When I first joined MusicianCorps Seattle at Arts Corps — part way through the 2009-2010 pilot year — I championed, rather than actually pictured, what a functioning Artists Corps looked like.
My pre-MusicianCorps concept of the Artists Corps was tied to the idea that everyone deserves access to the arts. I had spent much of my career supporting the arts and public policy. I am a musician who has performed with Seattle and New York-based blues, rock and classical groups, and who volunteered violin lessons to students who could otherwise not afford private lessons. I am a public policy wonk, who championed increased access to legal services while working for a legal advocacy organization.
I am also a student of the arts politics field. During the 2008 Presidential Elections, I followed the arts policy platforms of the candidates. Once President Obama was elected I studied his arts policy ideas and arts appointments through the Office of Public Engagement and National Endowment for the Arts. I followed conversations around the “Artists Corps” idea and thought about the legacy and impact of artists in the public sphere. (One of my favorite articles about the Artists Corps, “A New New Deal 2009″ by Arlene Goldbard, traces the legacy and promise of public service roles for artists.) But despite my investigation, I still could not envision what an Artists Corps would fully look like.
Since working with MusicianCorps Seattle at Arts Corps, I have been tasked with capacity building: implementing evaluation of students, Fellows and site partners; documenting the work through interviews, flip camera videos, pictures and other media; and supporting this work in the classroom, through community and civic engagement events, at performances, and through other initiatives. Now, after working through the first year of the pilot program, I better know what MusicianCorps looks like. I also expressly know why we need an Artists Corps.
I witnessed students — recently transitioned from homelessness — playing instruments for the first time, and writing songs about hope, love and community.
I witnessed MusicianCorps supplementing existing public school music programs, with individualized lessons, and with work to increase the accessibility of music to low-income students and students of color, students often less served by public school music programs.
I witnessed students in transitional schools expressing that their MusicianCorps class was the only reason they came to school.
I witnessed innovation, such as finding new ways to fund teaching artists to teach free classes to youth in community centers or teaching AmeriCorps teams to incorporate musical tools in their practice.
I witnessed the need to better support those stretched artists and community groups who have been implementing arts learning and engagement work for years.
I witnessed Arts Corps surpassing its goals for the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year, goals to expand access to music education for youth, to develop musical skills and creative habits in participants, and to foster civic engagement.
I witnessed the need for this work.
Over the next few weeks, I intend to chronicle much of what I have witnessed: stories and highlights from the pilot year. I intend to better paint the picture of a program I once could not fully see, and better advocate for a program and a model that — I believe — will drastically improve student achievement and the public sphere. I also intend to celebrate the incredible team that made MusicianCorps Seattle happen.
In August 2009, Arts Corps — along with the national partner, Music National Service (MNS) and groups and musicians in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco/Oakland and New Orleans — stepped forward to make Congress and President Obama’s call for the national Artist and Musician Corps a reality. Although MusicianCorps is an idea endorsed by national legislation (the Serve America Act signed in March 2009), no public funding has been allocated for the full model. Arts Corps was responsible for raising $160,000 to fund the MusicianCorps Seattle program pilot year, and worked with a network of individuals, foundations, corporations, and community partners to launch and run an amazing program.
After witnessing the work and impact of MusicianCorps Seattle, I more fully believe that everyone deserves access to the arts. Over the next weeks, I will tell stories from the pilot year, and reveal my discovery of how a well-supported artists-in-service program is necessary for transformative work with youth, schools, communities, and the social fabric.