promotional CD samplers for commercial radio stations and the Vermont Ski Area Marketing Association, as well as a streaming “jukebox” of Vermont-made music for the SkiVT web site. In 2009 Big Heavy World participated in the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial event with a two-CD compilation of music found in Vermont during its first 400 years of Westernization.
“In these times of ever increasing demands on the limited budgets of our shared government and community resources, and the critical importance of youth to the quality of our future, it gives me great comfort to know there are organizations like Big Heavy World and individuals like Jim Lockridge who work selflessly to assist youth in realizing the promise of that future. Big Heavy World, in encouraging youth to dedicate themselves to the arts, technology and service to their community, is creating a beacon to move our young people along the right track. It is a privilege to support the efforts of Big Heavy World, and I would strongly recommend that others do the same.”
— Bernard Sanders, U.S. Senator
In 2007 Big Heavy World launched a licensed community radio station, WOMM-LP 105.9FM ‘The Radiator,’ a successful effort to secure a traditional broadcast outlet for Vermont-made music. The radio station streams online in several formats, is heard in iTunes, and via a free iPhone app. Vermont music on The Radiator can be heard worldwide.
Each week bands and musicians visit Big Heavy World to appear on the radio station for live interviews. They meet with volunteer writers, photographers and videographers. Interviews are published to the web site and comprise an ongoing effort to capture the historic record of music in Vermont.
“As an independent Vermont artist/entertainer, Big Heavy World’s support for music of all genres, has been a welcome asset. Constantly providing platforms and exposure for Vermont artists, their dedication to the arts is a crucial part to the sustained growth of music throughout state.” — Tim Brick
Big Heavy World produces live showcase events that earn press for Vermont musicians and produces a free annual, all-ages festival of live music, music-themed documentary films, and panels and workshops that foster music industry acumen among Vermont musicians. Big Heavy World loans a 15-passenger van to Vermont musicians who could not tour without this resource, made possible by Good News Garage.
The organization has been an aggressive and successful innovator. Its integrity is recognizable in an emphatically inclusive institutional culture and collaborative approach to securing the greatest public benefit with thrifty application of resources. It is universal in its support of Vermont-made music and since 1996 has advanced the interests of Vermont’s music community.
“They’ve brought intense focus to their mission and have accomplished it with an entrepreneurial, youth-powered spirit that reflects well on Vermont and its citizens.”
— Paul Costello, Executive Director, Vermont Council on Rural Development
A UNIQUE AND VALUABLE MODEL THAT CONTRIBUTES TO VERMONT’S BRAND
“Young Vermonters need to see that there are opportunities for creativity, innovation, success, and prosperity here in Vermont, as well as outside the state. Vermont must provide educational opportunities to meet the needs and goals of all Vermont’s youth through workforce training, education in the trades and technologies, and college and advanced degrees. The state should celebrate the youth who stay, welcome those who move to or return to Vermont, and support their development as leaders in defining the future of the state.” — A conclusion of the Council on the Future of Vermont in the 2009 report, Imagining Vermont: Values and Visions for the Future
The ongoing programs and special projects of Big Heavy World occur in an environment that engages young adult volunteers in technical, professional, and social skill building. Their experiences are personally enriching while also creating real-world benefits for Vermonters statewide as they capture and archive the state’s cultural legacy and improve musical artist’s opportunities for exposure and success.
Managing a crew of young volunteers can be complex. Their schedules can be erratic; commitments indefinite; they often have no experience or skills appropriate to the tasks they seek to participate in; and their attention can wander from one interest to another. These circumstances would harm the credibility and success of a traditional office and offend and challenge its leadership, but at Big Heavy World they represent opportunities for development of Vermont’s most precious resource — it’s future.
The organization is managed to support the inexperienced participation by young adults in all aspects of its programs and operations, creating direct public benefit that young volunteers have personal ownership of. It’s supportive of their traditional or non-traditional career goals and inspires a sense of self-worth, motivation and confidence, and optimism for each participant’s employment future. ‘Soft skills,’ resumes, job search skills, positive work habits and attitude, and problem-solving skills are fostered while young volunteers are transparently pursuing personal interests relating to music.
Because the office is staffed by youth it functions as a very forgiving learning situation; all volunteers arrive with the expectation that training is necessary, and this training is approached with a keen sensitivity to maintaining enthusiasm for the position and the organization’s community and mission. Traditionally our youth staff has included students who range in ability from ‘high achievers’ to those with physical or emotional disadvantages working with social service providers.
“From digitizing and cataloging all Vermont music, to creating innovative after school learning and mentor programs, to extensive community outreach, Jim and Big Heavy World are a truly unique and passionate community force.”
— Dayna Collette, Navicate / Linking Learning to Life
The U.S. Department of Labor goals for teens aged 16-18 include ‘Occupational Skills’ and ‘Work Readiness.’ The Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents (ages 12-18) identifies 40 critical factors for young people’s growth and development. Big Heavy World programming addresses many of them: Support: Adult relationships other than parents; Empowerment: Community Values Youth, Youth as Resources, Services to Others; Boundaries & Expectations: Adult Role Models, Positive Peer Influences; Constructive Use of Time: Creative Activities, Youth Programs; Social Competencies: Planning and Decision Making, Interpersonal Competence; Positive Identity: Personal Power, Self Esteem, Positive View of Personal Future.
Referrers include word-of-mouth and personal interest in the local arts (music) community; high school and college community service graduation requirements; high school and college internships and service learning projects; court-ordered community service for low-level offenders; alternative high school and college programs (Pathways, Mt. Abraham UHS; College STEPS Program, Johnson State College); social services including Spectrum Youth and Family Services and the Boys and Girls Club; career service offices; the Vermont Division for the Blind & Visually Impaired; VT Dept. of Labor programs (Vermont Works for Women, Vermont Youth Summer Employment Opportunities Program, others); the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce (Navicate / Linking Learning to Life, PILOT), the Community Justice Center, Court Diversion, College Steps Program, and others.
The teens participating at Big Heavy World end up with skills and experiences that are valuable to them socially and professionally. They have fun being a part of an organization that is respectful of diversity in Vermont’s artistic community, supports the efforts of regional musicians, and is deeply technology-oriented. The work of Big Heavy World serves present and future generations, imparting self-worth and confidence to the young people who accomplish it. They get to explore career options and do tasks that remove fear from future exposure to similar technical and professional situations. They engage with their local arts community, peers, and adults who provide a positive and preventative situation for their benefit. Big Heavy World’s volunteer positions are open to all members of the community but the organization makes a focused effort to provide the greatest benefit possible for young adults. Young Vermonters who experience their community and its culture this deeply may have a positive outlook toward their state and choose to remain in Vermont when they seek higher education or employment.
“Big Heavy World is leading the way in documenting and creating a splendid archive of modern Vermont music of every kind, and Vermonters today and for many generations to come will benefit significantly from that activity.”
— J. Kevin Graffagnino, Director, Vermont Historical Society
THE CASE FOR AN INDEPENDENT VERMONT MUSIC OFFICE
“The arts beautify, enliven and animate an area. The arts and their attendant support services, such as administration and marketing, provide employment. Cultural activities attract residents and tourists, who also support adjacent businesses such as restaurants, lodging, retail and parking… The presence of the arts enhances property values, the profitability of surrounding businesses and the tax base of the region. The arts attract a well-educated work force — a key incentive for new and relocating businesses. Finally, the arts contribute to the creativity and innovation of a community.”
— Americans for the Arts, Cultural Districts: The Arts as a Strategy for Revitalizing Our Cities
The private and public tools that exist to represent music in Vermont provide incomplete, disconnected, or exclusive representations of Vermont’s music products and community. Event listings are commonplace but incomplete; major listings of general arts information are published without an index of industry categories; various nonprofit groups publish information about their specific local communities or vertical interests (traditional music, shape note singing, etc.); and no forum has been constructed to help bring all Vermont musicians into recognition of each other via the internet, which would have the empowering effect of generating mass social capital and the coinciding benefits of a large community that could effectively improve its economic standing and more broadly represent the diversity and quality of Vermont-made music.
While Vermont has recognized the potential of improved statewide collaboration and building a consolidated representation of Vermont’s arts markets, it has not produced these efforts in relation to music. Local nonprofits have represented artists local to themselves, but no inclusive representation of the statewide music sector has been implemented by the State of Vermont to foster awareness of Vermont’s music products or artists, or to bring Vermont’s musicians closer together in awareness of themselves as a community. Among other Big Heavy World programs, this effort has been independent, volunteer-staffed, and continuous since 1996.
“Your objectives in preserving and promoting Vermont-made music has certainly been accomplished, and we are all benefiting from the dedication and hard work that you, your staff, and your many volunteers have put into this most worthy project.”
— James H. Douglas, Governor
Vermont has begun to formally define the cluster of arts and industries that comprise the state’s ‘Creative Economy.’ A formative Creative Economy rubric has been present in Vermont for more than eight years but an Office of the Creative Economy was not formed and staffed until December, 2011, dedicated to development of “high-paying, skilled jobs that are critical to the state’s economic future.” The creative enterprises identified by the OCE as preeminent in Vermont’s creative economy include “web designers and software game programmers to architecture, e-commerce, graphic design, publishing and film and new media companies, among others.” Music is not yet an identified priority of the OCE, although other states like Georgia highlight and incent music in their economic development marketing. An encouraging sign of positive change is VT OCE Director Lars Torres’ November Tumblr post positioning Vermont’s music for public consideration of its economic value.
The Vermont Arts Council is the formal distribution channel of state funding for the arts. It leverages its state appropriation to secure further support from the National Endowment of the Arts and distributes this funding as small grants to Vermont artists and arts organizations via a peer-reviewed decision-making process. These grants are a boon to these organizations and distributed via an equitable best practice, but are not distributed on a scale large enough to capitalize or be transformative of a statewide and sector-wide enterprise. VAC funding can not be looked to to represent the State’s investment in innovative, entrepreneurial, cooperative and universal supports for the arts. The office is guided by an intention to fund established arts organizations for which the VAC predicts continued self-sufficiency, and is philosophically opposed — and acts in active opposition to — direct funding of arts organizations by the legislature, preventing Vermont from achieving a diverse, innovative and collaborative statewide infrastructure for arts support.
This top-level inertia is reversed at the interpersonal level. Individuals within Vermont state government recognize the value that authentic regional music of all genres contributes to quality of life; how value is added to the experience of Vermont’s brand by travelers who are exposed to Vermont’s original arts and culture; and how compelling music is to Vermont’s youth who are leaving Vermont for higher education and employment at rates that concern those with a long-view of Vermont’s future.
“A huge part of our mission is supporting and promoting local artists, and The Radiator is a staunch ally and invaluable resource for local music. It is a listener-supported, community-minded powerhouse and we’re grateful for its positive impact on Vermont musicians.”
— Brian Mital, Director, Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
Big Heavy World has leveraged these intuitive responses to create further resources and opportunities for Vermont’s musicians, developing collaborations that bring Vermont-made music into Welcome Centers with the Dept. of Buildings & General Services; creating a job skills-building program with support from the Dept. of Labor; operating as a preventative environment for teens with program support from the Dept. of Health; working with the Dept. of Tourism & Marketing to develop tools that more widely share and contribute to the state’s events calendar; and joining the statewide partnership in planning for the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial of 2009. While state policy has not generated a cohesive program or tool for fostering or marketing music, the citizens comprising state government have repeatedly demonstrated that music is a valued element of state life and facilitated Big Heavy World’s support for the sector.
VERMONT WAS NOT THE FIRST, BUT COULD BE THE LEADER
The activity of independent artists, writers & performers in Vermont generates direct, indirect and induced outputs of more than $260,000,000.00. — Main Street Landing, The Economic Footprint of the Arts in Vermont
Vermont’s state government has not created supports for music, but other states have. The legislature of Texas founded a music commission in 1985 and established the first state music office in 1990. Texas’ first appropriation to the music commission, an extension of its film commission, was $39,000.00. New Mexico established the New Mexico Music Commission in 2005 with an executive order defining the need with, “Whereas, at present New Mexico lacks a comprehensive system to support and promote music and musicians and lacks appropriate coordination of music resources throughout the state; and Whereas, music and musicians in New Mexico should benefit from the success other industries in New Mexico have achieved, such as the state’s ever-growing film industry.”
Seattle, (pop. 598,541) and Austin, (pop. 656,562) have populations equivalent to Vermont’s and each established music offices. Seattle created a music commission in 2010, with a vision document that states, “Seattle’s music industry will be valued and supported for its enhancement to the city’s tax base and for fostering economic diversity. Educational and not-for-profit music will be valued for its important contribution to the continuity of this industry and for enhancing the quality of life in the community. Such endeavors will receive sustainable financial support from individuals, foundations, government and business.”
Music offices across the United States express values that honor the role music plays in the lives of their citizens and recognizes the positive contribution it makes to economies. Other state and city governments invest purposefully in supporting their music economies and communities. Big Heavy World has recognized the significance of music to Vermont since 1996. Vermont has an independent, volunteer-run, philosophically inclusive, grassroots nonprofit champion of its music community, staffed by young volunteer citizens. A state like ours, with a music office like Big Heavy World, could be an international model of state & private partnership, citizen engagement and entrepreneurial support for the arts.
“The organization’s volunteers have been dedicated to their community and Vermont’s musicians for years, with their hard work resulting in successful resources for Vermont’s youth and musicians. Their sense of localism and community, and helping young people experience personal growth socially and professionally is very valuable to us in Burlington. They leverage slim resources into vibrant outcomes, and in my opinion are a worthy and supportable institution.”
— Melinda Moulton, CEO Main Street Landing