Festal to Parks: paying teaching artists, strengthening communities

A story from the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year.

[WATCH a video about “Festal to Parks”]

Mentor, volunteer, teach, perform – musicians invested in their communities are often asked to do work for free. Eduardo Mendonça sought to change this, as part of his mission as a MusicianCorps Seattle Fellow.

Throughout the pilot year, Eduardo had worked to foster city-wide civic engagement through music. He taught Brazilian Rhythms at Delridge Community Center; facilitated collaborations among Seattle Center, Seattle Parks and community musicians; and orchestrated field trips to community festivals and performances.

MusicianCorps Fellow Eduardo Mendonça with Brazilian Rhythms students from Delridge Community Center

Eduardo also aimed to empower a diverse set of musicians to teach free classes to youth throughout Seattle. But to buck the trend of not paying musicians for their work, Eduardo sought funding and approached 4Culture, the King County cultural and arts services agency.

“I met with 4Culture and talked about MusicianCorps/Arts Corps, the idea I had to connect community centers with Festal, and how uncomfortable I am asking musicians to work for free,” said Eduardo. “After my explanation I was invited to apply for funds, and I gave this mission to Elizabeth [Whitford] Arts Corps Executive Director who wrote the grant and we got funded.”

With funding from 4Culture, Eduardo Mendonça introduced “Festal to Parks MusicianCorps Mentors” in April 2010.  This program was based on Mendonça’s previous work as the 2002-2003 Artist-in-Residence Coordinator at Seattle Center and Seattle Parks.

“The old version consisted of bringing in artists from outside of Washington State to conduct one or two workshops using Parks and Recreation premises,” Eduardo said.

Students from Festal to Parks class "Afro-Peruvian Percussion Workshop"

The new version, “Festal to Parks,” matched local teaching artists from Festal – a year-long series of free events that honors cultural richness and diversity, presented by Seattle Center in partnership with community organizations – to Seattle’s community centers. Each teaching artist was given a stipend to teach free 8-week classes, and prepare their students for end-of-class performances.

The four classes were:

“Beginning Taiko Drumming” with Gary Tsujimoto and Nancy Ozaki from One World Taiko at Bitter Lake Community Center in North Seattle – connecting to the Cherry Blossom festival;

“Band Workshop” with Daniel Pak from Kore Ionz at Rainer Community Center in Southeast Seattle – connecting to the Aloha Fest;

“Soulful Expressions” with Portionte “Miz Floes” Jamerson at Jefferson Community Center in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood– connecting to Sundiata Festival; and

“Afro-Peruvian Percussion Workshop” with Monica Rojas from De Cajon at Northgate Community Center – connecting to Fiestas Patrias.

Festal to Parks class "Band Workshop" led by Daniel Pak

In total, these classes served 35 new students. Each class had the opportunity to perform twice, during “MusicianCorps in Downtown Parks” performances at Westlake and Waterfront Parks, and at the MusicianCorps Community Celebration at Seattle Center. These performances reached 1000 community members. The result: increased visibility of all represented festivals, increased music service opportunities to local musicians, and free music programs to youth at community centers.

“Festal to Parks established a citywide music infrastructure in 5 community centers in Seattle where local musicians connected to Festal taught after-school music classes,” Eduardo said. “The program developed new relationships with local musicians, with local community centers, and with local arts organizations – such as Music Works Northwest and 4Culture. The program also exposed youth to a new musical language in after-school community center settings.”

Festal to Parks class "Soulful Expressions" perform at the MusicianCorps Community Celebration

After Festal to Parks ended, participating teaching artists gave their feedback to better inform program learnings. Here are some of their thoughts:

“I think it is a wonderful way for an artist to give back and also enrich the youth of the community.”

“Very good idea. Every community center in Seattle, and every city for that matter, should have a teacher perpetuating the culture of the ethnicities represented in the community, which only makes the neighborhood stronger.”

“This is a wonderful program. I know the kids who did attend enjoyed themselves and without this program they would never have a chance to be exposed to such music as Taiko.”

“This is a healthy alternative to tv, videgames, texting for kids and parents to gain self-confidence, and develop their artistic talents. Art is a powerful channel for education. This is a wonderful program like seeds spread around town. “

Festal to Parks is a reminder of the importance of paying teaching artists for their meaningful community work. Festal to Parks is also a reminder of the importance of collaborating with existing community structures and partners. Monica Rojas, one Festal to Parks teaching artist, commended Kris Mainz, who works at Northgate Community Center.

Gary Tsujimoto and Nancy Ozaki from One World Taiko led Beginning Taiko Drumming at Bitter Lake Community Center

“Kris was very supportive any time I needed anything,” Monica said. “She was key in having a constant group of kids in my class. “

Finally, Festal to Parks demonstrated how in these tough economic times, innovative programming and modest funding can support arts education and community building opportunities.

“I know we are in times of economic crises and government transition,” said Eduardo. “But even so I believe that a budget directed to use these spaces and times could be established, and partnerships with local arts agencies – such as with 4Culture – will fund some areas to support projects relieving the City of Seattle from total financial onus.”

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