Gather: Curating Community Through Music

Community MusicWorks (CMW)

Funding Received: 2012
Providence, RI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
February 22, 2013

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 Managing Director, Kimberly Young, about the project.

ARTPLACE: You’re just back from the ArtPlace Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami. What did you take away from your experience there?

YOUNG: The most interesting thing for me about the time in Miami was having the opportunity to really immerse myself in thinking about the largest aims of this work. The ArtPlace staff and presenters did a great job of focusing participants’ attention on the long-term vision that ArtPlace has for all its sites – of economic development, and thriving communities. Those are definitely aims that we at Community MusicWorks share. But this also raised a big question for me – is our ultimate goal to make better places, or to make life better for the people in those places?

A couple days after I got back from Miami, I heard Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class on NPR. He was talking about his recent research that found that while cities that invest in the creative sector see economic benefits, those benefits don’t “trickle down” to low-income people. He’s found that for low-income people, things actually get worse, as they are forced to spend a higher percentage of their income on housing and have less disposable income. This is something that we already suspected, but it was useful to see it documented by someone who has been a big advocate of arts as an engine of economic development. So we’re informed by that data to focus our efforts on how to improve the quality of life for people in the neighborhood in a number of different ways.

ARTPLACE: How are you pursuing that idea, both now and looking past the end of the ArtPlace project?

YOUNG: Well, for one thing, we’re clear that this is a long-term proposition. CMW has been working in these neighborhoods for over 15 years, building relationships, and gradually becoming a trusted player in this neighborhood. That enables us to work with community residents in a way that more short-term interventions can’t. It takes time to build that trust. We have a successful program model, and we have networks of support within the community – our students, their families, and organizations with whom we’ve built relationships over the years. And one thing that people at CMW have observed over the years is that stronger networks within the community can generate opportunities and lead to change in the community in a way that actually does raise all boats.

Our ArtPlace project, Gather, is enabling us to extend our networks in a couple of different ways. First, it’s enabling us to work cross-sector, with new partners in housing development, economic development – people who can tell us how to use music in new ways to meet a range of community goals. Second, through these partners, it’s adding new nodes to our community networks, reaching whole different segments of the community beyond the families we work with and engage.

ARTPLACE: Can you give an example?

YOUNG: Sure. Starting this week, we’re taking over a vacant storefront on Broad Street, and are programming a series of events in it in partnership with the community development group SWAP: Stop Wasting Abandoned Property. We're holding experimental music concerts there this weekend. Next week, our resident musicians are hosting an open rehearsal for member families of SWAP, and are performing two nights next weekend. Finally, students from our Media Lab are creating an installation of artwork created in and about the neighborhood that will have an opening next Friday night.

SWAP has been a really great partner so far. They’re promoting this event to their network of families and businesses that have joined them in their work or have benefited from the work they do. They’ve given us this space to use practically free of charge.  Even though we've never worked with SWAP before, this feels like a natural partnership: SWAP has zero understanding of live events, and they are so excited to have CMW come in and create/produce these warm, intimate events in one of their spaces.  We at CMW are constantly in search of new and interesting sites and spaces around the neighborhood to perform, to practice, to be in residence. Suddenly their constituency has exposure to a type of performance they wouldn't normally consider attending and likewise, our audiences learn about the good work and great spaces of this community development organization. We’re excited to see where it goes next.