Monday, March 14, 2011

Music is an Art Too

I got my start in journalism by reviewing concerts for IndianapolisMusic.Net. At the time, I had no significant exposure to local music and very little experience in writing outside of my classroom. I'll be eternally grateful to folks like Matt Fetcher and Steve Hayes who gave me a chance to voice my (at the time very) uninformed opinion and let me hone my craft on their website.

I remember, at the time, then-Mayor Bart Peterson talked about making this a city for the arts. But I guess Peterson didn't consider music an art. Because throughout his time in office, the city had a very contentious relationship with the all-ages crowd that attended concerts and events at venues like Festivillia, the Emerson Theater, and Solidarity Books.

Solidarity Books Collective was a hangout for various groups, including the Green Party and members of the hardcore music scene. In August, 2003 it was raided by the Indianapolis Fire Department, Indianapolis Police Department, the Seattle Police Department, a bomb squad, and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The SPD and the ATF agents were in town because the National Governor's Association were being held in downtown Indianapolis. IFD claimed they had a tip on some minor fire code violation, but found nothing. IPD and SPD proceeded to search the entire building, including the rooms on the second floor where several people lived and had their personal belongings stored. Of course, without a warrant.

IFD issued citations for stuff like a lack of fire extinguishers, and later, IPD claimed they were looking for "weapons and chemicals", even though Solidarity Books promoted non-violent forms of protest.

Solidarity Books sued the city with assistance from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, but I'm unaware of how the lawsuit was resolved. What I do know is that Solidarity Books is no longer around. And sadly, that's a reoccurring theme in this town when someone provides a safe, drug-free environment for young people to hang out in.

The Emerson Theater had a run-in with IPD in 2004. The all-ages venue allowed smoking at the time, so it was common for people who wanted a breath of fresh air to go outside in front of the venue to get a breath of fresh air. This crowd would often increase when a band wasn't performing. One night, IPD officers ordered about a dozen people back inside because they were chasing a few kids who reportedly stole from a nearby restaurant. A few minutes later, a band ended their set and about 200 people started piling out of the venue: some to leave, some to get some food from the nearby McDonalds, and others to get fresh air. A few IPD officers noticed this and, remembering the order to stay inside the venue from earlier, ticketed over 200 people for loitering. Among those people was Matt Fetcher, who was the editor of Indianapolis Music.Net. Even though the prosecutor's office dropped the charges after a few weeks, it sent a chilling message to hundreds of youth: you aren't welcome in this town. The Emerson Theater now doesn't allow re-entry to any of their patrons unless they're over 21.

And these are just the stories that were picked up my mainstream media (though at the time, I remember reading most of the coverage in NUVO rather than The Indianapolis Star).

While the art galleries and exhibits and events that are found in areas like Massachusetts Avenue and Fountain Square are certainly deserving of our support, so too are the efforts of the local music community, especially when it comes to those under the age of 21. Often, these music venues cater to a crowd that doesn't have a lot to do, and don't live in the best of neighborhoods. And if the powers-that-be in this town would just leave them alone and let them go about their business (or heaven forbid, actually support them instead of throwing money away to some of the more useless endeavors we support), it would help tremendously. And if young people in this town had positive experiences to remember, maybe they wouldn't be so eager to move out of this city or state at the first possible chance.

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