Michae Allen/shutterstock

Michae Allen/shutterstock

A recurring theme across IP’s music vertical is the perpetually underfunded state of music education. This gap, which is especially acute across economically underserved communities, is prompting some philanthropists and nonprofits to think about new music education models that foster greater equity and inclusion.

One such philanthropist is Miami’s Daniel Lewis, whose Lewis Prize for Music focuses on leaders of music programs who are advancing positive change for young people through music. The $1.5 million prize provides three winners and their organizations with $500,000 across two to five years—a startling large amount of money for instructors presiding over creative youth development (CYD) programs that are not school music classes but may be in partnership with schools or in-school music.

After narrowing its field of applicants to 10 finalists, the prize announced its inaugural winners on January 14th with a surprising and exciting twist: The prize’s board of directors decided to fund all finalists across three award levels: $500,000 Accelerator Awards (three winners), $50,000 Infusion Awards (four winners), and $25,000 Finalist Awards (two winners). This development brings the prize’s total investment to $1.75 million.

Commenting on the announcement, Lewis told me, “all of the 2020 Lewis Prize for Music finalists are doing extraordinary work to build community, foster engaged citizens and support the holistic growth of young people through the catalytic force of music. Our Finalist Review Panel recommended we invest in all of the finalists by giving three award levels of support. This resonated for us as an affirmation of the finalists’ tremendous work and our commitment to highlighting their success with young people.”

Besides the big sums involved—at least for the field of music education—the Lewis Prize for Music is interesting because it embraces the holistic principles of the emerging field of creative youth development, in which music helps students develop greater agency over their lives and contribute positively to their communities. It’s a subtle but nonetheless powerful redefinition of “music education” in a space where funders often—and understandably—can get bogged down in the ROI mindset. More encouraging, Lewis argues that this approach can help music organizations secure new sources of funding from equity-focused foundations.

Building Alliances

Lewis has spent 19 years as an arts philanthropist, with his greatest focus being on social and musical arts investing. He initiated the Cleveland Orchestra’s multi-week residency in Miami as founding chairman of Miami Music Association, was the board chair of the Festival of North American Orchestras, and served on the executive committee of the Cleveland Orchestra and the board of the League of American Orchestras.

Lewis believes that “every school would provide young people with an opportunity to learn, perform, and create music.” Unfortunately, “that isn’t the case, especially in low-income and historically marginalized communities.” According to the Children’s Music Workshop, more than 1.3 million elementary school students across the country don’t have access to a music class.

Moreover, Lewis said, “in most communities, like Miami-Dade County where I live, the gap between what is needed for children’s development and what exists cannot be funded by philanthropy.” Instead, communities need what Lewis calls “privately funded innovation and testing to determine an effective and efficient means to make progress and to demonstrate public funding is warranted.”

This mandate speaks to Lewis’ overarching approach to philanthropy, which he described as “building an alliance of non-profits, schools and philanthropic leaders to work together towards a shared vision for all young people to have music opportunities. With the Lewis Prize for Music, we intend to help leaders capable of making notable progress in pursuit of their organizations’ visions and to explore ways to help them be more broadly impactful in their communities and beyond.”

The Promise of Creative Youth Development

The idea for the prize came from “two brilliant friends who have been executive directors of major orchestras,” Lewis said. Beginning in mid-2017, over 100 diverse artists and administrators shared their perspectives on how a new prize could advance the field of music and social change.

The prize looks for leaders who address inequities by “collaborating with schools, and other well-led youth services, such as foster youth, juvenile justice, and other arts organizations,” Lewis said. These creative youth development programs merge “exemplary artistic learning with sound human development practices” and much of the work “is during out-of-school hours, enabling rapid innovation that promptly responds to the needs and interests of young people.”

In 2017, Hewlett’s Jessica Mele explored the emerging creative youth development field on the foundation’s blog. She defined it as “a recently-coined term for a longstanding community of practice that intentionally integrates the arts, sciences and humanities with youth development principles, sparking young people’s creativity and building critical learning and life skills that they can carry into adulthood.” (Hewlett, Mele wrote, “has been supporting CYD organizations for decades, without using that term.”)

The Creative Youth Development National Partnership has taken the lead on promoting the practice across the funding community. There is much work to be done. The average budget of a CYD organization in the U.S. is $348,720, and just 8.4 percent of CYD programs report budgets over $1 million in their last completed fiscal year. The field’s inadequate funding, the partnership notes, “is exacerbated by the fact that CYD programs, being holistic in nature, can fall outside of traditional funding categories…making programs ineligible to apply or uncompetitive in existing grant scoring processes.”

Meanwhile, a 2017 study from the Helicon Collaborative and the Surdna Foundation found that “despite important efforts by many leading foundations, funding overall has gotten less equitable.” A year later, a report by the Sillerman Center listed administrative and governance roadblocks that continue to stymie funders’ best-laid plans to boost equity. One obstacle is a narrow view of what constitutes “arts programming”—precisely the kind of semantic hurdle that has restricted CYD organizations’ access to more funding.

Seeking to Change Community Disparities

Last fall, the Lewis Prize’s stakeholders published an open Letter of Interest and received 177 eligible applications. Applicants were required to mention which community disparities they were seeking to change and how their project disrupted, transformed and/or created new systems to better their community.

The prize’s LOI Readers and Youth Panel, described by Lewis as “a diverse group of twelve 18-24 year-olds who grew up in creative youth development programs,” narrowed the field to the ten finalists by examining indicators of vision and systems change; equity and inclusion; leadership and youth leadership; impact measurements; aesthetic and cultural qualities; as well as resources and capacity.

The finalists, Lewis said, work “with school systems, juvenile justice and foster youth systems, mental health and homeless service providers, and local workforce/economic development initiatives. In these settings, music is opening new pathways of opportunity for young people who adults too often define as problems instead of as resilient and creative human beings with a lifetime of potential ahead of them.”

The finalist review panel took a deeper look at these characteristics as they advised Lewis and the Board of Directors. “We’re immensely grateful to the diverse group of 30 people who participated in our process to select the awardees and have published their names on the Transparency page of our website.”

And the Winners Are…

The prize’s $500,000 Accelerator Awards provide multi-year support to enable leaders and organizations to make sustained progress toward ambitious community change initiatives that align with the Lewis Prize for Music’s values and vision. The three winners are:

  • Sebastian Ruth and Community MusicWorks (Providence, RI), which combines music instruction, youth leadership, and community collaborations to deepen connections between people and amplify historically marginalized voices. The Lewis Prize will support a new alumni fellowship and Community MusicWorks’ leadership of its network of community-based music programs that collaborate across the eastern U.S.
  • Ian Mouser and My Voice Music (Portland, OR), which brings songwriting, recording and performance to lockdown facilities, such as mental health treatment and detention centers, to help young people heal. The Lewis Prize will support My Voice Music’s move into a larger community studio in East Portland and its statewide expansion.
  • Brandon Steppe and The David’s Harp Foundation (San Diego), which has have developed “Beats Behind the Wall” as a pathway for incarcerated young men and women to develop job skills through music. Steppe told the New York Times’ Lauren Messman that the grant will go toward hiring a program coordinator dedicated to connecting with youth as they transition out of incarceration. “What we’ve noticed is that when these young people come from being incarcerated back into the community, there’s a gap in our service there,” he said. The rest of the money will go toward building “arts-based diversionary programming” in the community.

Check out all the winners here.

Positioning for New Sources of Funding

Looking ahead, Lewis would “like to see more nonprofit music organizations devote themselves to addressing issues of systemic inequality in their communities.” He believes the principles behind the Lewis prize offer guidance to music organizations looking to make the pivot towards greater equity and inclusion. Moving in such direction, he said, will not only allow music organizations to address issues of systematic inequalities, but also position themselves for “new sources of funding.”

Lewis’s optimism regarding the latter point seems warranted. As we’ve reported, arts funders are increasingly receptive to new grantmaking strategies that advance equity and inclusion. In August, the MacArthur Foundation revised its arts grantmaking strategy after admitting its “well-intentioned program may have helped to perpetuate the structural racism that exists in the arts sector and society as a whole,” said senior program officer Cate Fox. Its new strategy calls for stakeholders to recommend grantees to leadership based on feedback from a participatory grantmaking panel.

A few months later, the Hewlett Foundation published the findings of a “strategic refresh” that will guide its performing arts grantmaking over the next five years. Hewlett’s grantmaking will be guided by a “community-focused lens” prioritizing historically under-resourced organizations and those that serve diverse populations affected by displacement.

Amid all these fast-moving developments, it’s worth remembering that the Lewis Prize issued its call for applications less than four months ago. “We’re at the beginning of discovering how the Lewis Prize for Music can add energy to the creative youth development field,” Lewis said. “We’re still learning and approaching this as more than a programming or even organizational issue.”

In the meantime, Lewis is “delighted to be joining the many other funders whose support for our finalists, and all of our applicants, has enabled them to take risks, learn, grow and be impactful. We aspire to help attract new support for the field and to influence policymakers to invest what is needed so every child has the opportunity to learn, perform, create and succeed.”

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