Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Talk to any local artist and they’ll lament the lack of arts spaces, affordable housing, and other resources needed for their work. Musicians in D.C. and around the country are watching venues close, losing practice space, and getting paid very little for the gigs they play, if they get paid at all. Those concerns prompted Chris Naoum, the founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Listen Local First, to organize the 2018 Music Policy Forum Summit this weekend at Georgetown University.

Beginning today, hundreds of “musicians, researchers, policymakers, industry leaders, and students” will convene for a series of lectures and workshops focused on “exploring the shifting face of the music ecosystem and the policies that impact it,” a release states. To translate the buzz words and PR speak: Times are tough for musicians—let’s figure out how to work through it.

This weekend’s summit comes at a crucial time for D.C.’s music community. The city is about to unveil the final version of its long-gestating Cultural Plan, which lays out a comprehensive vision for the future of the city’s creative economy. More recently, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she’s hiring the city’s first director of nightlife and culture—the “night mayor,” as some have called it—who would, in part, advocate for the interests of the city’s bars and clubs, where musicians typically perform. The Council is currently considering two bills that could directly affect D.C.’s music community: the Performing Arts Promotions Amendment Act, which would create tax credits for small businesses regularly hosting live music; and the Amplified Noise Amendment Act, which would affect the city’s buskers and street performers.

“These are all issues that cities throughout North America and the world have dealt with and are dealing with on a regular basis,” Naoum says. “The Music Policy Forum and this summit will bring together artists, activists, legislators, researchers, and educators from all these cities to share their successes and failures so that we can all learn and grow our cultural economies with this knowledge.”

This isn’t the first music policy-focused symposium in D.C.—Listen Local First has previously hosted similar summits, and The Future of Music Coalition—a national nonprofit focused on education, research and advocacy for musicians—hosts its annual summit, which addresses similar issues, in D.C. The Music Policy Forum Summit will focus on local music ecosystems specifically. Programming will explore ways to create sustainable music scenes in different cities, including D.C.

“In the U.K., a dynamic and effective grassroots movement has emerged from small, independent music venues which has created a real call for change,” says Mark Davyd, the CEO of Music Venue Trust, a British nonprofit that advocates for small music venues. “We are looking forward to the Music Policy Forum Summit where we hope to explain the process whereby that happened, encourage other countries to take the same route, and meet with partners in the sector who are building their own responses to the crisis facing our small venues.”

A number of musicians, including Dessa, Erin McKeown, and Martin Perna, are scheduled to discuss their work and perform, but most of the speakers this weekend are a mix of music industry executives and city officials like Davyd, among them FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Music Canada Live executive director Erin Benjamin, Toronto City Councilor Josh Colle, NPR Music senior director Lauren Onkey, and KEXP radio president Tom Mara. D.C.’s chief creative economy officer, Maryann Lombardi, is scheduled to speak on a panel on artist compensation later today

Michael Bracy, the co-founder of the Music Policy Forum, hopes that both musicians and city officials in D.C. can gain some knowledge that will benefit D.C.’s music economy in the future. “We cannot talk about music without talking about the policies that guide and govern the industry,” he says. 

For more information on the Music Policy Forum Summit and to purchase tickets, click here