by Bill Clifford
At Honk Fest West in April this year, there was a little chatter about Music Corps and Arts Corps, but few hard facts. In May Dr. Patricia Campbell, professor of music at the University of Washington School of Music, urged her students to consider serving in Music Corps, but facts were still in short supply.
Since then, Dr. Campbell got 10 minutes with Kiff Gallagher, the director of Music National Service (http://musicnationalservice.org), a private nonprofit that is managing Musician Corps, his candidate for Music Corps funding. And later, I got an unexpected 60-minute phone interview with him (see sidebar), so I ordered my questions carefully, figuring to fill in as many blanks as I could. Chief concerns were these:
- Why the near secrecy about Musician Corps?
- How centralized are MC plans?
- What’s the status of federal financing?
- What’s the progress in each of the pilot cities?
- What is the MC philosophy for the long term?
Gearing up Musician Corps
The first good news is, the information brownout is on its way out and should be cleared up by the last week of July. By the time you’re reading this, much of this information and more should be officially available on the MC website: http://www.musicnationalservice.org/musiciancorps.php. As Gallagher explained it, the main reasons for the limited availability of information on their plans were:
- They were in flux.
- Resources were limited.
- They needed to have pilot programs in place by the start of the school year in September.
MC is modeled on and is intended to be a part of AmeriCorps, the national service program most prominent as City Year. Gallagher had a small hand in the legislation that established AmeriCorps in the Clinton administration in the early ’90s, then he went on to work as a program administrator for AmeriCorps. He also wrote the Obama campaign plank that emerged as Musician Corps in the Serve America Act in April 2009.
With that background (see sidebar on left for details), Gallagher is establishing pilot programs that will appeal to AmeriCorps program managers. Important elements in AmeriCorps programs are:
- A local base
- Experienced partners
- A track record
Although Musician Corps already had a small multiyear VISTA grant for administration, Gallagher was not really able to gear up until he won a $500,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation last January to establish a pilot program in San Francisco. With that money, he was able to move the operation out of his house, begin hiring staff, and rent an office in the Bay Area. Only then could he seriously consider local partners for the pilot programs that would establish a track record.
Gallagher feels hopeful that Musician Corps is the right program at the right time
Gallagher points to Music Corps’ strong support in Congress and in the Obama administration. It was one of only four amendments to the Serve America Act–which authorized its creation but did not allocate any money to it. The debate on funding will have occurred in mid-July. The VISTA grant is an encouraging sign, and Gallagher feels hopeful that Musician Corps is the right program at the right time. The bill goes into effect in October, hence the need to have programs running before then. But even if the federal money does not come through this year, Gallagher is confident that Musician Corps will succeed and attract other funding.
The Pilot Programs
With a goal of recruiting Musician Corps Fellows and providing one month of training before the end of August—and with so many details in the air—Musician Corps felt that it was best not to publicize operations until the pilot programs had begun to gel. Musician Corps has a geographically diverse board (http://www.musicnationalservice.org/files/MNS_Board.pdf), thus many cities were under consideration.
Boston was an early option, with Honk Fest’s Reebee Garofalo an enthusiastic proponent. However, Gallagher said other elements did not line up in time, so Boston is out for now. Reebee recalls being impressed with the powerhouse of connected individuals that Gallagher assembled in Boston. According to Reebee, “half the people in the room could run a program like Musician Corps with their eyes closed.” We are left wondering what elements were missing, but Reebee does not recall any notice that Boston was out of consideration for a pilot program.
San Francisco is the first pilot program out of the gate, largely because of the Hewlett grant. The SF program has already hired its six Fellows from 100 applicants and established 10 work sites.
Seattle is also underway and plans to hire two to four applicants via a nomination system—not an open hiring process. The Seattle program has support from Pearl Jam, the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Microsoft). The Seattle pilot will partner experienced musicians with certified music teachers in public schools on a 35-hours-per-week basis.
The Chicago program also plans to hire four Fellows.
The New Orleans program took applications for two to four Fellows through July 3. Although it has backing from the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation (Ruth’s Chris Steak House), it needs another $100,000 to be viable.
Dallas could go either way. They plan a part-time after-school program using AmeriCorps funds, but this money is not secured.
Training Musician Corps Fellows
In the original job description of MNS Fellows was the provision of two weeks of training, a subsistence wage and health benefits, and some help with past or future education loans. As it stands now, Musician Corps Fellows will receive two weeks of national training at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in the Bay Area in August, followed by two weeks of site-specific training in the pilot communities. Additionally, MC Fellows will spend one day each week in training-feedback sessions– roughly 20 percent of their service time during the school year. After the first school programs end in June 2010, MNS will convene a national gathering “to review outcomes, integrate lessons learned, and celebrate Fellows,” Gallagher said.
Recently added MC board member Eric Booth, founder and director for 13 years of Julliard’s Arts and Education Program should have significant influence on MC’s pedagogy. Booth, a former actor, wrote several books (including The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, released in January), is at the forefront of the teaching artist movement, advises numerous symphony orchestras, and is a sought-after consultant and speaker. Gallagher says Booth is a “fabulous addition” to the program. A sample of Booth’s philosophy of early musical education can be found at http://tinyurl.com/kvxjw5.
Understandably though, certified music educators are concerned about the quality of instruction provided by lightly trained MC Fellows and the possibility of Fellows displacing certified instructors. Music education majors and performance majors (which many of the Fellows are likely to be) often rub each other the wrong way, with teachers finding performers to be intolerant of student musicians.
Public school music teachers typically have five years of college education. Many admit that it takes one or two years of classroom experience to become effective and that classroom management can be more important than musical proficiency, especially in low-income elementary schools. In Seattle, for example, music teachers are members of an American Federation of Teachers affiliate and earn a salary of $38,000 to $55,000 a year, roughly double the stipend of $2,300 a month (for 10 months) that will be paid to Musician Corps Fellows. Teachers readily envision cash-strapped school boards cutting arts funding because they can replace it with outside-funded Musician Corps Fellows.
Gallagher acknowledges the validity of these concerns. Chiefly, Fellows are planned to supplement existing programs. At the least, AmeriCorps funds cannot be used to supplant existing jobs. Musician Corps Fellows should allow expansion of existing programs or extended outreach. A Fellow with an instrumental background can provide individual or small-group instruction or bolster the band program of a teacher with a choral background. Fellows might also integrate music into other disciplines, such as math or literacy.
MNS also plans a Music Mentor program for volunteers who can commit to a few hours per week. MNS touts the value of the contacts that Fellows and Mentors will make and of the foundation of public service that will be instilled in the Fellows.
Gallagher says studies have shown that a large percentage of people who participate in programs like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps go on to enter the same fields professionally. Fellows can possibly apply their Musician Corps service to the preservice time required by educational degrees. Musician Corps has the ultimate potential of training more certified music educators for a future when there might be greater public support for art at the community and individual levels.
Venezuela Sets a Better Example
As the Right’s onslaught on public space has slashed arts education in the United States, we have fallen behind other countries. Academic understanding of music’s role in the development of the brain and on community solidarity is growing. Gallagher says that the Obama adminstration gets that art is essential to the social and financial health of the country.
Gallagher points to Venezuela as a better example of arts funding. A country of 26 million people with a $7,200 per capita gross domestic product, Venezuela spends $80 million per year on one music program alone: el Sistema—which Keil refers to as “Caracas Maracas” see “An Appreciation of Charlie Keil” in this issue for his take on el Sistema; See also http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/04/11/60minutes/main4009335.shtml for the story and video). By contrast, the United States has 300 million people and a per capita gross domestic product of about $40,000 and falling. Our budget for the entire National Endowment for the Arts peaked at $176 million in 1992. As a percentage of population, this is less than one-quarter as much as Venezuela spends, and as a percentage of the national economy, it is one-twentieth as much as Venezuela’s. And we are still comparing most of the U.S. federal arts budget to just one program in Venezuela.
To reach Venezuela’s level of support for a national music program, the United States would need to allocate $1.6 billion to musical education for youth—about 4.5 percent of the $700 billion we spent to stimulate the banking system in the last few months. Obama has proposed an NEA budget of $161 million, with an additional $38 million Arts in Education request through the Department of Education. Defense got $515 billion in 2009, not including debt service. We’ll see how Music Corps funding goes this October.
El Sistema has trained 800,000 youth from the poorest areas of the country in classical music. Its national youth symphony, drawn from el Sistema’s most talented participants, is an international artistic success. But its proponents in Venezuela are equally proud of its success in raising the self-esteem and aspirations of three generations of Venezuelan youth.
Musician Corps’ Philosophy
Musician Corps and Honk Fest are natural allies, says Gallagher, because we all know the importance of music in community building. But he also feels that corporate America is catching up to the arts as a building block for 21st-century skills such as self-discipline, teamwork, and imagination. He cites three key concepts for the acceptance and growth of Musician Corp and the support of arts in the United States:
- Transferability of musical skills to other endeavors
- Civic engagement and service
- The joy of playing music and the frequency of participation in musical endeavors
Musician Corps must demonstrate that participants in its programs can learn skills such as self-discipline and can apply them to other academic and career objectives, or government and private support will disappear. While Gallagher hopes to minimize the amount of time Fellows spend on documenting this sort of progress, prospective funders will want to see that documentation, and someone has to do it.
Musicians Corps is also seeking out “hidden audiences,” Gallagher’s term for communities that do not often benefit from arts funding. He cited women’s shelters and hospitals—but surely Honkers can think of many more.
The joy of playing music is another feature that Honkers can attest to. Enabling musical performance without intimidating novice performers is a central tenet not only of Honk, but also its higher-profile advocates such as Garofalo, Charlie Keil, and Gregg Moore and of educators like Booth and Campbell.
What Lies Ahead?
According to Elizabeth Whitford at ArtCorps Seattle, MNS kept a low profile while in fund-raising and organizing mode. She referred questions on the national program to Gallagher but noted that Seattle is one of five cities considering programs for next school year.
The Seattle pilot project launched on June 10 with two meetings: one for funders and a second for cultural partners. Joe Cerrell, of the Gates Foundation, and the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs co-hosted. The Gates Foundation’s involvement and a proposal to teach notation programs to the Fellows suggests that the program will have a PC-based Microsoft-run element, in line with past Gates Foundation marketing strategy. (Gallagher says teaching Fellows computerized notation is not a critical element.)
Seattle, at least, will not be modeled on AmeriCorps, where the Fellows have little work experience and make $900 a month. Whitford is planning to hire experienced musicians with solid credentials to make the one-year commitment, and they will be paid $2,300 a month. Besides music, they will emphasize community engagement. She hopes to place musicians in two to six schools next school year.
Through the 2009-10 school year, Musician Corps will depend on private money. Federal money could begin to cover training for Fellows in the summer of 2010 and subsequent programs. Gallagher’s Music National Service seems to have a de facto inside track on federal funds, although the competition is theoretcially open to any organziation. Although MNS’s website was not very informative this year, it should be more open when federal funds are invovled and it (continued next page)
(Music Corps continued from pg 26) remains the best place for official notices on MNS programs, (http://musicnationalservice.org).
It’s early in the game for the Serve America Act, Arts Corps, and Musician Corps, but we can draw some conclusions and pose some questions. Kiff Gallagher has assembled an impressive group of music people. He has the right idea at the right time and has worked many years to be in the right place. He has developed important connections. But Musician Corps’ basis in AmeriCorps, with its emphasis on funding service, already leads to some puzzling questions:
- Is Musician Corps the only contender for this federal arts stimulus money?
- Is Musician Corps’ frustrating level of secrecy necessary?
- Does Musician Corps intend to address the discomfort some community musicians feel regarding the program?
- Does the program’s emphasis on corporate metrics of success imply a lot of paperwork and centralization?
- Are certified music teachers justifiably concerned about Musician Corps Fellows eventually edging them out?
Look around and tell us how youth arts funding is doing in your community, at editors at harmonicdissidents.org, or join the discussion at http://harmonicdissidents.wikidot.com/
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