What's the Problem?

Des Moines is a culturally vibrant city with a bourgeoning music scene. Currently, however, those under age 21 are prohibited from entering liquor-licensed music venues after 9 p.m. unless 50% of the venue’s sales are non-alcohol related (City Code Section 10-8). The Des Moines Music Coalition (DMMC) has developed an ordinance to amend the Municipal Code of the City of Des Moines, Iowa. 

It has become apparent that the current ordinance is not realistic for local music venues and the overall Des Moines music scene to continue its growth. It has fallen short of its intended purpose due to an unrealistic sales demand and failure to positively affect any venues, as was promised. Additionally, the ordinance negatively affects the safety and retention of area youth, hinders development of the local music scene, and stunts Des Moines’ cultural and economic growth. The restriction impacts the Des Moines’ economy as evident by countless dollars lost in the absence of touring acts, local music venues deteriorating without support from the community at large, and Des Moines’ failing as a cultural attraction for the Midwest. Without a strong music scene, Des Moines struggles to retain its youth who demand cultural opportunity, safety, and sense of place.

Photo by Meanz Chan.
In order to enact policy adaptations and additions, city planners need to engage and listen to creatives, creative venues, organizations, and city institutions. City policy needs to represent the people and their vision for the future of the City of Des Moines.
— Abigail Rose, Expose Des Moines

Our Vision

With support of the community, the DMMC encourages the City Manager’s Office, Police Department, and City Council to pass an alternative to allow Des Moines' young citizens access to music at venues of all sizes.

The Des Moines music scene will thrive when granted support from all members of the community, regardless of age. Music venues will increase their revenue needed to prosper when given access to more touring bands and access to increased community support. National acts will progressively select Des Moines as a touring destination when their audience is not limited by age. Des Moines at large will benefit from additional tourism, retention of its youth, and greater cultural opportunities for its citizens.

Young people will seek out and stay in Des Moines when offered more quality entertainment offerings. Local colleges will benefit from increased attendance when Des Moines values its youth’s interests. An ordinance allowing minors safe spaces after 9pm keeps them out of trouble and off the streets after dark.

Des Moines’ cultural and economic growth will persuade government entities to devote future resources to our cultural economy and move to reinvigorate the Des Moines Music Commission to further support local music.


Economic Impact

In order for our music economy to thrive and drive other areas of the economy, public policy needs to reflect the needs of businesses that curate live performance of music, such as liquor-licensed venues. Music venues are a substantial portion of the overall music economy and can drive the direction of a music scene as well as offering intangible assets of sense of place and cultural vibrancy. In cutting off a large segment of the population to this niche culture and intimate musical experience, venues cannot survive on older populations and alcohol alone. Something needs to change to reflect the growing music economy in Des Moines.

music venues

Currently only four venues in Des Moines affected by this ordinance: Vaudeville Mews, The Gas Lamp, Noce, and Lefty’s Live Music. One might argue that since this ordinance only affects a small number of businesses, it’s not worth fighting for. However, one might ask, why are there only four locally-focused, affordable, and youth-oriented venues, why aren’t there more? Smaller “individual music businesses, which are typically small in size, lack the influence of companies employing thousands of people.” When you cut off an entire segment of the population from affordable live music after 9 p.m., there tends to be less demand for that live music, especially when young people are huge consumers and drivers of the music industry: According to the Music Consumer Insight Report 2016, “Young people are highly engaged with music, with 82% of 13-15 year-olds listening to licensed music and the majority willing to pay for music” 82 % of young consumers (ages 13-15) are actively engaged with licensed music. 52% are purchasing music and 54% are streaming. These percentages are higher than the overall average for music consumption. Thus we can clearly see that young people are at the heart of music consumption and they are willing to pay for that music.

These small local venues that double as liquor-licensed establishments are suffering from a small clause in the ordinance, which requires venues to prove that at least 50% of sales are not alcohol. This becomes very difficult for these very small venues, who coincidentally also offer lower ticket/cover prices than venues not affected by the ordinance (i.e. Wooly’s, Des Moines Social Club, the Continental). Wooly’s is able to have all ages shows that extend past 9 p.m. due to their higher ticket prices. Not everyone can afford a $20-30 cover on a given weekend, especially young people.

Oftentimes with the restriction in place, showtimes at local venues suffer immensely. When venues are restricted by the 9 p.m. curfew, they are forced to schedule two separate shows, one that is too early for most people around 4-5 p.m. (students are getting out of school and adults are still working around this time) and one that ends late. Miid-time shows are ideal for a wide range of the population. With start times around 7-8 p.m. and ending around 11-11:30, benefits are seen with every age. Many all-ages shows at Wooly’s, Wells Fargo Arena, Hoyt Sherman, Civic Center, etc. all start around 7-8 p.m. This is a good time because it allows students and working adults to finish work or school. With an end time around 11:30, this is a great cutoff for young people in terms of safety. Parents do not want their teenager out any time after this and young people would probably be looking for entertainment until this time anyways. Adults alike find that their nights “out on the town” end around this time, especially in terms of live music. Additionally, in conversations with city council in 2015, 11:30 was deemed an acceptable curfew.

Musicians and creatives

For many musicians, live performances are a main source of revenue. As the music scene here in Des Moines grows, there is a need for a wide range of performance spaces that are able to cater towards young and beginning musicians as well as experienced touring artists. People need lots of options in close proximity to one another and so do the artists! Without multiple places to play, musicians are left in the dust.

“For cities looking to generate economic benefits from live music, tourist spending is a key part of the equation. Not only does tourist spending represent “new” money to a city, but it also generates additional spending beyond music. When tourists travel to experience live music, whether a concert, music festival or a favourite band in a basement venue, they will spend significantly more on hotels, restaurant meals, bars and other local attractions.”  -  The Mastering of a Music City

Des Moines has positioned itself as a city focused on increased tourism for residents and visitors alike. The Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau (Catch Des Moines) boasts proudly on its website a vibrant music and arts scene here in the Des Moines area.  As well, in the five years, the City of Des Moines has topped national ranking charts in several areas, including best city for young professionals, honors for a growing downtown, and a growing wealth of its citizens.

We’ve seen an increase in downtown Des Moines tourism from recently changed public policies, especially the one revolving around food trucks.The All Ages Ordinance may seem like a small change, but it can bring about a huge increase in focus on the music and greater cultural industries.

Tourists and residents alike demand multiple options for live music. When only a few or no local and affordable options are presented, patrons are likely to not even go out and see live music. They need what Austin’s Mayor Will Wynn boasted: multiple venues in close geographical proximity (i.e. Downtown Des Moines and surrounding areas) that cater to a variety of audiences. Des Moines is lacking in this area and we feel that this would be remedied with a change in City Code.

youth retention

The ordinance is giving the message to young people that we do not want their participation in live music, and ultimately the greater cultural and arts industry. Young people are the music industry’s future customers, curators, and musicians. When young people are cut off from live music, they won’t be able to foster their own creativity or their long-term love for attending live music.

“How do we expect young, talented artists or their supporters to develop their own aesthetics and sense of awareness if we don’t expose them to what Des Moines has to offer? Are past regulations clouding Des Moines’ youth’s freedom of expression? Are we inhibiting their chances to engage with the city? If they aren’t able to engage while they’re here, will they be less inclined to experience Des Moines?” - Abigail Rose, Expose Des Moines

overall economy

In examining economic research done on the surrounding music economy, one can see that the music industry plays a significant role in the overall economy of a city, in and of itself. Additionally, a strong music economy can contribute to other areas of the economy (tourism, quality of life, restaurant industry, visual arts, etc.).

A study recently procured by by Bravo Greater Des Moines found that those arts organizations which are funded by Bravo contributed a combined regional economic impact of $120.9 million in 2015 and was responsible for employment of 2,336 people, engaging around 3.7 million attendees and participants.

Central Iowa’s music economy is extremely important in the landscape of the overall regional economy. Industries including musical performance organizations, promotions, independent artists, music stores, radio, recording industries, instrument manufacture employed 968 job holders from those firms earning $23.85 million in labor income in 2013.

  • 1,322 total jobs in the five‐county region

  • 39.62 million in labor income, and

  • 65.81 million in regional value added, a number that is analogous to regional gross domestic product (GDP).

In talking personally with Iowa State economics professor Dave Swenson, he emphasized to me that the music economy is obviously quite small in comparison with the whole, yet contributes a fairly substantial portion of the creative/arts economy which thus factors into the overall quality of life enjoyed by Central Iowa.

Community and Cultural impact

Apart from economic impact, the All-Ages Ordinance greatly affects the cultural landscape of the greater Des Moines area especially with regard to the city’s sense of place for its residents, the city’s current strategic plans, and with regard to inclusivity and diversity. The cultural and artistic identity of a city flourishes with the support of public policy and city leaders.

identity and sense of place

Apart from tangible economic and cultural goals for a city, the often overlooked idea of “sense of place” can make a huge difference. Sense of place and the identity of Des Moines are crucial with regards to the local music industry

“The establishment of sense of place promotes inclusiveness, neighborhood camaraderie, and attractiveness. The memorable place grants each individual with a positive experience with which to associate the environment. Arts and culture has been shown to invoke an increase of local human, physical, and cultural capital to enhance the sense of place of an environment.” - Abigail Rose, Expose Des Moines
“Music can play a powerful role in building a city’s brand. For a select group of cities with the strongest music scenes or deep music heritage, music is a big part of who they are. Think “Liverpool,” and most people think “The Beatles.” Think “Memphis,” and music icons like Elvis and Johnny Cash come to mind. Austin’s familiar tagline is “Live Music Capital of the World.” Nashville is, simply, “Music City.”” - The Mastering of a Music City

existing city plans

Currently, the city of Des Moines seeks to support the efforts of artists, musicians, creatives, and other placemaking objectives through several city planning policies, such as Capital Crossroads, Tomorrow Plan, and PlanDSM. Through examining one of these plans, the necessity for an amendment of the All-Ages ordinance is clearly apparent. Arts and culture are seemingly central to the goals for this city, thus making this change a priority in order to accomplish those goals.

“In order to enact policy adaptations and additions, city planners need to engage and listen to creatives, creative venues, organizations, and city institutions. City policy needs to represent the people and their vision for the future of the City of Des Moines.” - Abigail Rose, Expose Des Moines

Currently, the city of Des Moines seeks to support the efforts of artists, musicians, creatives, and other placemaking objectives through several city planning policies, such as Capital Crossroads, Tomorrow Plan, and PlanDSM. Through examining one of these plans, the necessity for an amendment of the All-Ages ordinance is clearly apparent. Arts and culture are seemingly central to the goals for this city, thus making this change a priority in order to accomplish those goals.       

Capital Crossroads was first introduced in 2011 as a regional plan for the greater Des Moines area. The 2016 iteration was released by a Steering Committee of community leaders and focuses on 10 work platforms or “capitals”. Especially notable are its goals of sustaining cultural, social and human capital. Through examining cultural, human, and social capital goals, All-Ages access becomes essential to the accomplishment of these goals, set forth by Capital Crossroads:

  • Increase of venues and events exposing and nurturing Des Moines creatives

  • Better funding to further the development of the music economy

  • Ensure collaboration among arts and culture institutions and organizations

  • Enhance opportunities for creatives to showcase their work to the public

  • Sustain and grow the resources to support the arts economy

  • Continue talent retention and attraction through the collaboration of city entities working together

  • More diverse human capital

  • Sense of place

  • Maintain an effective Central Iowa business climate and entrepreneurial ecosystem

  • Make Central Iowa a national model of leadership, diversity and inclusion, social equity, and civility

Retaining talented creatives as well as increasing arts patronage requires the inclusion of young people. Without access to entertainment options and arts and culture opportunities, we cannot retain the youth that already live here. Enhancing opportunities for creatives means giving them a space to showcase their work and to experience the work of other creatives.