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ShaH Evans speaks introduced the Madison Hip-Hop Awards in 2014. A proposed city task force would research equity in Madison's music and entertainment scene.

Though Madison’s local music scene may be vibrant for some, a new task force will set out to determine if it’s equitable.

The ad hoc Task Force on Equity in Music and Entertainment will work together with Mayor Paul Soglin, the City Council, Alcohol License Review Committee, city staff, residents and other community members to improve Madison’s reputation as a hub for a diverse range of music.

The ALRC approved a measure establishing the task force Wednesday. The measure will be reviewed by several other committees and the City Council before the group starts its work.

Karin Wolf, Madison Arts program administrator, said addressing equal access to hear and play music is important to make Madison a better music city. Solutions the task force could come up with range from practical transportation issues to addressing stereotypes about specific music genres.

“It needed to be a broader community effort that involved police and possibly Metro Transit,” Wolf said. “This is bigger than the arts commission.”

Wolf said the issue of equity in music is particularly acute with hip-hop, which has been barred from many Madison music venues. But there are other under-represented music forms and cultures that are not receiving equitable resources in the city.

Madison’s Cultural Plan, adopted in August 2015, recognizes that entertainment industry professionals think the live music industry is over-regulated, particularly for hip-hop performers. Some have called to review entertainment licensing costs, which can be barriers to emerging musicians and the sustainability of commercial nightclubs, according to the plan.

Hip-hop in Madison has had a rocky history. In January 2013, The Frequency announced it would no longer host concerts by any local, regional or national hip-hop acts two days after a gun was fired outside the 121 W. Main St. club following a fight that broke out during a hip-hop show at the venue.

In February 2009, the Brink Lounge stopped hosting hip-hop shows following a Valentine’s Day party that ended in a fight. During a December 2011 Christmas Eve hip-hop party at the Majestic Theatre, at least two people drew guns. The High Noon Saloon wrestled with suspending hip-hop bookings in January 2012 when a gun was discharged in the venue’s bathroom during a hip-hop dance party.

Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes acknowledged Madison's issues with hip-hop and the need to communicate with venue owners about their live music operations.

“I understand the importance of having diversity in entertainment in Madison, and I also have been hearing from different folks out in the community that we really just needed a place to go and hear blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and rap,” said Reyes, a former police officer.

Ald. Shiva Bidar, District 5, stressed that the task force would analyze all types of under-represented music genres.

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“Currently there is really no place in the city of Madison to really have any music that is not maybe young or traditional music — no Latin dancing, no hip-hop — on a regular basis,” Bidar said. “It’s an important point of retention for many people for the city.”

The group would be tasked with the following:

  • Identifying the root causes of issues that may detract from equal access to entertainment by all residents and guests including transportation and public perception of safety concerns
  • Finding best practices used in other communities that also have large populations of college students, young professionals and residents who are active in urban arts
  • Developing strategies that could establish an atmosphere of continued communication
  • Analyzing costs, revenues and timelines that will support both short term and long term recommendations

The 11-member task force would also be required to complete a report by Feb. 27, 2018.

Task force members would be appointed by the mayor and include representatives from the Alcohol License Review Committee, Transit and Parking Commission, Madison Arts Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission, Public Safety Review committee in addition to a representative of a hip-hop community organization, a college student, a music/entertainment promoter, a live music business owner, a music venue property owner and a musician.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.