Sunday, November 21, 2010

Luck, In Launching The Atlanta Music Project

The Atlanta Music Project Logo
After the Abreu Fellows graduated, my plan was to continue blogging as the Atlanta Music Project started coming together. I thought it'd be interesting for people to come along for the ride of the developments and ups-and-downs of launching an El Sistema program outside of Venezuela. Well obviously, those blogs never happened and I'd like to blame it on the fact that I was just too busy trying to start the program.

By now you may know that the Atlanta Music Project, the El Sistema-inspired program that I co-founded with our board chair Al Meyers, was successfully launched on October 4, 2010 in Southwest Atlanta, in partnership with the City Of Atlanta Office Of Cultural Affairs. I don't want to bore you with the all the details involved with starting a non-profit. Obviously it's a lot of work and requires a great team, which we have. But what I feel really helped us - and I'd be kidding myself if I didn't admit it - was quite simply, luck. A lot of it. Here's just a few examples from many.

As the new Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, started his term in January 2010, he announced plans to re-open all the recreation centers so kids would have somewhere to hang out after school. In July 2010, I got a phone call from Camille Love, the Director of the City Of Atlanta's Office Of Cultural Affairs. She wanted the Atlanta Music Project to be one of the after-school programs taking place at the Mayor's recreation centers, starting in September 2010. The Atlanta Music Project now runs out of the Office Of Cultural Affairs' Gilbert House, where we're given the space, administration staff and infrastructure to run our classes. It's a great partnership, that partly comes down to luck and great timing, because if it wasn't for the Mayor and Ms. Love's vision, the Atlanta Music Project may not have launched this quickly.
Me, Camille Love (Director of Cultural Affairs), Al Meyers (Co-Founder and Board Chair of AMP) at a press conference where Mayor Kasim Reed announced the launch of the "Culture Club: An After-School Experience".
The Atlanta Music Project is the provider of music classes in this after-school program.

Here's another one. In April of 2010, the 2010 Abreu Fellows left Caracas to go back to the United States. The first leg of the trip was from Caracas to Atlanta, so I opted to spend our spring break in Atlanta, where I would keep trying to get things going with the Atlanta Music Project. Showered, but unshaven and in need of a haircut, I rented a car at the airport and drove straight to the Woodruff Arts Center, home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where students of the Talent Development Program were performing.

Students of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony's Talent Development Program at the Gilbert House, giving a performance and demonstration of string instruments to the students of the
Atlanta Music Project.

At the reception for this concert, Melanie Darby, who is on our board of advisors, introduced me to Dr. Stanley Romanstein, the new President of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I asked Dr. Romanstein if we could meet so I could talk to him about my plans for El Sistema in Atlanta. The meeting went great and at the end he asked "So, what do you need?" On the advice of my Abreu Fellows Program mentor, Don Jones, I was prepared for this question. I asked Dr. Romanstein for office space within the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra offices (I was tired of spending my days at coffees shops for their wifi and my evenings going to FedEx to print documents, spending money I didn't have). His exact response was "done." I was actually kind of confused for a second because I had prepared a bunch of reasons why I the office space was needed, but I never had to explain. I believe we were lucky that Dr. Romanstein, who is a former Executive Director of the Baltimore School For The Arts and a champion of music education, joined the Atlanta Symphony literally a few weeks before I arrived in Atlanta from Venezuela. Dr. Romanstein and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have been strong supporters of our program from the beginning and I couldn't be more grateful for their support. The timing couldn't have been better.

 In February 2010, I went to TED2010 with some of the 2010 Abreu Fellows. I blogged about performing on stage, meeting Will Smith and Sheryl Crow etc. What I didn't tell you then, because I didn't know where it would lead, is that on the last night I walked into the elevator at our hotel and met two TEDsters who happened to work for Coca Cola in Atlanta. They had just seen me perform with the Abreu Fellows on the TED Stage and so they knew all about El Sistema, El Sistema USA and the Abreu Fellows Program. I told them I was planning El Sistema in Atlanta and asked if there was a Coca Cola Foundation I could apply to for funds. They put me in touch with the Coca-Cola Foundation and I met with them later in April. The foundation folks said it sounds like a good idea, but please come back when you have more traction. Fair enough, but not the answer you want to hear when what you need to get traction is, funding. But with the City Of Atlanta partnership developing, we were finally able to secure funding from Coca-Cola that essentially enabled us to launch the program. The Coca-Cola company is still our biggest sponsor to date and I'm thankful for them having taken a leap of faith to support our music for social change initiative. To see all our sponsors and collaborators, please visit this page and this page on the Atlanta Music Project website.

The Abreu Fellows performing at TED2010. 

The City Of Atlanta Office Of Cultural Affairs, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Coca-Cola Company are three of our partners, without whom, the Atlanta Music Project couldn't have launched. When I talk about us being lucky, people often tell me it's not luck but the result of hard work. I certainly believe that is true. We have a board, volunteers and enthusiasts who work tirelessly on our behalf. But I think the two biggest factors in our successful launch are that we have a good mission and we've been lucky. So far, no one has told me (at least not to my face!), that what we're doing here is not both needed and positive. I believe that what El Sistema has done in Venezuela and what the Abreu Fellows Program has become in the United States, is extremely credible, and we at the Atlanta Music Project are just a small part of a huge movement to save lives with music. With all these elements supporting us, time and time again, my planning team and I found ourselves in the right place at the right time, with good fortune that helped advance our launch.

AMP students in a trombone group lesson with AMP teaching artist Ed Nicholson.

In the end it is most important that our luck as a planning team has found its way to the community. Our students now have the opportunity to learn an instrument, sing in a choir, learn musicianship and play in orchestra, right in their own neighbourhood everyday of the week. They're great kids and I'll tell you a little bit about them in my next blog. Comments, concerns and questions about my blog or the Atlanta Music Project are always appreciated. Thank you for reading!

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