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How a Tiny Record Label Jump-Started One Midwestern City's Arts Economy

Asthmatic Kitty Records has enmeshed its own growth with building up Indianapolis' cultural infrastructure.
Indianapolis-based folk duo Lily and Madeleine are some of Asthmatic Kitty's most promising new artists.
Indianapolis-based folk duo Lily and Madeleine are some of Asthmatic Kitty's most promising new artists. Asthmatic Kitty

The story usually goes like this: A local music scene develops, bands start to attract attention beyond city limits, the homegrown independent record label blossoms, and the city reaps the cultural and economic development rewards.

It happened in 1980s Manchester, England, where Factory Records’ legendary Haçienda was the hub of the “Madchester” scene, helping to transform the surrounding neighborhood into a destination for artists, musicians, and young people. In the 2000s, Saddle Creek Records—home to Conor Oberst’s seminal indie band Bright Eyes, among other acts—turned a former brownfield in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, into a thriving live/work/play destination with its mixed-use Slowdown project. And in 2006, singer Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records adapted a crumbling, historic church in Buffalo, New York, into its label headquarters—and a 1,200-seat concert hall.