Philanthropy

Midwest Music Foundation Empowered Through Pilsner

With help from Boulevard Brewery’s “10 Percent for KC” competition, Midwest Music Foundation begins a new era of communal caring.

If you enjoyed a Boulevard KC Pilsner lately, a few pennies of your purchase went to Midwest Music Foundation (MMF). The local nonprofit won Boulevard’s most recent “10 Percent for KC” online voting competition, a quarterly program where KC-based nonprofits vie to win a slice of Boulevard’s KC Pilsner sales. Its energetic and clever approach to winning the contest is just one of the reasons why 2014 will be a game changer for MMF.

Midwest Music Foundation was founded in 2008 to empower and educate local musicians as well as assist them with medical costs in the event of a health crisis. The latter was an important issue for cofounders and KC musicians Abigail Henderson and her husband, Chris Meck. Henderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and raising money for her treatment was MMF’s founding initiative. Since then, MMF has grown to be a local musician’s best friend: part promoter, part financier, part legal advisor, part educator and sometimes even potential life-saver.

“Abigail’s situation put a spotlight on a serious unmet need among many people in the arts,” says Midwest Music Foundation Director of Promotions Sondra Freeman. “The Kansas City music community rallied around her and threw a series of benefits to raise the money she needed for her treatment. She vowed that if she made it through, she would find a way to help other musicians in healthcare crises. Our goal remains, to this day, to provide a safety net for musicians attempting to navigate our current healthcare system through education and financial support.”

Sadly, Henderson lost her battle with cancer in August. Considering her influence on the local music community, it seems only fitting that MMF closed out the year of her loss with the largest influx of funds the organization had ever seen. “Abigail’s goal was to form a community of artists that hold each other up,” Freeman says. “Her passion was contagious, and since her passing, we at MMF are all the more resolved to [achieve] that goal. MMF is run entirely by volunteers such as myself that do this simply because of a common belief that the people who make music are valuable and deserve to be taken care of as such.”

Tiny Horse “Ride” from Jetpack Pictures on Vimeo.

In addition to supporting musicians in medical crisis, MMF funds collaborations, compiles resources and holds seminars with accountants, lawyers and media experts so that musicians understand copyright and licensing laws in the legally complex and often financially unstable music industry. The goal is, in essence, to make being a musician the type of career no parent would worriedly scoff at.

MMF was one of three nonprofits that competed in the most recent “10 Percent for KC” program whereby eligible organizations are nominated and selected by a rotating panel of employees from Boulevard and Ripple Glass. This provides, as Boulevard Director of Marketing Jeremy Ragonese describes, “a way for everyone in the brewery to have a voice in the effort, and for the charities, it represents an approach that is not swayed by organizational stature or size of need.” Previous recipients include The American Jazz Museum and KC Pet Project.

According to Ragonese, 10 percent of the quarterly local sales revenue of Boulevard’s KC Pilsner is divided between the selected charities. The nonprofit with the most votes during the 10-day voting period wins a 60 percent share, and the remaining two organizations each get 20 percent. Although 60 percent of 10 percent might not seem like a lot, to Midwest Music Foundation, it is. MMF took the top spot over First Downs for Down Syndrome and Synergy Services, both of which have operating budgets at least 120 times that of MMF.

Knowing how monumental the funding could be for the organization, Midwest Music Foundation pulled out all possible stops when it was selected. “We called on every person any of us could think of that had an area of expertise,” Freeman says. “We had a meeting with graphic artists, sound engineers, photographers, film crews, musicians, venue owners, social media specialists, etc. The brainstorming was intense to say the least.”

The foundation’s competition strategy included “The 12 days of Christmas and Voting,” during which MMF unveiled a free downloadable album and video series featuring local bands performing Christmas songs. Most ingeniously, MMF also required mobile votes as the cost of entry for several promotional events. Naturally, MMF gives credit to the music community, which helped spread the word the way only promotion-savvy musicians can. “We couldn’t have won this without the support of the musicians in Kansas City,” Freeman says. “They recorded songs and videos for us, and they encouraged their fans to vote for MMF.”

Even though MMF is considerably smaller than the other recipient organizations, the pairing of musicians in a city both proud of its musical legacy and its beloved Boulevard Brewery is hardly a stretch. To Ragonese, the connection is simple: “Music and beer go hand-in-hand; both have the potential to contribute to the cultural enrichment and enjoyment of our lives,” he says. “Beer often intersects wherever music is heard, and Kansas City has a legacy to uphold of being a crossroads for outstanding music. Boulevard is able to bring attention to local artists and assist in bringing people together wherever great music and great beer can be enjoyed together.”

To show its appreciation for those who contributed and voted, MMF is hosting an official “Thank You” party on Feb. 7 at Bandwagon Merch in the Crossroads. To nominate an organization for the “10% for KC” program, visit boulevard.com/welovekc.

Story by Lindsey Kennedy