Bridging the Opportunity Divide

This Record Label is Rocking Indianapolis

July 23, 2014
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This Record Label is Rocking Indianapolis
Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, the primary artist and co-owner of Asthmatic Kitty Records. Mike Flokis/Getty Images
Asthmatic Kitty Records isn't just producing music; it's creating an entire artistic culture in the midwest city.

When thinking of musical hotspots, Indianapolis is certainly not the first city that comes to mind — especially when it comes to indie music. But one little record label is kickstarting the arts scene in the Crossroads of America — and providing a boost to the economy, too.

Asthmatic Kitty Records got its start in 1999 when it launched the music of the experimental small scene happening in Holland, Michigan. At the time, the primary artist was co-owner and singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens.

At the time, Asthmatic Kitty Records was headquartered in Lander, Wyoming. But as the label grew, it needed a manager, so San Diego resident and graduate Michael Kauffman came on board in 2001. In 2005, he moved the label to Indianapolis where it continued to grow and expand. Soon, Asthmatic Kitty Records was a global organization with employees in not just the U.S., but England, too.

With so many music hubs in the country, why Indianapolis? First of all, the low cost of living made it easier for the label to function — something which might not have happened in New York. Second, according to Kauffman, “there seemed to be a real exciting, embracing community in Indianapolis and an influx of cultural things within the city.”

That open community is precisely what made Kauffman see the move as an opportunity to “make a cultural impact on [Indianapolis].” From there, it just became a matter of engaging it.

The label began signing local Indianapolis acts, offering advice to others in the music scene and organizing local musical evenings. It began an informal partnership with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and helped create an “Unusual Animals” pop-up art gallery.

Asthmatic Kitty continued to work with the community, when, in 2011, it helped host a screening event of Gary Hustwit’s film Urbanized. Hustwit attended, and the day expanded to include various speakers discussing Indianapolis and urbanization. The end result: the start of We Are City – a virtual think-tank run by Asthmatic Kitty employee John Beeler who twice a week sends out an email to 1,200 Indianapolis residents discussing urban action.

The label’s influence continued to expand when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl in 2012. Kauffman worked to create a showcase of local bands for the festivities, while Beeler established The Music Council, which aims to influence city policies to help expand the music scene and is composed of members of music blogs, indie labels, the chamber of commerce, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and various education groups.

All of this work has not gone unnoticed by citizens and the local government. City officials are increasingly looking to this former little label for help in bringing in young professionals to expand the urban scene.

Clearly, this “little label that could” is not just a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, but it’s a great unifying force for the city of Indianapolis itself.

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