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MFT Update: Departing from the role of Executive Director
Posted September 15, 2015 by Jon Rogers

[Photo from Victory MFG instagram]


I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll get right to the point: I am currently in the process of leaving my role as Executive Director of Musical Family Tree.


A few months ago, I decided it was time to transition out of the role of Executive Director, a decision that was sped along by circumstances that were beyond my control. It’s complicated because I don’t especially want to leave the organization. I feel that this job was one of the reasons I was put on this planet, and I am extremely grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do it. I feel like I’m pretty good at it in a lot of ways, but I’m still moving on. I will always have fond feelings and great memories of building this organization and working for Indiana’s wide-ranging communities of artists.


Although I wish I didn’t have to leave this role, I know the time is right, and I hope to stay involved in Musical Family Tree’s future. I’ve let the MFT Board of Directors know my desire to remain involved on a volunteer level and potentially serve on the board myself at some point down the line. I am also hoping to have a role in the hiring and training processes for my successor.


I want to leave this role on a positive note and encourage MFT’s community to get even more involved with the organization.


One reason it’s hard to step away right now is because things are going better for Musical Family Tree than they ever have before.  But that’s also the reason I believe that MFT can continue to thrive and have a great impact in the future - if we remain consistent and focused.


The new hip hop fest we launched in August, Chreece, was a huge success, as both a landmark event for local hip hop and an unprecedented fundraiser for MFT. We raised funds through sponsorship, paid all the artists, sold out of tickets, and had no crowd-control issues during the event. The entire project was led and executed by volunteers, including three of MFT’s most active board members in leadership roles: Oreo Jones, Rob Peoni, and Abby Goldsmith.

 

 

Our ongoing collaboration with Big Car for SPARK Phono Friday performances on Monument Circle is off to a fantastic start, showcasing Indiana’s rising musical talents for people who may otherwise never encounter them. We still host free, all-ages shows on the first Saturday of each month at Indy CD & Vinyl. The “EP in a Weekend” and “IN Covers” recording projects have found strong leadership in Sharlene Birdsong, while also giving opportunities for involvement to artists like BangersByOne (AKA “One The Producer”), who just produced the latest EP in a Weekend, the first hip hop project in the series.


The list of recent accomplishments goes on: stunning music videos and live show recaps from up-and-coming filmmakers like Dylan May (Running Bodies) and Elliot LeMons (Gldmnd). Long-time friends of MFT and makers of many extraordinary visual assets, BrainTwins are making waves in the visual art and design world while still contributing to MFT on a regular basis (did you know they made the MFT parody logo and the Chreece logo AND a handful of music videos too!?).

 


Taylor Peters leads our blog and content presence, with frequent contributions from talented writers like Seth Johnson, Rob Peoni, Doog Aloog AKA Eric Alexander, Brett Alderman, and others. Ethan Marosz started as an intern earlier in 2015, and has been leading our MFT Preservation Series of cassette releases, including a compilation he curated himself, Things Which Get You, a dreamlike audio tour of Indiana’s current underground electronic/ambient/leftfield scene. There are countless other visual artists and content creators who have contributed to MFT over the last few years – too many to name here. I think of these people when I think of MFT as it exists today. If we aren’t a community of artists rallying around the idea of Indiana music, then what are we?


We’ve had other amazing opportunities as well, like the Listen Local concert series in Broad Ripple Park, the New Music Showcase events in Fountain Square each fall, Adam Gross’s awesome “Awakening Musical Opportunities (A.M.O.)” program for kids, Amo Joy’s Holiday Show benefit for MFT, Half Fest, MSM Fest, Jon Wood’s birthday fundraiser at White Rabbit, Fountain Square Music Fest, and the list goes on.

 

The reason I list these people and their accomplishments is not just to brag on them, although they are all awesome. It is also because they represent the version of MFT that I envisioned once it had been determined that Musical Family Tree should become a nonprofit organization that is all about Indiana music.


From day one, when I started blogging for MFT as a freelancer (much of it still lives at musicalfamilytree.net - for now - if you’re looking), my top priority has been finding ways to bring more of the musical community to the table. My job description has changed many times, but I never wavered from my original vision: give opportunities, let others shine, and lead by serving. The way I see it, if I listen to the people I serve in this role and pursue the goals that they articulate to me, I will have done my job right. And I feel that I have done that well, but there’s still a long way to go as an organization. In terms of helping the community and providing resources, as long as there are artists who need what we can provide, our work will never truly be finished.


 

Musical Family Tree’s activities as a nonprofit, many of which I describe in detail above, are a crucial part of our identity now. I recognize that I have played a big role in recent years, as have Jeb Banner and many others over the course of MFT’s lifespan. But now that MFT is a 501c3-status nonprofit organization, it is our undeniable duty to serve the needs of our community.  The board’s role is to be accountable to the public on behalf of the organization (this is one of the reasons nonprofits are allowed to be tax-exempt), and I hope that you, the community, will join with me in holding them accountable for the future of the organization.


I encourage everyone who is currently working or volunteering with MFT to stay involved, as I surely hope to stay involved myself. I have always loved writing about local music, making art and videos and other kinds of content for MFT, interacting and collaborating with all kinds of creative people, curating events and releases, and encouraging artistic development in a variety of ways. I want to continue doing these things as a member of the MFT community – and I want to do them as a human being in general.


MFT will face many challenges in the future, but I know that by listening to the community of artists we serve, we can’t go wrong. That’s why I encourage all of you to keep sharing MFT’s unique content, keep posting your music in the archive, stay true to your artistic vision, and tell your friends about what we do. Continue to give time and funding and talent to this organization as long as you feel that MFT is also giving opportunities and resources to you and yours. That is, after all, what we have set out to do.

 


“Spreading Indiana Music” is not just a catchphrase or mission statement. It implies direct action. It’s our guiding principle, and from it stems our values of creative freedom, welcoming others into the scene, and participating in the music community in tangible ways (such as: hosting shows, attending local shows, archiving local music of the past, buying local albums, and paying artists for their work in general). “Spreading Indiana Music” has been a mantra I have devoted myself to for over three years now as the director of this organization, and I don’t plan to stop doing it any time soon. It is a huge part of my identity, as I have played music in Indiana and supported others doing the same for many years before I came to MFT.

 

As my availability changes and I adjust to a new schedule and new priorities, I recognize that I may personally have to say no to more opportunities in the future. I want to be the kind of man who does what he says he will do. In short, I want to be committed to having integrity. I want to devote myself to the things I believe in, but I don’t want to overcommit or be disingenuous or end up letting people down all the time. I want to be a better friend and treat my friends better. And besides, any opportunities that I have to turn down will only lead to more opportunities for other people who need them.

 

During my time with MFT, we’ve added several hundred artists to our ever-growing archive of Indiana music. We’ve welcomed dozens of volunteers and freelance workers to do what they love in the name of Indiana music. We have paid hundreds of artists a decent rate for live shows, and we have worked hard to compensate other creators fairly for their work as well.

 

 

The website has undergone a redesign and many functionality updates, and I think it too is better than ever (shout-out to Colin Ulin for the most recent rounds of development work over the last couple years!). Lately, a team of dedicated volunteers (including Colin of course) has assembled to imagine and plot out an even better website for MFT’s future. It’s exciting, but I don’t want to say much about it yet! The blog has remained active on an almost daily basis, and our community of fans and artists has continued to grow as a result.

 

However, I won’t take credit for all these accomplishments myself, because I believe that the best way to lead is by serving. I have given my time and energy for the benefit of the artists who live in this state and the people who care about local art, and I am proud of that. But none of it would have mattered without the artistic community that has supported and nurtured me over the last 13 or so years (crazy to think I have lived in Indiana that long - no wonder I’m starting to feel old!). It’s a community that I worked to expand daily in my role at MFT, welcoming as many artists as possible to be involved with what we are doing.

 

I want to thank the musicians, writers, visual artists, and other creative people I have gotten to work alongside during the last few years. While working for MFT, I woke up feeling lucky and excited every day to get to exercise my love for local music and the people who create it – and I got to do this as my job! Seriously, dreams do come true, and I have been living out my dreams in a way that I never thought was possible. To all of you: I hope you know how important you are to me, and how much I appreciate the chance to share my passions with the rest of the world.

 


That said, all good things must come to an end, and my job at MFT technically ended a couple of months ago when I decided to finish out my 2015 commitments on a volunteer basis. This move has ensured that MFT’s core activities can continue going strong for a certain time, and that we can keep paying freelance staff and musicians whenever possible.

 

We have all had to make sacrifices to keep this thing going, so I don’t feel like I’ve given any more than anyone else would in my position. Instead, I feel that we (the MFT community and Indiana’s musicians at large) are all in this together, and we need to keep working together. Whoever is in this role next will need support and encouragement, but to correctly lead the organization, they will also need the wisdom and experience-based knowledge of Indiana’s musical community.

 

Some time in the next week or two, MFT will be posting about the job opening on this blog, and I encourage all who are interested to apply. Whether you have nonprofit and fundraising experience or just a whole lot of passion, I believe that many of you would be highly qualified to lead this organization – as long as you don’t lose touch with the community that has helped to form you. I can’t overstate how important I think that is.

 

Again, I encourage you to stay involved if you’re already part of the family, get more involved if you’ve kept a distance, and hold this organization accountable for our actions and words in the coming months. While fundraising and growth should always be a priority for a nonprofit organization, I firmly believe that community involvement should remain MFT’s top priority if we want to be able to continue our great work in the future. That means more of our board needs to hear from you, the community, and hopefully they will soon provide more direct opportunities to do so.
 

[Poster from 2012 New Music Showcase]


In stepping away while things are going relatively well, I hope that I am providing more opportunities for others to shine. Even though I’m sad to leave this role, I also kind of feel like Willy Wonka. I’ve been running this crazy candy factory and now I get to find some other weirdo who loves candy (and life, and music, etc.) as much as I do to carry things forward!

 

I hope that during my time as Executive Director, I’ve helped to set precedent for where our priorities should be in the future. I know that as a group, MFT has transformed into a genuine grassroots organization that helps artists get paid for their work and helps spread Indiana’s incredible underground music scene to more people who want to encounter it. That’s a beautiful thing. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here, and, as I’ve already said several times, I plan to remain a part of it in the future, in whatever ways will work best for everyone involved.


I thank you all again for the opportunity to serve you in this role. Things have been messy at times, but I’ve learned a lot in the process, and I consider myself a better man than I used to be as a result. I look forward to the rest of my life knowing that I have been a part of something as special and as empowering as Musical Family Tree. I will remain dedicated to helping it thrive and grow, even as I move on from this role that I love so much.

 

As I’ve gotten in the habit of saying to many artists over the years (and meaning it every single time), I believe in you and I like what you do. Thank you for letting me be part of your world, MFT.

 

- Jon Rogers
September 15, 2015

 

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