Below are three presentations I made in September to Choral Arts New England (CANE Conversations: Grants During a Time of Crisis), The Juilliard School's Office of Community Engagement (The Arts as Community Engagement and Activism), and during a guest lecture in a composition class at Brown University
September 6 – Choral Arts New England (CANE Conversations: Grants During a Time of Crisis) with Viriginia Lupi, Patricia Mitrokostas, Loren Van Allen, and Dana Whiteside. Moderated by Gregory Brown
Thank you to Greg Brown and Choral Arts New England for welcoming me to this conversation. As I was thinking about the topic of grant making in the world right now, I wanted to start with three examples from my experience that I hope resonate with others in our music world and how I’ve been thinking about the role of philanthropy in our arts world as a development professional, teacher, and music creator in the context of the past six months.
As will all stories of 2020, it’s hard to pin-point a precise beginning, so I’m actually going to back up into 2019. I had been the Institutional Giving Manager at a community music school in Brooklyn, and I left that position in the middle of 2019 and continued to work as a development and grant writing consultant from then up until Covid hit in March, at which point my consultant career ended—as organizations who had been trying to leverage their financial resources towards growth faced the very real precarity of sudden revenue shortfalls.
I had also been teaching flute at an El Sistema program in the Bronx who was able to continue to pay their teachers through the summer with the foundation support they’d already acquired for the year, but as they continue through the fall they’ll take stock of whether to continue their work virtually at all. Tensions between what was originally applied for 12-18 months prior and the upheaval of the educational landscape now, the additional costs to support students who may not have a computer, reliable internet, a printer for PDFs their teachers send, or whose instruments need repair—much less external microphones.
Finally, when Greg approached me about this panel several weeks ago, it got me thinking about how when we’re in a position to distribute funding, how can we create opportunity rather than restrictions? When I composed a set of four solos in June, I thought about what the idea of creating opportunity could mean, when three things came into focus for me: (1) At that point, because I was still teaching through that El Sistema program, I didn’t need my stimulus check with the same kind of urgency I knew other people in our musical community did. (2) I was thinking about the trauma we were all experiencing of our work (which is more than work, but an affirmation of our lives) being ripped away. (3) I was thinking about longstanding social inequities and how it can take extra effort to correct for them. So, I offered these pieces to the world for free and offered to pay anyone out of my stimulus check who recorded any of them they wanted. I offered to pay at least $50 but $100 for bipoc artists. And I said: do anything you want, with any of the pieces, just make your art the way you want to. And the response was amazing, more than I could have ever imagined if I’d prescribed certain instruments or ways of filming or length, or deadlines. Over two dozen people performed them in the first month, all over the world, other people donated money to keep the support for performers going. And that experience gives me hope—but it’s extraordinarily different from other calls for proposals or applications I’ve experienced as either a grant writer, grants panelist, or individual performer. I think that one of the healthier principles I’d love to see the philanthropic industry adopt going forward is one of decentering, of creating avenues for applicants’ agency rather than more narrow avenues they have to conform to, because that’s where I think the possibility for grassroots, community-relevant, and inclusive art making can flourish.
September 21 – The Juilliard School: panel moderator, “The Arts as Community Engagement and Activism” with Chanel DaSilva, Hector Rivera, and Andrew Yee
I’m so happy and so honored to get to talk to you all, and that our students and community can learn from and be inspired by your work and how you put your philosophy into action. We started planning this panel around a month ago, and as with all things 2020, the weight of the decision to do feels even heavier now than when we made it. When long-standing institutions close their doors and furlough their staff; when leading figures in our fields deny the existence of racism, sexism, or classism in our work; when well-meaning organizations veer towards performative rather than productive efforts in the name of equity, diversity, and inclusion; when we realize that a single election isn’t enough and that we have to have a plan to get up and do the work not just on November 3 but also November 4, November 5, November 6 and beyond—I think all of this means we need to be open, honest, and unrelenting in our commitment to using our platforms and our artistry to engage with the ideas that matter most and animate our world.
September 24 – Brown University, guest lecture with Eric Nathan
When I think about how we engage with music, welcome, and bring people into the world of music, I think about cooking.
I make bread, and I do this myself, but not by myself—I read books, watched videos, called my sister in a panic to guide me through something called the Rubaud method, and texted her triumphant photos when it emerged from the oven.
But think about all the ways people learn to cook. You might attend a cooking class, and then go home with that experience, buy the same ingredients, and try to recreate it. Or you might read a recipe—and some people buy everything listed in the ingredients, others might know good substitutions, or you may know what flavors you like or dislike and adjust accordingly. Some people learn or get inspired watching cooking shows. Or maybe you learned standing next to someone in your home, like a relative, a friend, or someone who worked in your home, watching them, asking questions, mimicking their motions. Or there was a dish at a restaurant that captivated you.
There are so many ways to develop skills and knowledge and appreciation and connection and a sense of ownership with food.
And there are analogues to the music world. But which of them do we look down on? Which of them do we push aside as not real musical engagement? Which of those kinds of learning and engagement can you put on your resume? Which of these are we not making a possibility—a professional tool—for our students to use?
So: think about the other things you do—places you go, activities you enjoy, hobbies, communities you're a part of. What made that connection possible for you? What makes you feel like you belong there? And how can you bring that into your artistic process?