The IBMA and its Mission Statements

IBMAAt their annual convention in September of this year, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Board of Directors approved a new mission statement.

The new statement reads …

IBMA is the trade association that connects and educates bluegrass professionals, empowers the bluegrass community, and encourages worldwide appreciation for bluegrass music of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Jon Weisberger, the recently elected chair to the IBMA Board of Directors, related shortly after the board meeting  ……

Jon Weisberger“The Board periodically creates a multi-year strategic plan, during which process we typically review the mission statement to see whether it needs revision. At this year’s strategic planning meeting, held in April, there was some sentiment for making changes.

The new mission statement is a bit longer and more detailed, making explicit some things which previous Boards didn’t feel as great a need to state. For instance, the new statement says that the IBMA is a trade association; the previous one didn’t. But it also seeks to be more clear that we serve not just full-time professionals, but the larger bluegrass community, and that we embrace and seek to recognize and draw attention to not just the music currently being made, but to the canon as it has developed in the past, and to the many directions in which the music is likely to grow.

I guess at the highest level, you could say that the changes we made trade brevity for clarity.”

Was this pro-active, or a reaction to the ‘big tent’ discussions that have divided traditionalists from those with more inclusive definitions of the genre?

In fairness, Nancy Cardwell, now current Executive Director, had asked in February 2012 …..

“What are your opinions about reaching out to bluegrass-influenced bands and fans through IBMA programs and events, while still honouring the fans and players of traditional bluegrass music?  How can we include folks into the roots and branches of bluegrass music, while still keeping the tree strong?”

There weren’t any replies to this question after it was posted to the IBMA Forum.  Did/does it not matter? If it wasn’t asked of a wider audience, shouldn’t that have been done?

Art Menius, the first Executive Director, who served the IBMA with great industry and attentiveness for about 5 years, from November 1985 to December 1990, reflects on the changes ……

“During my time, the mission statement was, supporting the worldwide bluegrass music industry.’

[I can speak from personal experience, the IBMA certainly gave substantial meaning to the “I” in IBMA by staging an international seminar during the WoB experience in 1988.]

During the mid-1990s it was changed to more community focused language like a charity would use.

[In 1996 the organisation described itself thus …….

“The IBMA is an international professional trade organization dedicated to the promotion and expanding the knowledge of Bluegrass Music.”]

About 10 years ago “shoulder to shoulder” was dropped from that.”

[Remember the 1992 recording of Shoulder to Shoulder, the award-winning tune composed by Mark Schatz and Jerry Douglas?]

Subsequently the mission statement was changed to “Working together for high standards of professionalism, a greater appreciation for our music, and the success of the worldwide bluegrass community.”

In an article for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, well respected journalist and writer David Royko provides a perspective at the time of the IBMA’s 20th anniversary.

Then (2005) Executive Director Dan Hays comments in that story ….

“The more significant things I would say would be some new programs that we have launched or created during that time period. Our Leadership Bluegrass program. Our refocused Discover Bluegrass campaign and those marketing efforts. Our Bluegrass in the Schools program has begun to mature, and maybe the most exciting piece of that got released last fall with a Discover Bluegrass DVD that can be used in classrooms or with home schooling parents. Those are all fairly significant in terms of specific projects aimed at either marketing the music, getting young people exposed to it, professional development initiatives, on top of just the on-going day to day services that we continue to offer and continue to improve upon.”

What bold steps does the IBMA have to offer today?  Does the current bluegrass world need more programs of the type mentioned?

Perhaps it isn’t just a matter of words alone as in the current IBMA Vision and Strategic Goals document they vow to “revisit plans and goals for 2012+ in the near future and welcomes member perspectives.”


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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.