20 Stories: Liz Chace







Liz Chace

Philanthropist Liz Chace liked what she heard 20 years ago after meeting with Sebastian Ruth about a community project he had launched. “I thought it was incredible.” Liz straddles two worlds: entrepreneurial business and community service. She earned a degree in social work and was an active community organizer. She also co-founded Residential Properties. She has been involved with numerous local nonprofits and institutions, including Brown University, the John Hope Settlement House, Wiggins Village, Trinity Repertory and the Rhode Island Foundation. Although Liz enjoys classical music and especially loves CMW’s year-end student concert, she confesses that she was relieved when her childhood piano lessons ended after a year and a half.

It started with my friend Barrett Hazeltine from Brown University (engineering professor) who had Sebastian as a student. When Sebastian graduated from Brown and started CMW, Barrett called me and said, “Go and find Sebastian. He’s doing some great things. Find out if you can help.” And that’s how come I became involved.

I thought it was incredible. To bring string instruments into the city neighborhoods was something I would never have dreamed of even trying. It was a great supplement to a school system which has no instrumental music program to speak of. So the combination of community development and music education for me was interesting and I wanted to follow it, and I have.

I decided to support Sebastian’s ideas. I made donations and shared my business experience. I sat with him a number of times and gave him advice and I still do, although he doesn’t need it that much anymore. In the early days, Sebastian had to learn how to take his idea and sell it to the person up on the hill a little bit. He also had to learn how to deal with people he’d never dealt with before. This is where I feel I was able to help.

My earlier background is social work, but not as a social worker–as a community organizer. The spinoff is that I get involved with an agency and then I become more deeply involved. I’ve dealt with agencies like CMW ever since the War on Poverty in the Sixties in Boston.

CMW’s biggest challenge is space. They need the building that they have been dreaming about for a long time. I really would love to see them get that. They need space where they can work with parents. The parents are as important as the children. And so that added space will make a big difference.

What most people don’t understand is CMW’s reach into the community. They think, “Oh well, they go and give children music lessons and then they have a concert.” But it’s a lot more than that. Community MusicWorks is a small but very, very important agency in the city. I would love to expose it to more people and we’re going to work at that.

What CMW does is definitely not splashy. It’s almost like background music playing. Now the music is moving into parts of the community that have no idea what CMW is, but they’re suddenly hearing about it, or they’re seeing one of the kids carrying a violin around school and then they say, “What’s that?” Children who are a part of CMW take their knowledge of music and community out into the outside, bigger community.

Our country has gone backwards incredibly, particularly regarding race and community action. We were able to do a lot during the War on Poverty. And then with Reaganomics we went crashing down again. During Clinton’s years we got a little bit more money for education and community work, and now it’s been cut again. I mean, you make one step forward and go three back. So we’re a little better than we were in the Sixties, I must say. I will admit that. But if they do what they’re saying and cut back educational funding and cut back community funding and the healthcare, we’re going to be pretty close to what we were in the Sixties.

Even one little tiny change can be better than none, and if you can get people to think a little bit about doing something, they seem to do it. That, again, is where you get excited, a little inch forward and maybe three back, but you do go forward sometimes. [Chuckles]

I hope CMW continues what they’re doing.

That’s what keeps me going.

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