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 Community MusicWorks’ fifteen-year history of music education, performance, and community-building by resident musicians based in its storefront office and rehearsal space.
ArtPlace spoke with CMW’s new Managing Director, Kimberly Young, about the project.
ARTPLACE: You’ve joined the staff of Community MusicWorks this fall. What strikes you as especially exciting about Gather and CMW’s involvement with ArtPlace?
YOUNG: Community MusicWorks is an organization that has made really deep investments in this neighborhood for over fifteen years now, laying the groundwork in a very strong way. The core relationships in the community are there. I see Gather as a really interesting opportunity for experimentation, building on that foundation. So, with each event, we’re testing out a new element: What if we put children on the program with the professional musicians? What happens if we ask people to consider a new question? How do the interactions change if they happen in a new location? What if we offer child care? We’re approaching this year in a very responsive way, testing out and evaluating a number of new strategies for community building in a concert format. It’s exciting to have both the mandate and the resources for that kind of new thinking.
ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?
YOUNG: The thorniest issue for us in developing this project has been the question of how to build vibrancy in our community in a way that raises all boats – that’s not just about bringing new people into the community who are more affluent, but actually creates opportunities for people who already live here. We’re lucky, in that we have strong existing relationships with families and students within our zone. And we know that our work with students transforms lives – we have a 95% college attendance rate in a community in which only 45% of kids finish high school. What we’re wrestling with is: how do we add value for people who are not our students? How can our community events act as a catalyst for long-term community change in the same way that our youth programs lead to individual change. And what’s the best way to measure that?
We’re addressing it, first, by continuing to return to our community to define what vibrancy means to them. We started by talking to some of our most involved students about it, as Sebastian Ruth reported in this forum back in September. At our next community event, we’re planning to ask the audience to gather in small groups over dinner and consider what would make the community more vibrant, and how music could play a part in that. And we’ll collect information about what we learn and use it both to increase our understanding of our impact so far, and to inform our work as it goes forward.