Gather: Curating Community Through MusicProvidence, RI
Community MusicWorks’ Gather is a monthly series of curated experiences combining exceptional musical performances with neighborhood-building activities, with a goal of drawing resources, people, and ideas to the economically-challenged West End of Providence. Gather grows out of CommunityMusicWorks’ fifteen-year history of music education, performance, and community-building by resident musicians based in its storefront office and rehearsal space.
Sebastian Ruth, Founder & Artistic Director of CommunityMusicWorks, talked to ArtPlace about Gather and how he hopes it will increase vibrancy in their target area in the West End of Providence, RI.
ARTPLACE: What is your elevator pitch when you describe your project to people?
RUTH: For fifteen years, Community MusicWorks’ resident musicians have been creating a musical community with students and families in the inner-city neighborhoods where we live, teach and perform. We have noticed that community is one ot the significant outcomes in our work–among students, between professional musicians and families, and significantly between members of our audiences. Gather is a project that intends to amplify the ways in which residents of a city grow to have a deeper experience of community through their relationships with one another. We aim to turn concert audiences into micro-communities, and find out what happens if the person in the seat next to you is as much a part of the concert experience as the musicians on the stage.
ARTPLACE: How do you expect to increase vibrancy in the place you are working?
RUTH: We want to be realistic about what is possible in 12 months, and also aspirational in setting forth a vision for how community can form around music, especially when we create concerts that focus on this.
One thing we know we want to look at is how these events are bringing people out into the community, and how they are bringing people together. Our families have remarked that Community MusicWorks is unique for being the place in their lives where they form community with people from many backgrounds. With Gather, we’re hoping to extend that more purposefully to our concert-going audiences, creating deeper connections across the many cultures within our community, and also creating new links between local residents and the more affluent concert-goers that come to our events from across the city.
Another thing we are interested in is the way this project builds social capital in the neighborhood. When people are together at these events, we hope to see that some new interactions will happen, and new relationships will start to form. We believe that the opportunity to connect with neighbors and participate in something larger than one’s own concerns can lead to a growing sense of agency among community members that over time can lead to long-term change.
In all of this, we want to continually reflect and build on our families and audiences’ knowledge and experience. In our education work, we’ve been very influenced by the Brazilian educator and theorist Paolo Freire,whose educational principles were based on his work teaching rural poor adults to be literate as a way of empowering them to represent themselves in the political process. Freire was interested in an educational process in which students and teachers saw themselves on equal footing. Applying his ideas to creative placemaking, we are very deliberate in not seeing our neighborhoods as lacking cultural assets, or as a vessel for our ideas about community change. Rather, we’re interested in extending our long-term work in dialogue with this community, to discover how we can harness the energy and knowledge that is already here, and inject some new resources, to make something really exciting happen.