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Uncertain future for Music Hall of Fame
Georgia museums lack of revenue taking a toll; Athens may make bid
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There's no doubt the state of Georgia is rich in musical tradition. From blues to bluegrass, gospel to hip-hop, R&B to Southern rock, country to new wave, and funk to punk, music is a big part of what it means to be a Georgian.

With well over 100 inductees and more than 30,000 artifacts including recordings and video, photos, documents, instruments, books and costumes, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame has occupied a 43,000-square-foot, $6.6 million-dollar facility in Macon since 1996.

While the Georgia General Assembly created the Georgia Music Hall of Fame Authority in 1990 to construct and fund the museum, the Hall has since failed to bring in substantial revenue and the Authority has opened up a request for proposals to move it to another city.

While Macon certainly seemed like the logical ideal location for the Hall, with its central location and rich musical heritage that saw rise to superstars including Little Richard, Otis Redding, James Brown and The Allman Brothers, the city has failed to pull in the throngs of tourists needed to support such a facility.

"I think there's a lot of low-hanging fruit," says Mike Dyer, chairman of Save the Halls, the organization that has come together to develop a proposal to keep the Hall in Macon. "The state provided the money to support it so little effort was made to make it self-sustaining."

He cites a lack of marketing and fundraising efforts as contributors to the Hall's lax financial performance.

Macon is determined to hold on to the Hall, and last year began collecting a 1 percent local hotel/motel tax that generates revenue to support the Music Hall of Fame, as well as the also ailing Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, which is also undergoing a similar request.

"It's not enough to take care of the budget, but shows the willingness of the local delegation to support the Halls. ... They're ours to lose and we're gonna keep them if we can," Dyer said.

In the meantime, delegates from Athens, Dahlonega, Dunwoody and Woodstock recently attended a proposers conference to formally express their intents to submit proposals to win the Hall.

With a delegation of 15 members of Create Athens, the committee formed to construct a proposal to move the Music Hall of Fame to Athens, which was well-represented at the conference.

"Over the years, Athens has been extremely lucky and it's kind of happened by chance," says Create Athens representative Spencer Frye of the college town's storied music scene. The town has given birth to bands such as the B52s, R.E.M. and Widespread Panic, launched the careers of contemporary country supergroup Sugarland and neo-soul duo Gnarls Barkley, and untold thousands of underground indie groups and artists that define the cultural lifeblood of the city.

Frye is confident that Athens' ever-changing youthful population, coupled with a vibrant tourist industry that is already highly music-driven, would bring in the necessary visitors to generate adequate revenue for the Hall.

But the current state of the economy in general, and the initial costs of providing a proper facility, present huge challenges.

"The real trick to this is the fact that locally we don't have the funds to even consider taking on something like this," says Frye alluding to the potential for available city-owned property and a privately funded construction effort.

Like Save the Halls, Create Athens is keeping tight-lipped about the possible details of their proposal until the Dec. 10 submission deadline.

"We're looking at a proposal that would include several other economic drivers-performance space, practice space-elements that would generate other income," Frye said.
But Macon is not going to let go of the Hall without a fight.

"I hope that it does stay in Macon because Macon was such an epicenter of Georgia music," said Candice Dyer (no relation to Mike Dyer).

A reporter for the Macon Telegraph in the mid 1990s and a frequent contributor to Georgia Music magazine, Candice Dyer is the author of "Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels With A Cause: Music from Macon" (2008, Indigo Publishing Group), which chronicles the heyday of the Macon music scene.

"You could argue that at least three genres of American pop music originated in Macon" she said. "Little Richard as the originator of rock and roll; James Brown got his first airplay in Macon so you could argue that funk started there. And the Allman Brothers and Capricorn records gave us Southern rock. And of course Otis Redding gave us soul ...

"There's a very deep, rich history there and I believe the Hall is a real jewel box in showcasing it."