Music and ideas come to a boil at festival

Music can start the conversations that bring a community together. Leaders of the I.D.E.A. Association are convinced of that and are putting it to the test over the July 4 holiday weekend.

On a recent summer afternoon, as they sit inside Water Street coffee shop in downtown Kalamazoo, I.D.E.A. Association founders Matthew Lechel and Mark Thompson recap the genesis of their nonprofit organization and their plans for the first Boiling Pot Festival, an event to gather people through music and art and ask them to help find solutions to the issues that plague society.

"You can reach every group in this community through music," says Lechel, the organization's executive board president. "We want to do community problem solving, but this is a great way to get people started in community problem solving. People are excited about coming to these events."

Lechel estimates the music festival should draw in at least 2,000 people based on presale tickets and interest shown so far.

The Boiling Pot Music Festival on July 3 and 4 will feature nearly 40 Michigan bands, including Airborne or Aquatic, Breathe Owl Breathe and Jes Kramer as well as activities for kids, like yoga and a water balloon toss.

The Strutt, arguably the most progressive music venue in town, is handling much of the musical side of the event. Booking manager Andy Catlin is heavily involved in the festival as is owner Darren Bain.

As part of the community-building aspect of the event, local business and nonprofit leaders will conduct forums on eight topics: agriculture and food security, energy, transportation, education, housing, health and wellness, human security and preservation and green space.

It is one in a series of events put on by the I.D.E.A. Association as it works to foster projects that will help the community. At the events the group conducts surveys to gauge participants' wants, needs and the possibilities for upcoming projects.

Earlier events included a potluck dinner with a live band and a collaborative art project in 2007 on Kalamazoo's north side. Later that year, the ball kept rolling with events at Rocket Star Cafe and collaborative art pieces shown during an Art Hop.

Since then, the I.D.E.A. Association organized as a nonprofit and carried out big events like the 350 Movement event, tied to the international campaign for sustainability, at the Strutt last fall and events to teach groups of teens rock climbing and cooking. This October, the association will conduct another 350 Movement day where they will hold panel discussions on reducing carbon emissions and present green-themed art.

The idea to start the I.D.E.A. Association was born, in part, during late-night discussions at the now defunct Rocket Star Cafe and at basement shows. When the bands stopped playing, and the lights went on, conversation started. Lechel, Thompson and groups of upwards of 30 people who wanted to see positive changes started talking and things started moving.

"We realized that music, and to a larger degree culture, is a great place to start having conversations about community development," Lechel says.

Thompson is guitarist for the local band The Nerves. Fellow I.D.E.A. board member Drew Tyner is the band's bassist. Their involvement in Kalamazoo's music scene is one reason music plays such an important role in the association's work.

Lechel and Thompson, both from Saginaw, came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. Here, they saw a community with a thriving art and music scene -- and some issues that need to be addressed.

Thompson, 27, hopes to use the skills he's honing while earning his master's degree in international development administration to help create a problem-solving model that I.D.E.A. can use to address any type of social issue.

Lechel, 26, earned his master's degree in public administration for nonprofit leadership and now works for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. Eventually, Lechel will focus on the association full time.

The association's name stands for Interdisciplinary Development through Education and Art and with that moniker it's doesn't take a leap to realize the group's leaders have lofty goals.

"Really at the core is our belief that the community itself can solve the problems that are ailing them with their own skills and knowledge," says Lechel. "A fundamental goal is to really listen and to gather local knowledge, find out about how people feel about these issues."

The association uses a set of steps that build on one another to solve problems: fund raising, talking to people to see what they believe the problems are, developing a project to address the problem and then keeping track of how the solution is doing.

During the Boiling Pot Festival, Thompson, other board members and volunteers will record ideas and information gathered through surveys to find out what issues are most important to the public, then evaluate what can be done to solve them.

The association hopes to collect information to develop three specific projects. With the help of other local organizing groups like Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), the community would then vote on which project to pursue.

Projects could include things like housing development.

For those at the festival who would rather draw than talk, the association will feature another collaborative art piece, providing a literal blank canvas for the public to paint on.

"We'll give them a theme, some supplies, some volunteers to supervise and just let people paint and throughout the course of the day, an actual painting emerges that is a collaboration of literally hundreds of different people," Lechel says.

Exquisite Corpse Artist Collective also will add to the creative aspect of the festival by making interactive art exhibit for each of the topics addressed at Boiling Pot.

For example, hundreds of light bulbs covered in paper mache and decorated will be strung across the festival grounds to illustrate the topic of energy conservation.

At some point the group hopes to have a fundraiser where they will sell the works of art made by the community, to be able to put the money back into the community.

Expect to see more from the I.D.E.A. Association as its masterminds use events like the Boiling Pot Music Festival as a launch pad for palpable changes in Kalamazoo.

Rebecca Bakken is a freelance writer who lives and works in Kalamazoo.

Photos by Erik Holladay

Members of the I.D.E.A. Association Drew Tyner, left, Matt Lechel, Chris Broadbent, and Mark Thompson. The association works to bring projects to the area to help the community.

Chris Broadbent, left, Matt Lechel, Drew Tyner, and Mark Thompson lead the way for the I.D.E.A. Association.

The Boiling Pot Festival brings music, art and activities to the community.  Leading the I.D.E.A. Association are Mark Thompson, Chris Broadbent, Drew Tyner, kneeling, and Matt Lechel.

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