Mike Smith and Andrew Norman grew up together in Imperial, a town of about 2,000 in southwest Nebraska. Today, the two non-profit organizations they lead – The Bay and Hear Nebraska – are joining forces in a new venture called Rabble Mill.
“We lived on the same street,” said Smith, Founder of The Bay and Co-Executive Director of Rabble Mill. “It’s been about 20 years.”
The Bay’s current location opened in 2012 and features a large indoor skate park, coffee shop, music venue, and space for meetings and artists. The organization supports multiple causes that, among other things, engage young people in assisting the homeless. Hear Nebraska develops and provides exposure for Nebraska’s music, arts and creative industries. Both organizations want to create reasons for young people to invest and stay in Nebraska.
“We want to evolve the narrative about Nebraska that helps businesses attract and retain talent,” said Norman, Co-Founder of Hear Nebraska (with wife Angie Norman) and Co-Executive Director of Rabble Mill. “We need to keep these kids.”
The two organizations started down different paths but found themselves collaborating more and more frequently, and were looking for ways to optimize their impact.
“We had reached a point where we were pretty quickly going to max out our growth because our scope is so niched with original Nebraska music,” Norman said. “We were looking for ways to add youth programming and considered a couple of different options. The obvious one was to team up with friends that we already have a lot of ties to, and who have kids looking for things to do.”
Common interests were only one of the reasons the merger made sense. There were also programmatic and financial considerations.
“Last Thanksgiving, we started realizing we were on a path where we could start duplicating services,” Smith said. “We don’t want to compete for the same dollars, but instead take similar passions, cultures and groups of people to work together in one organization and do amazing things.”
A major part of Rabble Mill’s vision is helping kids discover their passion and build valuable life and professional skills. Leveraging their wide connections in the creative industries, they plan to showcase the opportunities, technologies and skills that surround bands, artists and other creatives.
“A big focus for us is job training, using technologies that surround art, film and photojournalism,” Smith said. “The music industry is a great example. It’s not just the band, but all the jobs that back it up.”
Rabble Mill includes a digital art and design space called the Find Your Grind collective, focused on closing the community’s technology gap through skills creation. One-month residencies by experts in fields such as augmented reality will provide opportunities for kids to showcase what they learn.
“There are so many things you learn because you hang out at a venue,” Norman said. “When we have touring bands come through we can use them to teach kids about what the different jobs around the band entail, what these jobs actually are.”
Smith feels that providing exposure to new and different career opportunities and skills can open young people’s eyes to what is possible.
“You can only dream as big as you’ve seen,” he said. “If you don’t see what is possible, you’re just stuck in your bubble. We’re raising the ceiling for what’s possible.”
Part of evolving the narrative about Nebraska will be a print publication produced by kids and made available to high school students to provide compelling stories about the state and its culture.
“The magazine will show kids what is happening in this state that is cool,” Norman said. “Part of it is building skills for our own kids while telling the story of why people should move here.”
By combining their efforts, The Bay and Hear Nebraska are creating an umbrella company that will allow programs that fit the mission – including the possibility of a high school – within it.
“We’re exposing the next batch of young people to skills and creating the next cultural class of young, creative entrepreneurs,” Smith said. “We’re stoked to see how creative these kids get.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.