All posts by Dawn Heinen

Nano-Interview with Bithyah Israel of City Strings United

BITHYAH ISRAELName: Bithyah Israel
Organization: City Strings United
Title: Founder and Executive Director
Music Genre: Cello! Varied styles
Years in the Field: 20

What do you do at City Strings United?
At City Strings United (CSU) I run all operations from recruiting teachers and students, teaching classes, replacing instruments, recruiting volunteers, and donor relations.

Why do you do what you do?
I do this work because when I was a child, I received free cello lessons, since my family could not afford them. A symphony cellist took it upon himself to do this, which gave me opportunities to perform in youth and civic orchestras. That experience lifted my heart and made my spirit soar. I want more children to experience such overwhelming joy. Having been blessed with such support growing up, I had hope even during trying times. I wish the same for today’s children.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
The easiest part of this work is dealing with children.  They show that they feel valued and they reciprocate. Kids are just fun. One day, as I was rushing down the aisle of the church we teach out of, probably to locate rosin or a cello pin holder for a student, I heard a little voice: “Lady, lady!” a high-pitched voice said. I noticed a 3-year old little girl looking up at me. She had been observing our cello class – probably a student’s little cousin. I stopped in my tracks. She looked up at me and confidently said, “I need a violin.” This took the cake. She saw that all the other children there had an instrument, and she knew she deserved one, too. Moments like that refresh me and push me forward, reiterating to me the vision for which I strive.

What challenges you in this work?
What challenges me is operating amidst a lack of adequate financial support for our grassroots organization. I must work long hours freelancing, so that I can pay my bills in addition to running CSU. I have many projects within CSU just waiting to be completed, when funds provide a staffer’s hours to do them. It’s scary every year when our resources become scarce, and grant applications, on top of all else I’m doing for the kids, are time consuming and not promised. Every year, I find I am able to accomplish more and more – this year, 4 grant apps have gone out…improving!!

What does it mean to do this work in this community?
The community tells me we give them hope, and that our program is providing our students a great platform. In the five years we’ve been running, we’ve appeared in The Boston Globe twice, on New England Cable News, at the Museum of Fine Arts, and been invited to collaborate in shared performances with a Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble and Celebrity Series of Boston. We’ve also performed with a Grammy-awarded drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and saxophonist Walter Beasley. So, the community is inspired with the great accomplishments and recognition our students have received in a relatively short amount of time. I have countless inspiring stories.

How do you blow off steam?
Let’s see… I talk it out with my friends or executive coach, drive to the beach, watch a movie, say a prayer, listen to gospel music, play my cello, laugh, exercise, and just take a nap (it took me 2-3 years to understand part of survival is to just STOP and REST.)

What do you create in your free time?
I enjoy writing music, cooking, and reaching out to loved ones and also community members who have been exceptionally supportive. I also like telling about my experiences or self in a comedic way, making others laugh. I get pleasure out of making others chuckle, even at my own expense. Being transparent seems to have a cathartic effect on others.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I listen to gospel, jazz, classical, pop (I have a ‘Road Tripping’ station on Pandora) and classic rock “Dream On…”

Seen any good movies lately?
I recently saw Hidden Figures. Once again, I am inspired by stories of triumph despite initial conditions of little support or appreciation. Integrity always wins.

What are you currently reading?
The autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

What’s next?
Hopefully succeeding in fulfilling our modest $50,000/year budget, then heading to the $100,000 level.

Besides writing music for CSU students to perform, I’ve begun writing music and acting in theatrical productions, usually historical plays. I hope to continue building my professional composing portfolio.

A New Vision and Strategic Plan

The Mass Cultural Council is pleased to share its new strategic plan and new vision — the Power of Culture — with the public. The plan is grounded on a vision of our Commonwealth where:

  • Culture elevates the quality of life and well-being of all communities
  • Culture drives growth and opportunity through the creative economy
  • Culture is inclusive, accessible, and embraces our diversity
  • Culture empowers a new generation through creative youth development and education

The result of more than a year of planning and thousands of conversations with our constituents, our new vision will guide our work through the next five years and beyond.

Mass Cultural Council Spending Plan Includes $2.2M for Creative Youth

This week the Mass Cultural Council released a spending plan for the new fiscal year that will invest more than $12 million in programs and initiatives that drive economic growth and opportunity, elevate the quality of life in communities, embrace accessibility and inclusion, and empower a new generation through education and creative youth development.

Included in the spending plan is $2.2 million for Creative Youth Development & Education. With this investment Mass Cultural Council will work to expand access to quality, creative learning experiences for young people in school and community settings through:

  • YouthReach, which supports nonprofit organizations that provide in-depth arts, humanities, and science programs for young people at risk. See FY18 funding list.
  • SerHacer, supporting intensive, ensemble-based programs that use music as a vehicle for youth development and social change. Through grants and technical assistance, Mass Cultural Council fosters this emerging field of music education across the Commonwealth. See FY18 funding list.
  • STARS Residencies connect artists and creative educators in the humanities and sciences with elementary and secondary schools with deep learning experiences that help students grow, develop new skills, and expand their imaginations.
  • Big Yellow School Bus grants help schools meet the transportation costs of educational field trips to cultural institutions across Massachusetts.
  • Poetry Out Loud, a national competition in which high school students perform classic and contemporary poems while exploring elements of slam poetry, spoken word, and theatre in their English and drama classes. The Huntington Theatre Co. has expanded Poetry Out Loud to more than 50,000 Massachusetts students each school year. It is funded with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Nano-Interview with Silas de Oliveira of El Sistema Somerville

Silas de Oliveira of El Sistema SomervilleName: Silas de Oliveira
Organization: El Sistema Somerville
Title: Assistant Artistic Director
Music Genre: Classical
Years in the Field: 16

What do you do at El Sistema Somerville?
I’m responsible for curriculum planning, staff schedule, students engagement activities, parents integration, and etc. …

Why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because is a calling to serve my community and my peers. As an immigrant to the USA, I know firsthand the struggles immigrants go through. As a musician, I know how important it is to have exposure to high quality music lessons and instruments. I grew up in Brazil where I was unable to study cello. The only way I had access to music was in a church band learning alto sax and trumpet.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
I would say my connection with the students. I try everyday to make sure that they understand that I’m one of them and no matter how old you are, or how much education you’ve received or any other label society might put on us, we are one. We are humans beings that should respect and be respected. I strive to provide an environment where expressive creativity reigns free.

What challenges you in this work?
My constant awareness of the students’ cultural links, from video games, music hits, movies, lingo, books, etc… I feel that awareness of these factors can have a profound impact in your connectivity with them and their world.

What does it mean to do this work in this community?
I feel that the great Somerville community always has been very welcoming and accepting, and respects and invests in their citizens. Somerville was my first home in the USA, Somerville High School was my first school in the USA, and Somerville String Camp was where I met my beloved music teacher, Rita Ranucci, who inspired me not only to become a cellist, but also a teacher.  I’m honored to be working in the field and continuing her legacy in Somerville.

How do you blow off steam?
There are different things I like to do from skydiving, to sometimes just playing mini golf, or driving to North Conway, NH.

What do you create in your free time?
I love doing research on world cultures, practicing my cello or another instrument to better guide a student.

Whose work in the creative youth development field do you admire and why?
Eric Booth, he inspires me to always rethink, rearrange, and reshape my views, my teaching, and my planning.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Currently I’m addicted to Anitta and  Antonio Meneses.

Do you live with any animals?
Yes, my husband and I just got a puppy – a Chow Chow named Bach.

Seen any good movies lately?
Despicable Me 3

What are you currently reading?
Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work by David Rock

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Did He Really?

What’s next?
Having a baby, and hopefully getting my masters in Conducting.

Connect with Silas:
Silasdeoliveira.com
Facebook.com/silas.deoliveira
https://www.linkedin.com/in/silas-de-oliveira-87880145

Creative Youth Development Grants Available

Mass Cultural Council’s YouthReach and SerHacer provide funding for a three-year period to programs that infuse the arts, sciences, and humanities with principles of youth development. Application deadlines for the next three-year cycle are:

  • YouthReach:
    • January 19, 2018 (New Applicants)
    • May 1, 2018 (Returning Applicants)
  • SerHacer: February 15, 2018 (All Applicants)

Register for an information session:

Celebrate National Arts Education Week: Sept. 10-16, 2017

National Arts in Education Week Logo
National Arts in Education Week provides a great opportunity to reinforce the vital role of arts learning in our schools and communities.

Mass Cultural Council invests more than $3 million annually in a range of programs that expand access to arts education in classrooms and beyond across the Commonwealth. We are a national leader in the growing, dynamic field of creative youth development. And with MASSCreative, Arts/Learning and others, we advocate for the arts in debates on education policy and funding.

“The arts foster success in school and after graduation; help students develop discipline and grit; grow their problem-solving skills; and challenge them to deeper thinking, more effective communication, and greater civic engagement,”

– Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Education.

We encourage our partners to use this week to share your stories about why arts education matters to you and the young people in your community. Please join the celebration by:

  • Sharing your story: This year, we want to highlight the impact of arts education in your life. Use #BecauseOfArtsEd on social media and tell us how Arts Ed impacts your life by tagging @MassCultural. You can also use #ArtsEdWeek.
  • Learning more: Check out this toolkit to find a series of ways to join in the national celebration.

Participate in the First-Ever Field Survey on CYD

Americans for the Arts is administering the first-ever field survey on Creative Youth Development on behalf of the Creative Youth Development (CYD) National Partnership. Organizations and programs were invited to participate in the survey on Aug. 23, 2017 and are encouraged to complete the survey trough the unique link sent to them on that date. Questions about the survey may be sent to artseducation@artsusa.org. Others wishing to participate in the study, can do so at the following link: https://surveys.americansforthearts.org/s3/2017-CYDP-Survey.