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Banking on KC – Kemet Coleman

Banking on KC – Kemet Coleman

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is award-winning musician, urbanist and serial entrepreneur, Kemet Coleman. And he's also the catalyst behind Vine Street Brewing, a new brewery scheduled to open in early 2022. Welcome Kemet.

Kemet Coleman:

Hello and thank you for having me, Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've been called a creative placemaker. What does that mean, Kemet?

Kemet Coleman:

It's actually a very new title, almost a new lane in the urban planning and community organizing, community building space. It's only been around for about 10 or 15 years and creative placemaking is basically finding ways to engage community and build communities that put the arts and creativity first. An example of some of my creative placemaking work is through my work with Troostapalooza, a community festival that I helped start in 2018.

Kemet Coleman:

And so, it's basically near several development projects that have encroached on directly black communities, and we wanted to find a way for all the community to come together. And so we invited artists and had live music and have family fun. So that's an example of creative placemaking. It's definitely more like, events or festivals or community engagement programs to build community.

Kelly Scanlon:

Bringing people together, your music reflects this. I said, you're award-winning. You have received many, many accolades for your music. As a musician, you've played what many, including the Kansas City Star, would call a significant role in Kansas city's modern musical and cultural identity. So, that ties right in with the creative placemaker moniker. First, what do you draw your inspiration from? And second, how do you hope that your music inspires others?

Kemet Coleman:

I don't actually know where my inspiration comes from. I think it just, part of me feels like I'm a vessel that just receives input. And so I feel like it's just my duty to do good for the community. I've tried to separate all of the things that I do and it's kind of hard. And so I would say, what definitely inspires me on this level, is seeing people come together despite the differences and celebrating some of their nuances and supporting those nuances instead of using them to tear each other down. And so I just feel like the world should be a better place. And I think I was put here to use my creativity to help do that.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have a song called, Get Out, some people call it the street car song. That's really kind of been adopted for the streetcar project. Tell us about that.

Kemet Coleman:

Yeah. So as an urbanist, someone that cares about the built environment and how humans live our daily lives and how innovation and cities are innovation. I immediately think of public transit as the best way to be a driving force for that. And so when the street car came around, I was obviously interested in doing something related to the street car, but also musically.

Kemet Coleman:

And so I reached out to them and said, "Hey, I want to do a song for the street car." David Johnson, who was at the helm at that particular time said, "Sure, let's do it." And I was like, "Okay, well I can do a streetcar song or I can do a song that's good and references the street car." And he's like, "Let's do that one." And so I was like, "All right, well, let me try to make a hit record really quick."

Kelly Scanlon:

No pressure. Right?

Kemet Coleman:

Yeah, exactly. And so, I was like, okay, well, if I do this, I want to have a streetcar for a whole day so I could shoot a music video. He connected with me with Donna Vandelbaum at the street car. And then she gave me one of the street cars for the whole day before it opened. We were one of the first riders on there. It was a cool experience. I think people can see the full video in it's full glory on YouTube. It's one of my favorite projects ever.

Kemet Coleman:

I was talking to somebody the other day and letting them know that, that song is open source. So any community project that is about progress that wants to use the song, can totally use it whenever.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, what a great gift that is. You've also announced your eyes on the street project. What is the focus of that one?

Kemet Coleman:

Eyes on the Street is also another culmination of my interest in music and urbanism and beer. So, this is the first time I blended all three of those things, which sets the tone for where I'm headed in the future. It all started with the music and my desire to create an album that utilized the term, eyes on the street, which is a concept that was coined by Jane Jacobs. She an urbanist, famous urbanist, urban planner, self-taught from New York and spent most of her time in New York.

Kemet Coleman:

Anyways, she describes eyes on the street as the regular self security forces that communities innately have when there's density. And so if you see people walking down the street and there's a high density of people on a particular block, those eyes self secure the space. So I wanted to do that in an album form. I mean, that can be kind of, I don't want to say boring topic, but that topic needs a little bit of love to make it into like a hip hop form, I guess.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right, right.

Kemet Coleman:

So what I did was I just took part parts of my own story, someone that grew up in urban Kansas City and reflected those in each of the songs. So I did that and then after the music was done, I approached Crane Brewing and said, "Hey, I want to do a beer with this too," because I had done a beer previously with Black is Beautiful. Yeah. They said, "Yeah, let's do it." So we got together, we came up with a recipe, I described the album to them. They said, hey, this sounds like, they basically paired ingredients, beer ingredients with aspects of the album. And so we came up with the recipe and then the rest is history.

Kelly Scanlon:

The nice part about it too, is that proceeds from it, go to Gift, correct?

Kemet Coleman:

The beer was going to be a limited release. We were going to do a hundred Crowlers. And I think that we're going to do a couple kegs to put it in the tap room at Crane. And with our previous collaboration, Crane and I, we gave a pretty significant percentage of our sales to Gift as well. And Gift is a nonprofit I'm supporting just because of how well it focuses on giving capital to urban, inner city zip codes.

Kemet Coleman:

We basically agreed that we would give another percentage to Gift. And this is the second time I've done something like this. I've done another album where I donated the majority of that money to Kansas City Young Audiences. Gift gives grants to black owned businesses within Kansas City's most distressed zip codes. I live in one of those zip codes. I've continued to live in several of the zip codes that are on there and I know what those communities have and don't have.

Kemet Coleman:

And so what I do know is that they have ingenuity and there's tons of people that are entrepreneurs, not because it was a hobby or something they wanted to do, it was because of survival. And I think if we can have that same spirit kind of uplifted, then I think we're on to something great. And so, Gift is at the heart of that.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of your latest ventures, you're very interested in beer. You said you liked beer. Although, I guess as a young man, you really didn't like it, but then you found craft beer and you're all in now because you're starting your own brewery, Vine Street Brewing. It will be the first black owned brewery in Kansas City. So tell us about how you got involved in that, how plans are proceeding and how you think it's going to impact that 18th and vine area?

Kemet Coleman:

Yeah, absolutely. People don't necessarily know my beer background just because I haven't really spoke on it a lot. Some people know that I was an employee at Boulevard Brewing Company in 2013, doing tours and the whole guest experience thing at the taproom, all that stuff. And so that's actually how I met Woody, who's one of my business partners for Vine Street. He did a tour with me. I was his tour guide and we didn't talk for another five or six years. And I met him at a festival he was putting on, beer festival he was putting on.

Kemet Coleman:

After my time at Boulevard, I realized that, wow, this is such a cool industry, I'd love to be in because at the time I was doing music and music was not necessarily paying at the time, when I needed it to be. And so I thought about like, hey, if I'm going to get a job, like where do I want to work? And there was like three or four places and Boulevard was one of them. So they hired me and that was a great experience, just getting to take that immersive deep dive into beer.

Kemet Coleman:

Because at that point, I learned a lot about the beer, but also about the guests experience and community building and beer products and stuff like that. So long story short over the years, I thought it was a good idea for me to start my own brewery. I thought, I've always wanted my own space, own music venue or some type of space that people would know. I could leave my mark on. Breweries sounded like a good idea because the fact is, breweries are great for building community. And just think about what they've done in the crossroads here in Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right, right.

Kemet Coleman:

I mean, I thought it was a good idea to start my own brewery. I tried three or four times, to no success, and this last time, my wife and I, we were just laughing because she's like, "Hey, are you going to do this or not?" I've gone deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole each time. And after the pandemic, I had lots of time to think and really think about like where I want my career to go and all the things that I've thrown at the wall and hoping that have stuck, between my bands and projects, and my own solo act and things of that nature.

Kemet Coleman:

And basically, this was going to be my last big shot that I was going to gamble on at the time. And so, I did and I talked to Woody and Woody thought about it and it worked for him and he talked to Elliot and Elliot thought about it and worked for him. And next thing I know, we're moving. So to answer your question about its impact on the community, I really think this is going to be a really big deal.

Kemet Coleman:

It's going to be, I think the bridge between east and west Kansas City, and hopefully it'd be a standard for what community can look like when we celebrate diversity and understand that our beauty is in that diversity and also understand that the 18th and Vine area is our most important real estate in Kansas City. It's what people travel internationally to see. When I was presented the location that we chose at 2000 Vine Street, I was like, I have to do this.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. You mentioned that people come internationally. Kansas City has so many jewels, historic jewel and then more recent ones. We have the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum. We have the gym theater, black archives are there, and Blue Room, that is home to many jazz artists. I mean, just so many things in that area. And now you're going to have the first black owned brewery there. Congratulations on that.

Kemet Coleman:

Thank you. Yeah. Thank you. We are absolutely overwhelmed in a great, in a beautiful way with the amount of history and context and culture and music and images and all the different artifacts of jazz heritage and black culture here in Kansas City, that we now have a duty to utilize and to showcase and to share with our city and to the world.

Kemet Coleman:

I'm big on history. I used to run a social club that put on events that showcase the invisible histories of Kansas City. So when we talk about invisible histories, there's so much that we can talk about. And if we can not only give people a great place to have a good beer, if we can not only have live music that re-emanates the jazz heritage, if we can also share the stories of those who are forgotten in the 18th and Vine area and beyond, if we can build community and bridge east and west, then I think we're onto something major.

Kelly Scanlon:

Definitely are, and this is still slated to open in early 2022, so early next year?

Kemet Coleman:

Yeah. We're on track for February 2022.

Kelly Scanlon:

You also had a podcast series, if I remember correctly. It was a 10 episode series and it invited listeners to imagine the future of downtown Kansas City in that regard, what did you hear from your listeners?

Kemet Coleman:

What we heard was that these conversations were so necessary and people have been waiting for them to happen. We spoke with Metropolitan Community College in Penn Valley. I mean, we spoke with developers who are building or redoing the Kansas City Star, original Kansas City Star building into something major. We spoke to Kansas City Center for Neighborhoods.

Kemet Coleman:

There was so many important conversations that were had during that 10 episode podcast that continue to need to be addressed and are being addressed right now in a lot of my other work. Yeah. I would love to expound upon what we started with the podcast. And I think what we did was allow for these urban conversations that you don't necessarily get to hear and we put it on a platform that everyone could easily get access to. So I think more conversations like this and like what you and me are having are necessary, for sure.

Kelly Scanlon:

And that podcasts, that 10 episode series is available, I believe on the downtown council's website. Is that correct?

Kemet Coleman:

Yeah. It's on downtown council's website. I think it should be on Spotify and Apple Music, and all those.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. Wherever people listen to their podcasts, wherever you're listening to this podcast. Kemet, what is your vision for the future of Kansas City?

Kemet Coleman:

My vision includes a lot of density and diverse uses. And really, I think that's my local vision, but my regional vision is for Kansas City to become what it wants to be, which is a regional destination that could represent the best of the Midwest, from Omaha to Columbia, to St. Louis, to Tulsa, to Oklahoma City. A lot of folks in those cities look to Kansas City as the beacon because of 18th and Vine. And so I think if we can live up to that spirit, we're going to win.

Kelly Scanlon:

Kemet, thank you so much for coming on the show today, for all the work that you do in the community, to be that creative place maker and to make a lot of lives better. We really appreciate it.

Kemet Coleman:

Thank you so much for having me.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Kemet Coleman for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Kemet calls himself a creative place maker, and Kansas City is fortunate to be the place where Kemet is unleashing his creativity to build community. His creative inspiration flows from the desire to see people come together in spite of their differences and celebrate one another.

Joe Close:

Not surprisingly, one of his favorite projects was writing, Get Out, otherwise known as the streetcar song because the streetcar connects communities just as Kemet strives to do. His latest endeavor, Vine Street Brewery will be the first black owned brewery in Kansas City when it opens in the 18th and Vine district in early 2022.

Joe Close:

Besides creating a physical space where Kansas Citians can gather over a beer, Kemet hopes a brewery can set the standard for what a community can look like when it celebrates diversity. As he says, "If we can build community and bridge east and west, then I think we're onto something major." People like Kemet, inspire all of us at Country Club Bank to continue our work, to build a better Kansas City. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're baking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.