Can Music Help Revitalize a Community?

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Andre Gide

I recently read an article by Jeffrey A. Harris titled “Preserving the Sites of American Music”.  While reading this interesting piece, I couldn’t help but recall some of my fondest memories while growing up in California and Germany. When I sat back and recalled many of those fond memories, one of the commonalities was the emotional connection to music.

Music has the ability to connect people, transform thinking, awake innovation and capture what might be. Much like “The Arts”, it has the ability to bring people together, to mend relationships and spur excitement and innovation. We can all think back to music that has truly touched our lives in various ways.

So if music can do all those on a personal level, can it also do those things on a larger scale and actually assist in transforming communities? Can music be a part of revitalizing an entire community?

When one looks around the country, one will see evidence where music has made a huge difference in the transformation process of many communities. In Austin, TX. we see where a whole section of the city has prospered and grown on the backs of music. In Rochester, MN. the town center is devoted to music and arts and is packed on typical non-winter weekends and even during the week. In Moline, IL. the new Bass Street Landing and its outdoor band shell bring a whole new vibrancy to their downtown. Likewise, “The District” in Rock Island, IL. embraces the arts and music very effectively throughout the entire year.  Ogden, UT, once the home of a blighted downtown that people avoided after dark,has become a meca for lovers of music, the arts and entertainment for all ages.

While one can argue that Austin has always been a music town, all the others are simply regular small and mid-sized communities that saw the value of music and incorporated music into their plan of transforming and revitalizing their communities. None of them had a history rich with music, yet they utilized a medium that nearly everyone appreciates and can relate to by creating their town’s future through music and vision of what music can bring to their communities.

Those communities didn’t just wake-up one day and start promoting music or the arts for that matter. It was created with foresight, vision and strategy along with extensive planning.  In their cases, the planning stages weren’t long and laborious, but they were long-term and strategic. They pieced together a community-wide vision and then proceeded to make their vision become a reality.

Regardless if a community embraces music as a centerpiece or not, a community without music in their mix is no different than a community without retail or restaurants. A community without music will simply struggle and lose patrons to those communities that understand the binding power of music.

Music alone, however, will do little. Music combined or coupled with the right mix of unique retail and dining opportunities can transform entire communities. Communities would be well served to embrace the value of music as a part of their transformation and revitalization visions and plans. To leave it out will only encourage your local residents to seek this emotional stimulation in other nearby towns and communities.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: