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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 Laura Cetilia, Production Manager of Gather, about the project.

ARTPLACE: Your first Gather community performance and dinner was last month at your partner organization John Hope Settlement House. How did it go?

CETILIA: It went really well! We had a fantastic turnout – over 150 people – which is almost twice the number we’ve had at most community concerts in the past. We ran out of food, in fact. And there were many new faces — as many as half of the audience members were attending a CMW event for the first time. So we were really pleased.

ARTPLACE: What did you learn from the first event about what is working, and what will you differently in the future?
I think there are two factors that helped make this event draw such a large crowd. First is the nature of our partnership with John Hope Settlement House. In addition to our Gather concerts at John Hope, we are running a new orchestra program there every day afterschool. So the staff and families at John Hope know that CMW has a vested interest in their community, and they have a personal relationship with our orchestra program director Adrienne Taylor, whom they see on a daily basis. In addition, the children in the orchestra program performed on this concert, so that drew additional families.

The second thing that really worked well was a new outreach strategy. We decided to start to identify key connectors in the community, and engage them to spread the word about CMW and the Gather events through their networks. We tested the strategy this time with just one person – a man named David Allen, who is a long-time fan of CMW, and is a member of one of the storefront churches down the street from John Hope. We asked him if he could pass out flyers at his church and talk to people about coming. And he came, and brought his family and 3-4 other people from his church. Going forward, we’re going to work through our parent networks to identify and activate other key connectors who can spread the word even further.

What we’d do differently: order more food! We are also definitely going to start offering child care at concerts, which we’ve never done before, so that parents can bring their children, and there will be a supervised space to play if kids need a break from sitting. Finally, we are going to tighten up the programming for these concerts and make sure that each concert has relatively short works and a varied program. This program was almost all Beethoven, and on the long side, and while many people remained attentive throughout, a shorter evening would have worked even better.

ARTPLACE: What’s next?

CETILIA: We’re excited about plans to perform in some new kinds of spaces – making the performances even more visible in new parts of the neighborhood. We’re working with two community housing organizations – SWAP and Community Works RI – to plan a month-long residency in the winter in a vacant storefront and a spring concert in an abandoned property. From these partners, we’re learning about some community organizing strategies that we’re hoping to integrate into these events.

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