Today, we’ve got an interview with a really amazing organization called Groupmuse.
Groupmuse is a worker- and musician-owned cooperative that facilitates small, intimate concerts in non-traditional venues—think living rooms, backyards, and public parks—known as groupmuses. While they began with an emphasis pretty strictly on Western classical music, that changed in 2020. After the murder of George Floyd, Groupmuse broadened their scope of focus to any historical music that dates back at least a hundred years and meets a few other requirements.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Adrienne Baker at Groupmuse about Groupmuse’s structure, cooperatives, and the future of art as a field.
C.N. (Maximum Fun): Groupmuse is such a fascinating concept: musicians and event hosts organize concerts in non-traditional and often very intimate spaces, like public parks or living rooms. What drew Groupmuse to facilitating concerts in non-traditional spaces over venues like concert halls and big stages?
Adrienne (Groupmuse): The traditional concert hall—and the art forms that are most accepted in it—are not representative of the diversity in musical form and the artists presenting it. Their practices are an extension of the educational “conservatory” model. Conserve: it’s literally based on this root word. Salon music of the Romantic period was a time when music innovation often brewed and matured in the private homes of folks of the new upper middle class. The Industrial Revolution meant the mass production of musical instruments. People no longer had to go to the concert hall to hear beautiful music. The co-founders, Sam Bodkin, Eza Weller and Kyle Schmolze, believed in this lost tradition and wanted to make it part of our culture again.
C.N.: There are a lot of potential business models out there, and a worker-owned cooperative is still a relatively uncommon one. What drew Groupmuse to the cooperative model?
Adrienne: Becoming a coop was the result of thinking about how we can better practice representation and equity in what we do. During the pandemic, and while the country was paying closer attention to police brutality, we asked ourselves what we can contribute to the conversation as far as music is concerned. We investigated more democratic ways of running a company where everyone is not only seen but represented in the company and decision-making. We also founded the Groupmuse Foundation, which holds space for groupmuses and groupmuse musicians of African descent.
C.N.: Groupmuse is composed of two distinct legal entities: the Groupmuse Cooperative, a worker- and musician-run business that carries out the daily operations for Groupmuse; and the Groupmuse Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit that fundraises to help ensure that your musicians are fairly compensated. That’s a really interesting business model—could you tell me more about how that came to be?
Adrienne: One of our musician owners, Mosa Tsay, advocated for the Foundation. Not only does it only hold space for Black musicians, but it also holds space for all groupmuse musicians in that we are able to support minimum payments to our musician community. The Groupmuse model is based on contributions in appreciation from our groupmusers. We want anyone who wants to see chamber music to be able to. So, where needed, the Foundation provides support in this way.
C.N.: Can you tell me more about how Groupmuse is structured? Who makes the big and small decisions?
Adrienne: We use a variety of models that are employed situationally. Groupmuse makes larger, company-wide decisions based on the consent and consensus models. Smaller decisions that would not directly impact operations for all Worker-Owners are based on the experience of that team. They are empowered to use “Do-acracy” (just do the thing) as long as all team members are informed. For all of these models, there is a level of trust. We believe that the cultivation and holding of that trust is an ever-present effort.
C.N.: Have you faced any unique challenges due to being an employee-owned cooperative?
Adrienne: I would say that we are going through many of the same challenges that a lot of cooperatives that converted from a traditional company structure have experienced. In particular, we are constantly educating ourselves on what best practices are and where to find resources outside of our organization that we can tap into. It’s additionally challenging for us as a cooperative of musicians. There are artist cooperatives, but established cooperatives made up of musicians specifically isn’t something that is as common right now. So we look at what others have done and try to meet our needs based on other’s best practices.
C.N.: What does it mean to you to be part of a cooperative?
Adrienne: I think we find meaning in being able to rely on ourselves instead of a highly competitive industry that lives in a scarcity mindset that is additionally resistant to artistry that is inclusive. And by inclusivity, I mean artistic diversity in addition to cultural diversity. At Groupmuse, we don’t like to use the term “classical music”. It implies a European tradition that celebrates music of the past. There’s music being made by living composers, right now, challenging the instrumentation and artistic practices of our day, right now. It means so much to me, personally, to be part of a cooperative that finds space for those of us who think of what we do as beyond Beethoven, beyond post-serialism, even beyond the traditional definition of avant-garde.
C.N.: What are your hopes for the future of art as a field? Do you think that more people will embrace the cooperative model?
Adrienne: Groupmuse is based on the centering of how artists serve our communities, in constant discourse with one another. The arts have always been in dialogue with the zeitgeist and the communities in which they are entrenched. The most inspiring contributions in the arts were not made in a vacuum. If our growth and maturation as artists is dependent on being connected to each other then why not the sustainability of our careers?
C.N.: Do you have any advice for other people who are considering forming a co-op?
Adrienne: Don’t be afraid! And no co-op is the same, don’t feel like you have to do it exactly like another co-op. Every community is different and its needs will be different.