As Des Moines experiences tremendous growth, my eyes tend to wander behind the scenes, in search of those who are working to facilitate the growth. Amedeo Rossi is one of those people. I talked with him last year and have been sitting on this interview for awhile, but it feels like a good time to post it with the music festivals coming up this summer.
Ameodeo runs Vaudeville Mews and the Lift, helped found Des Moines Music Coalition, and was also one of the lead organizers of 80/35 Music Festival. I left our meeting feeling inspired and I think you'll leave this article feeling inspired, too.
Tell me about the first few years of 80/35. What was it like to plan something on that scale?
Whenever you do something for the first time, it always takes more effort than you expected it to take. Until the first day of the festival, 80/35 was just a concept in our minds, but we knew it could be real because we saw that people were excited about it. I think people were excited about something happening here that wasn't centered on insurance. (Laughing)
Since I was already running Vaudeville Mews and the Lift, I had some contacts within "the establishment" and I was able to leverage those contacts when it came to planning the festival.
Tell me more about leveraging connections. What's the key to that?
When I first opened the bar, I needed to know how to get a liqueur license and what steps that all involved. Once you meet the person at city hall who is in charge of approving liquor licenses, you learn that process and so on and so forth.
In general, when you work with the government there are a lot of rules and some of the rules are the rules, but as you navigate through the process, you begin to see that institutions find it easier to be on your side if they're familiar with you.
They're especially willing to help when they understand what you want to do - whether that's making the community aware of the art scene or helping the music industry take note of local musicians. When they see your end goal, there's a positive motivation to help you.
I've heard from many people that Des Moines is very accommodating towards the Arts. Could you shed some light on why that is?
What do we have here in Des Moines? We have insurance, banking, and government. Those three are really the major industries and each are fairly risk-averse. I think for a long time, we had this environment that was very safe and logical. It was good for those industries and those who were working in them, but if you were a creative individual, your first thought was to move out-of-state and never come back.
I think what has happened is that creativity is starting to really be valued. People working in all these tall buildings downtown are realizing you need the Arts because the Arts are what make your life rich. If you want a quality life, creativity and the Arts are as essential as jobs, streets, and buildings. We didn't always value that here, but we're starting to shift towards that type of thinking.
How would describe yourself to me?
I'm all about asking what's possible, I'm always asking myself that question. When it comes to artistic events, I know that I'm capable of organizing and that the artist is capable of creating the art. Personally, that balance works just fine.
I've found that if you give to something, it gives back to you. The experience serves you, whether that's the connections you make or the lessons you learn - nothing is ever wasted. It's pretty easy to ask wouldn't it be cool to have a music scene in Des Moines? But can you help build that? It's easy to have ideas, but it's hard to work on them and help them grow. But if you work hard enough, those ideas will take you where you need to be.
What I've seen the last few years are more and more people caring about something and then doing something about it. Des Moines is in good hands.