Burlington, VT

Contact Name
James Lockridge
Project Dates
1996 - Present
Tags
Business Planning, Networking, Workforce Development
Big Heavy World emerged during the first public days of the internet, the product of a graphic designer and engineer working together to publish an encyclopedia of local music to the new World Wide Web in 1996. They lived in a "band house" surrounded by music and young people volunteering to publish a local music 'zine. The fun of publishing about local musicians and live music spilled into the web site and the work expanded to include broadcasting concerts on the internet, releasing compilation CDs, hosting big multi-band all ages concerts, and other projects that emerged spontaneously. From a loose effort involving volunteer youth, the organization grew to build a public listening library of Vermont-made music with thousands of recordings on its shelves, an online music shop with more
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
At first the goal of the organization was to represent Burlington, Vermont's local music community on the new medium of the World Wide Web.
Have they changed over time?
Almost immediately everyone involved applied their interest in local music to other activities that leveraged technology to support the music scene or raised its profile and interconnectedness. The organization became a web of interconnected projects that all led to bringing musicians from across the state together or into a better recognition of themselves as a community (through concert series and showcases, emerging opportunities with digital distribution and inclusion with new MP3 players, within the directory of artists published to the web, on compilation CD projects, etc.).
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Stakeholders were always thought to be the musicians, the volunteers, and the community. Over time many businesses became involved as project sponsors, then funders (foundations, the state, the city, and philanthropists) joined in support. The mission of the organization crystalized into a mission statement and statement of work and it received 501(c)(3) recognition.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
In the beginning Big Heavy World pursued ongoing programs and special projects, always with a volunteer staff.
Have they been refined over time?
It moved into an office within a year of starting, then expanded over time to occupy a suite with a library, servers, radio station, and "studio" space. It remains a very grass-roots organization but has become recognized in the state for effectively managing a centralized volunteer-run "music office" that creates opportunities for young adults to experience technical, professional, and social skills-building. What other states have legislated into existence or fund outright, Big Heavy World has built with the enthusiasm and energy of Vermont's youth and sustained with diverse partners and funders.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
The biggest obstacle to the organization has been basic operational funding. It has always found funding easily for projects that are simple to describe and that provide vehicles for sponsors to get exposure (like concerts or compilation CDs). Specific programs have been supported by funders with interests that match up with them. But basic rent and utilities, in the most general sense, has historically been the most difficult hurdle.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The organization has overcome this obstacle in part by realizing our nonprofit nature and formalizing it, and by identifying the multiple reasons why funders might support the organization ("cultural preservation," "job skills building," "community development," "prevention," etc.). A present we're working through the puzzle of long-term, self-generated sustaining funding, a difficult question for us because our nature is noncommercial and inclusive. The organization very purposefully works with volunteers of every background including physically and mentally disadvantaged crew members, and works to support Vermont musicians inclusively - not just the ones who might bring the greatest financial reward.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Identify the reasons why funders can support your organization 2) Volunteers 3) Support programs with funders that have similar interests
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
The organization has demonstrated that in a forgiving, educational and non-corporate environment, young people with enthusiasm for music can make long-term, meaningful contributions to their community and create cultural legacies that will serve generations of Vermonters.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The organization has achieved its original, indistinct goals as well as the ones that formalized over time. The organization has combined and leveraged many partnerships and resources over time to produce results that have real-world benefit to our arts community as well as the young adults that volunteer to accomplish the work. Vermont might be unique in the density of people willing to support their music scene, or in being willing to trust and provide resources to a youth-driven music office, so it's hard to identify who "should" replicate this project. Any community that does not already benefit from a city-funded or state-funded music office might find a good example in the organization or its projects.
Were there unexpected impacts?
The organization has combined and leveraged many partnerships and resources over time to produce results that have real-world benefit to our arts community as well as the young adults that volunteer to accomplish the work.