CMW in Washington

On April 12 and 13, Aaron and Heath traveled to Washington to attend Arts Advocacy Day, sponsored by Americans for the Arts. Along with over 500 arts advocates, we went to Washington to underscore the importance of developing strong public policies and appropriating increased public funding for the arts.

This trip was a chance for us to see what role CMW could play in advocating for the arts in Washington. Our students are growing accustomed to being advocates for the arts and arts education (recently our Phase III teens performed at the Rhode Island State House), but we wanted to explore how we could expand our advocacy efforts beyond Providence and Rhode Island.

April in DC: allergy season in full bloom

And so it was with this in mind that we set out on our first day. Our congressional office visits were scheduled for Tuesday, so Monday was devoted to training. Heath and I plunged head-first into the lobbying world, taking Lobbying 101 and quickly graduating into Lobbying 201. We learned the difference between advocating and lobbying, how to present a unified message, the importance of getting your “ask” in early in your meeting with busy staffers and legislative assistants, and how best to explain how arts funding serves the interests of not only small communities, but also the country at large.

The Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts

During our lunch break we walked over to the Sitar Center, a local, multidisciplinary arts center that offers lessons in visual arts, music, drama, dance, digital arts and creative writing to predominantly low-income youth. We were especially curious to see their relatively new facility – food for thought as CMW ponders what shape our future home will take! Having admired their practice rooms and concert hall (and having had a brief glimpse of the First Lady of Malaysia who was also visiting!), we walked back to the conference, admiring the cherry blossoms in full-bloom on the way.

Attending a speech by Rocco Landesman of "Art Works" fame

The afternoon saw more sessions on lobbying – Facts and Figures, Role Playing Demonstrations, and Breakout panels on the various policy issues we were tackling on Tuesday. Full of facts, Heath and I set out in the direction of the Kennedy Center to attend the 23rd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy.

Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, delivered the lecture on Arts and Public Policy this year. In an inspiring and often humorous lecture, Mayor Riley outlined how the art of city design transformed cities into more livable and cultural communities. Heath and I had the pleasure of being accompanied by friend of CMW, Eva Jacob. While at the National Endowment for the Arts, Eva was central in the establishment of the Rural Residency program for chamber music groups.

Aaron checks out the Kennedy Center's grand foyer

Tuesday saw us rise early to head to the Hill for the Congressional Arts Kick Off event, where the Congressional Arts Leadership Award was presented to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Along with several senators, she spoke to the assembled crowd of arts advocates and re-affirmed her support for arts initiatives. We met up with the rest of our substantial Rhode Island delegation (at 7 delegates we out-represented a number of much larger states!) and finalized the details of our presentation for our congressional visits.

Arts Advocacy press event in the Congressional Caucus Room

Itʼs important to note that Rhode Islandʼs senators and representatives
have been very supportive of the arts. Our visits served two purposes:
to thank them for their continued support, and to highlight some key
issues we think they should focus their efforts on. Heath and I focused
on funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Americans for the
Arts was asking for a funding increase from the current level of $167.5
million in 2010 to $180 million in 2011. In addition, Heath and I
highlighted the impact that the arts funding in the federal stimulus
bill has had on CMW this year.

The RI delegation in Representative Kennedy's conference room

We met with one of Representative Patrick Kennedyʼs aides first, outlining our requests and thanking Representative Kennedy for his past strong support. We then walked past the Capital, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court on the way to the Hart Senate Building, admiring the large Calder sculpture in the atrium. There we met with Senator Jack Reed and his legislative assistant, again thanking him for his support and recommending where he might focus his efforts.

Public art (a Calder) in the Hart Senate Building

Heath and I had to depart for the Baltimore aiport to return to Community MusicWorks for a board meeting that evening, but the rest of the Rhode Island delegation met with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative James Langevin later that afternoon.

All told, it was a fascinating glimpse into the world of Washington advocacy and  lobbying, and it gave us a better picture of what a future trip with CMW students would look like. It was exciting to see how strongly the arts are represented in Rhode Island!

-Aaron McFarlane, CMW staff

More photos of Arts Advocacy Day in the Americans for the Arts' Flickr account.

El Sistema’s Open Secrets

Artist-educator Eric Booth recently shared some reflections after returning from his second trip to Venezuela and that country's amazing national music education program.

The truly radical promise of El Sistema is that it invites a rediscovery of the purposes and processes of classical music. As our field in the U.S. struggles to find the relevance of classical music to more than the small “arts club” percentage of our populace, El Sistema proposes answers that can change not only the life trajectories of our at-risk children, but the trajectory of our at-risk arts culture.

One statement I sometimes witness in the U.S. makes my blood run cold. As some hear about how the program works in Venezuela, they say, “We already do that.” No we don’t. We do many things that look very similar to the teaching and learning practices in Venezuela. This essay hopes to illuminate what it is they are doing that is not what we already do, and what it is we must humbly, patiently commit ourselves to learn.

Read Eric's essay in its entirety here.

An excerpt of interest:

I see the dynamism of seemingly opposed directions in the musical choices. Everyone “knows” El Sistema is a “classical music” program; and yet, there is a lively presence of folk and popular music, even jazz appears in some places. Also, many new Latin American composers are composing hybrid music that defies category and fits with El Sistema processes. El Sistema is alive with music people love, that is the greater goal, and this makes it both a classical music program and, equally truthfully, a many-kinds-of-music program.


In the U.S., the ethos of continual improvement is an oft-stated article of faith in many industries that is rarely fully embodied. El Sistema lives that article of faith so naturally, from top to bottom, from the youngest student up through Dr. Abreu’s endless curiosity, that it is the very nature of the endeavor. Indeed, the energy of experimentation and aspiration is so palpable that El Sistema feels more like an inquiry than an institution.

One more favorite excerpt:

As Dr. Abreu says, “We believe a certain level of chaos is important for us.” I confess I am not sure all his administrators welcome the norms of chaos that Maestro Abreu enjoys, but they all go with the flow of it as an intentional part of their constantly-growing endeavor.

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

Nuts, bolts, and typoes

At the March 26 Fellowship Program seminar, we discussed presenting CMW effectively to the outside world. Specifically, we focused on the presentation of CMW when being clear, direct, and concise are key to success with certain types of funders.

During the first portion of the seminar, I demonstrated how CMW's printed materials are designed strategically to create a strong and positive first impression that is reinforced in all other modes of communication.

0910 programbook


Enews screenshot

As an exercise to gain a window into one aspect of my work presenting CMW, I provided the following scenario:

The Mr. and Mrs. Gotrocks Foundation is accepting applications from organizations that provide after-school arts programming for underserved youth. Programming must integrate active participation in arts education with youth development goals. (Pre-professional training programs are not eligible.)

Applications will be accepted from organizations in all fifty states and, why not, Canada.

Please submit a 150-200 word summary of your mission and brief overview of your organization. You may also submit up to 3 color photographs to support your application.

Applications must be received by March 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm.

This exercise was designed to highlight the challenge of effectively presenting CMW in the written equivalent of an elevator speech. Seminar participants had only twenty minutes to compose their own CMW summaries (based on a group brainstorm of key points) and select three images (also based on a group brainstorm).

Here are several of the resulting summaries:

Community MusicWorks is in its 13th year of offering free music lessons and instruments to over 100 students on the violin, viola, and cello. Our program works with students from the 9 most economically challenged neighborhoods of Providence, RI. In addition to weekly individual lessons, students participate in monthly workshops, small and large ensembles, and concert trips. Community MusicWorks offers many avenues for musical expression, including weekly Fiddle, Improvisation, and Music Technology classes.

At the core of Community MusicWorksʼ mission is a desire to create a cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families, and musicians. We achieve these goals partly through long-term relationships between staff musicians and students and family involvement. Most importantly, our curriculum has a significant emphasis on Teen Leadership and Critical Thinking. These skill sets are reinforced in our weekly teen group discussions where we tie together our work as musicians to relevant social justice issues. We facilitate the students in holding a student-driven Youth Salon event annually.

A student at Community MusicWorks begins at age 7 in a mentoring relationship with a professional musician-in-residence in the West End neighborhood of Providence. Violins, violas and cellos are rented for $10, and students participate in comprehensive musical programming including free weekly lessons, concert trips, and musical workshops by guest artists. By the end of a studentʼs time in our organization, he/she has been accepted to college (we have a 100% college acceptance rate), the student has become a mentor to younger students, and a musical leader in the community.

Serving the 9 most economically challenged neighborhoods in the state, our mission is to create a cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms lives. As students progress through our programming, regardless of musical talent, they gain collaborative music and leadership skills through chamber music performances in the community, a youth-led social justice themed night called the “Youth Salon”, and by participating in chamber orchestras and improvisation groups. In addition, students at our most advanced leadership level are members of our Board and practice active civic engagement: this month students advocated for the arts on the floor of our stateʼs house of representatives.

It is a typical afternoon at Community MusicWorks and Angie, a 10-year-old violin student, is making an exciting new track in our media lab using a midi-synthesizer and a drum pad.  Kirby, a 17-year-old cellist is reviewing her notes for that night’s board meeting. Beck, Frankie and Iris are deeply involved with learning the rhythmic patterns French Folk Song with their cello teacher. The Fellows Quartet is preparing the Philip Glass Quartet no. 5 for a presentation at a local school the next day. 17-year-old violist Josh is packing up his viola before heading to his college mentoring appointment where he will finish the first draft of his college essays.

Community MusicWorks has been providing free instruments, lessons and a variety of mentoring opportunities for youth in Providence’s most economically challenged neighborhoods for 13 years. Based around the permanent residency of the Providence String Quartet, the goal is to create long-term relationships with students and families that are vehicles for transformation for both the students and families but the teachers as well. More than creating future stars of the classical music world, we are helping create future stars in the community.

There are amazing things happening with youth here at Community MusicWorks and your help will further the work of what The New Yorker calls a “revolutionary organization.”

After the exercise, Minna solicited written feedback from seminar participants. This was my favorite comment: "Give Heath more cookies, because he really does important stuff. Iʼm also better equipped at selling CMW now!"

-Heath Marlow, Director of Development

Talking about Philip Glass

Thanks to special funding this year from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through a grant program of the National Endowment of the Arts called "American Masterpieces," CMW has been fortunate to have the opportunity to present the Fellows Quartet in a variety of settings performing Philip Glass' String Quartet No. 5 between January and March.

In April, the Fellows Quartet will visit two elementary schools, and, possibly inspired by the way that Glass' music first reached children three decades ago when it appeared on Sesame Street, they have been having a fun time preparing to share this incredible minimalist music with young ears through a series of short videos that are available on CMW's YouTube channel. (Maybe too much fun? Enjoy the outtakes.)

(click on image to play video)

[You can read all about Philip Glass and his Fifth Quartet in a lengthy piece that Jesse wrote for the blog last month.]

Bonus footage: check out the Fellows Quartet playing an excerpt of Philip Glass' String Quartet No. 5 at the West End Community Center gym during the free concert last month.

(click on image to play video)

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

April 18: Haydn and Shostakovich trios

On Sunday, April 18 at 2 pm, Jesse and Heath will join pianist Barbara Speer in a chamber music concert at Providence's Bell Street Chapel. This event is a memorial concert for Lynne Harper, and all proceeds will go to establish the BCLIR Fund for Cultural Events. The program will include the Shostakovich Piano Trio in E Minor, Haydn's Piano Trio in D Major, Hob.XV:16, and the Handel/Halvorsen Passacaglia. General admission is $25 and students may attend for $10. Tickets available at the door.

Heath and Jesse pictured after a chamber music adventure in California in 2006. Read about it here.

Census reminder

Providence's participation rate is only at 45 percent as of today. Don't miss this opportunity to be counted, as Census information affects the numbers of seats Rhode Island occupies in
the U.S. House of Representatives. Census data is used to advocate for causes, rescue disaster victims, prevent
diseases, and much more.

It is mandatory for each household to participate in the Census. All information collected
is confidential.

Information in English here. Information in Spanish here.