(Editor’s note: On July 20th Chelsea Crowell started a petition calling for the closure of bars on Nashville’s Lower Broadway strip in response to a viral video taken by Leslee Mitchell of the maskless groups in close quarters lining the streets of downtown.)
The response to the recent petition to shut down Lower Broadway has largely been in favor of the city taking action, but the fact remains that there is an unsettling tourist-first priority, often negligent of Nashville as a whole. We have always been a tourist destination, but what has transpired in the last decade is a series of city policies and development deals that have placed a higher importance on attracting tourists by exploiting the arts than actually cultivating a city that is welcoming to creators and the industry that supports them.
As artist rights advocates, community organizers, educators, and writers raised in this music community, we want to shed light on the concerns and implications surrounding this approach. In full disclosure, we both had COVID-19 early in the pandemic and know and are still experiencing the lasting effects of the virus.
The narrative that Lower Broadway is holding Nashville on its shoulders has been used to manipulate the city in the past. While it is an important component of our city and music industry, it is not deserving of special treatment over our citizens and the thousands of small businesses throughout Nashville. Amongst this global pandemic, the lack of strong leadership, mandates, and enforcement that we are seeing from the city prove that the priority is on attracting tourists. While COVID-19 is the root cause of this suffering, when leadership is not cohesively enforcing mandates we see inequitable effects across the city.
We recognize that enforcing these directives is complicated. We assume that in lieu of imposing social distancing and masks, the city simply shut down the July 4th celebration, but with a maskless party scene congregating every single weekend in those very same streets, we do not understand why the same logic doesn’t apply. As long as these bars downtown are open, people will continue to visit. And as long as we push campaigns that use rhetoric like “Good to Go” we are signaling that we place tourism above greater Nashville.
Meanwhile, the impact that our musicians and music industry workers have on a global scale is massive. From lighting techs, to truck drivers, to sound engineers, to background singers and all of the many people whose life’s work is creating musical moments, none of these citizens will be fully back to work until we band together to stop the virus. Nashville drummer Jerry Roe adds to this point, “Every part of the music industry depends on the live touring industry getting back to work. If you bring tourists here without masks and the virus is spreading, we’re not getting the venues back open or getting on the road anytime soon.“
We absolutely back the rights of workers and musicians downtown to safely make a living. What we are calling for is the prioritization of our citizens’ health and a city that supports all businesses and all workers in the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. We urge city leaders to consider the greater music community and small businesses as significant to the economy of Nashville as the tourism industry is, both in general and specific to the pandemic.
Cultivating and supporting our arts community is a key step towards keeping creators in Nashville, as their residing and thriving here is a large part of what makes Nashville an attractive place to visit in the first place and they are major economic drivers for the city. Nashville singer-songwriter and activist Erin Rae sums it up well, “It is becoming clear that the priority of this administration is not the well-being of its community, but the pocketbooks of a few bar-owners, and continuing unsafe tourism during this pandemic. If any city is ensuring emergency relief for its musicians and venues, it should be Music City.”
We have requested a meeting with the Mayor and would welcome the opportunity to bring with us a coalition of representatives from our music community (as well as the support of the 23,000 signatories of the petition) to discuss the short term effects and the long term goals.
As Nashvillians who have spent many a late night and learned a lot at Roberts, as soon as it is safe, we will be first in line to get back to raise a toast and tip the band.