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Nonprofit organization DEMO hoping to launch new center for music in Minneapolis

by Andrea Swensson

July 18, 2014

Minneapolis could soon have a new hive center for music education and appreciation thanks to a plan currently in the works by the Steve McClellan-led Diverse and Emerging Music Association (DEMO). And if all goes smoothly, operations could begin at a vacant Longfellow elementary school as soon as this winter.

The McClellan Center for Music would build on the legacy that Steve McClellan created during his nearly 30-year tenure as the general manager at First Avenue and the past 14 years he's spent lobbying for underrepresented and emerging talent through the DAMF (which he started when he was still at First Ave) and DEMO, which he launched when he parted ways with the club in 2004.

Longtime DEMO board member Ozzy Dahlstrom, who is leading the charge on this intriguing plan, says he feels that a new center for music could fill an important niche in the music community.

"We need a bridge between taking lessons at your local place and being a professional musician or going to college for music. What’s that transition? Is there a prep school for music? There’s some high schools for music, but what about specific contemporary education?"

Dahlstrom and his DEMO cohorts envision a school that could offer one-on-one lessons, summer camps, workshops, and community classes on everything from Minnesota music history to financial, legal, and tax advice for working musicians. The facility will also include a soundstage where the organization can present local musicians and curate original programming along the same lines as their recent Naked Songwriter Series.

"We have the High Point Center for Printmaking, we have the Northern Clay Center, we have the Playwright Center, we have Intermedia Arts, we have all these visual arts centers. Where’s the center for music?," asks Dahlstrom. "Where’s the big central center for contemporary music? Well, I know where it’s going to be. It’s going to be where we build it."

DEMO has been in talks with the City of Minneapolis about their plan and have received positive support from several key leaders, including City Councilman Cam Gordon. They currently have a request in to lease space at the vacant Cooper Community School in Longfellow from the Minneapolis School District. A meeting with the Longfellow/Cooper Neighborhood Economic Council went swimmingly on Wednesday night, and DEMO hopes that the support they're received from the city so far will help to push the plan to using the Cooper school forward.

"We really just need a place that we can afford, that’s accessible, that people will go to. We’re not married to the idea of a school, but it would be great just because it’s already set up for education," Dahlstrom says. "Right now, everything is ready to go—the crowdfunding campaign, the business plan. We just need a place to get that starting gun fired."

Once a location for the center is secured, DEMO plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of opening and launching various programs.

In addition to providing a service to the music community at large, Dahlstrom is motivated by the idea that such a positive asset could bear Steve McClellan's name.

"We’re pretty proud of this scene. We have the greatest radio stations, clubs, bands, infrastructure—but it all came from somewhere," Dahlstrom says. "We all kind of hang it on First Avenue; everybody holds that up as the gold standard. Well, why? Where did that come from? Well it was Uncle Sams before it was First Avenue, and I can point to the guy who decided that we needed to be open every night, that we needed to take chances on all kinds of bands, that we needed to mix audiences together, that we needed to let bands develop rather than just book them once and let them go. Steve developed that attitude."

For more on the developing McClellan Center for Music, DEMO will be holding their monthly meeting on Monday night. Info at

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.