There is no question that the music products industry has done its part in, and even taken a leading role in advocating for, music education. But, as anyone in business knows, outcomes don’t just happen. They take time, commitment, energy, education and partnerships. The same can be said about advocacy.
NAMM, on behalf of the music products industry, partnered with NAfME (The National Association for Music Education) about 11 years ago to create the SupportMusic Coalition and SupportMusic.com. The Coalition is nationally known and it brings attention to the importance of music education in America’s schools. With hundreds of affiliates across the country, the SupportMusic Coalition brings together a wide variety of organizations for the common goals of growing, strengthening and supporting music education.
This past fall, the Coalition teamed up with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and the High School Nation Tour for a series of community forums. The forums brought together educators, community education leaders, national education leaders, administrators and students for a dialogue.
Moving the Coalition conversations to the local and state level, while maintaining the national efforts, is new for the Coalition. “Coalition goals for the ‘second decade’ include engaging with communities directly, and it seemed that the right combination of elements could come together,” said Mary Luehrsen, NAMM’s Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, and the Executive Director of the NAMM Foundation. “Although we had not planned for this grassroots engagement to start quite so quickly, with the advice of the SupportMusic steering committee, we dove in and built contacts, interest and participation in each community. It was a fascinating process.”
The forums kicked off at NAMM’s headquarters in Carlsbad CA and traveled across the country to Indianapolis IN, Lansing MI, Pittsburgh PA and Philadelphia. Each stop offered a unique view of music education from diverse communities.
Here is an example of one of the challenges faced in Lansing: In early 2013, facing budget constraints, the Lansing School Board decided to cut all music, arts and physical-education teachers. This decision mobilized national advocacy work but also—and probably more importantly—advocacy work from people and organizations in Michigan. The SupportMusic Community Forum held in Lansing brought together education leaders and organizations for a frank conversation. The conversation was designed to talk about the road ahead.
The new Executive Director of the Greater Lansing Arts Council, Debbie Mikula, saw the forum as very positive for the community and, more importantly, as a valuable starting point for the dialogue moving forward. “The forum was an opportunity to put it in front of the community and discuss the new challenges we are faced with,” Mikula said. Also noting that the forum was the first time the Lansing School District Superintendent spoke publicly about the issue, Mikula stressed that the community forum was a first step in moving forward and getting the conversation started. In fact, the Arts Council might even convene community forums in the future to continue the dialogue started in the fall.
“Where there have been recent cutbacks or threats to programs in some cities, the forum, and the process of organizing the forum, centered on the need for community stakeholders to come together, forge plans for collaboration and work together in new ways,” stated Luehrsen. “I’d say that some important progress was made in celebrating music education and showcasing the real and vital work that is needed to re-instate and grow programs.”
Luehrsen’s statement could not be truer in Lansing. By facing issues and having discussions about them, dialogue begins and solutions can be found. One statement used frequently in the advocacy world is that “sometimes, good people are faced with very tough decisions.” Those good people can be legislators, superintendents, principals or even teachers. The key is not demonizing the decision-makers but, rather, helping to inform them and joining discussions with them about the future of music-education programs. That philosophy is crucial in all advocacy work, but particularly any work at the local level.
In Pennsylvania, where two forums were held, participants talked specifically about the importance of partnerships and coalitions. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that have a statewide coalition for the arts. Administered by The Education Policy and Leadership Center, The Pennsylvania Arts Education Network is a relatively young organization that brings together members of the arts, education, cultural and business communities. In some instances, these like-minded organizations, which have similar goals, found this Network was the first time they were all in the same room together, discussing common issues.
This Network and the idea of smaller regional organizations coming together to work on state-wide issues was a topic featured prominently at the Pittsburgh Forum. “The more people involved in advocacy for music education, the better,” noted Margaret Bauer, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. “It is something we need to keep before the parents, our communities, school administrators and state legislators during these times of budget cuts and a lack of funding for our schools.”
It appears that, in all instances, these forums were a starting point, not an ending point. That starting point is a reenergizing for advocacy at the state and local levels. “The forums provided a real-world interaction with five distinct communities with unique identities and resources,” commented Luehrsen. “But what united all of them was a driving force and belief in music education, and people who were working hard to expand access. And that is what it takes.”
Of course, the key beneficiaries of quality music-education programs are students. And the forums also highlighted student performers at each stop. From string ensembles to a full marching band, including their color guard, students were showcased. The student performances were not only a reminder to each community of the good things happening in their backyard, but also an opportunity to showcase these student performers’ talents to the entire nation.
Making the forums happen was a labor of love. The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus would arrive at the community forum location early in the morning, and the Lennon Bus team would use their video technology to broadcast live from each site. Careful pre-planning was done to secure performers, interviewees and panelists for each location. And then, it was show time: a live 90-minute broadcast. The first 30 minutes served as a pre-show, with interviews and student performances, followed by the 60-minute forum, which included a panel discussion and more student performances. Each forum is now available on YouTube (links available here: http://www.namm.org/publicaffairs) for review and to be used in future advocacy discussions.
“We had great reaction from folks who tuned in, and really good numbers both for the live webcast and ongoing rebroadcast via YouTube,” commented Luehrsen. “At the ground level, I think we helped build new advocacy networks and partners in each community where we held a forum, and I think more work will continue to support music education. This is the most important result of this effort.”
These forums are only one of the many things the SupportMusic Coalition does all throughout the year. From monthly webinars to providing print advocacy materials, the Coalition continues to be a united effort, sharing information and building strength for music education. Information about the Coalition and becoming an affiliate is available at SupportMusic.com.