Stephen Brackett continually gives back to the music community that nurtured him his entire life through his inherent gifts of arts, education, and activism. Stephen’s lifelong devotion to social change through music paid off with Colorado’s New Music Ambassador’s appointed honor. Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Creative Industries Office, part of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), awarded Stephen the uniquely Colorado position on Oct. 15, 2020, via Zoom and live on Facebook. COVID-19 postponed the event, initially scheduled for mid-March. One of Stephen’s first programs, MiC, opens to new cohorts this month.
According to the (OEDIT), Arts and culture account for $15.6 billion and 4.5% of the state’s gross domestic product, more than mining or transportation. Music comprises one of Colorado’s top five creative industry clusters by employment and growth, as well. The Colorado Music Ambassador program is a partnership supported by Take Note Colorado, Youth on Record, and Colorado Creative Industries. Stephen is the second person to hold this position. The first was Shawn King, the drummer of DeVotchKa. Shawn primarily focused his initiatives to encourage Colorado companies to license music made in Colorado through the Colorado Music Licensing Project.
“I think myself and the music ambassador before me, Shawn King, were named as such with the hopes that we would actually put a lot of energy and effort into listening and figuring out what are some needs of the music community of this state. What are some things that the music community, the state is already doing?” says Stephen. “How do we amplify those contributions? And then, how do we, at the same time, be able to rely on the expertise of these musicians throughout the state on the needs of the other communities, and not just an artistic need, but one of the beautiful things about music is that it really is part of our cultural fabric? So that means musicians are there, and they have a very different view, but usually are very connected to what’s going on in their communities.”
It is primarily up to Stephen to define the music ambassador’s role and suss out programs to support the Colorado music ecosystem. Stephen brings over a decade of Colorado musicianship and education rooted deep in the Front Range to this role. He was born and raised in Denver. He studied philosophy at Colorado State University. He has traveled the globe using music as a force for change with The Flobots, a band he co-founded in 2005. In 2008, Stephen co-founded the nonprofit Youth on Record to empower Colorado’s youth to achieve their academic, artistic, and personal best.
Since the appointment, Stephen has listened to the musicians and created new programs to support the current creative economy. Stephen is finding alternative ways for musicians to have gigs and get paid. He is taking the skills he has cultivated as an educator and as a licensed teacher and passing them along to Colorado’s music community.
His first initiative is devoted to K-12 education, not to make teachers out of Colorado musicians but to open up the classrooms and schools to musicians with guidelines and blueprints for more successful partnerships. Stephen uses a workshop, MiC (Musicians in Community), to prepare musicians to gig in the classroom, be a guest at a library, host a workshop, and even play at a penitentiary or a retirement facility.
There are two foundational supports the MiC class builds from the setlist and the rider.
- The set list is how you curate your art and experiences in a way that allows the audience to trust you and happily go where you take them.
- The rider is a set of requests or demands that a performer sets as criteria for performance and the conditions they will perform to get paid.
The MiC class was in person with collective voices for the musicians in the past. The MiC Classes have shifted to cater to remote learning and are virtual. It is important to be fluid with the approach, so a musician is best suited for either situation, in-person or virtually.
“That’s been one of the biggest challenges of COVID. The original idea and plan were to spend my weekends driving all over the state, meeting with arts districts and meeting with gatekeepers, musicians, performers, and young people, and creating a communication network between all these folks who are already doing great work. That has been slowed down by the urgency of the moment,” says Stephen. “We’re just figuring out other ways now to try to build that network in a way that respects the bandwidth that these communities have right now. So, it’s a much smaller, slower rollout with one-to-one connections.”
These times have presented a lot of emotional uncertainty for youth and for all. For years, Colorado has ranked higher than the rest of the country for teen suicide rates. COVID and the financial and racial disparity has exacerbated this. According to the Greeley Tribune, “The number of suicides among children and teens is relatively small, but such fatalities have been growing for years in Colorado, becoming the leading cause of death for younger people in 2014.” Stephen has some ideas to combat this through music performances, especially in Colorado’s rural areas with limited resources.
Music may be the unspoken language that bonds these classrooms and facilities together across the state. Technology is the bridge to reach communities when travel is limited, but hope is needed. Music is a transformative tool for change. The MiC class can get more schools connected to music. Contact Take Note Colorado if you are interested in learning more about the program. A new cohort started in February.
Interested in connecting or knowing more? Take Note Music Meet-ups have small group discussions to share ideas and questions around the idea of what it means for our music community to be genuinely inclusive, particularly during this time of virtual and/or in-person learning. The next dates are March 3 and May 6 (of 2021). Details and sign-up links will be provided via Take Note Colorado sign-ups.