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The Echoes of Impact: A Decade of Fellowships at Community MusicWorks

At WolfBrown we work with clients to measure the impact of arts and cultural experiences. Frequently, that means we operate in the “near hereafter” — for example, surveying audience members immediately following a performance, or sampling audiences’ attitudes to other cultures before and after a festival of world music and dance. It is rare, though, that we have the opportunity to think deeply about the lasting impact of such experiences.

CMW musicians perform at La Lupita

CMW musicians perform at La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos as part of their Inhabit ArtPlace Event Series. Photo credit: Community MusicWorks

But just such an opportunity arose when Community MusicWorks, a neighborhood-embedded education and music organization, asked WolfBrown to capture the long-term impact of its Fellows program (a two-year residency in teaching, music-making, and community engagement). The task was challenging for a number of reasons: (1) the organization’s mission is to create more cohesive urban communities through music — a bold objective, but challenging to measure; (2) the program is over a decade old so much of the information was retrospective; and (3) past Fellows are far-flung and busy, presenting additional challenges when collecting data.

Using a participatory evaluation format, we worked closely with CMW staff and former Fellow Rachel Panitch (as a co-researcher with an insider’s perspective), to develop a multi-methods approach that included interviews, surveys, and observations. Through this work, we carved out a set of dimensions that captures and communicates the decade-long impact of the Fellowship:

  • Diversity in Cohesive Urban Communities | What has CMW’s Fellowship contributed as an example of diverse musicians using their artistry to strengthen an urban community? What proportion of participants comes from communities of origin different from those that dominate the field of classical music? In the case of CMW, 40% of its Fellows are people of color, as compared to less than 10% of students of color in post-graduate arts training and fewer than 5% of U.S. symphony musicians.
  • Reach | Once Fellows leave CMW do they continue to teach, mentor, and collaborate in ways that model and spread the work? Compared to other youngindependent classical  musicians, CMW Fellows do more teaching (26% v. 15%), performing in and for social justice programs (17% v. 6%), and mentoring (7% v. 0%).Reach of a Former CMW Fellow
  • Longevity | Once Fellows leave CMW do they stay in the field of music and social justice? In addition, what proportion of participants goes on to work in under-resourced communities? In the case of CMW, 14 of its 16 graduated Fellows have continued to bring music education, services, and performances to 11 under-resourced communities. Many have done so continuously since the years of their Fellowship.
  • Uptake and adaptation of the original CMW model | How many “next generation” music and public service programs trace their origins to CMW? How adaptive has the original model proven when translated to different organizations and communities? Altogether, 16 diverse models of music and public service have been started, including 2 close replications of the model, 6 distinctive community-embedded music projects, and 8 programs that apply elements of CMW values and design to their work.

Taken together, these dimensions provide substantive measures of the long-term success of CMW’s efforts to diversify who participates in classical music, develop a set of practices that can build skills among musicians to engage in social justice issues, and sustain the organizations and individuals who undertake this challenging work. Moreover, these dimensions suggest a framework through which the wider field might begin to gauge the success of other sustained efforts.

The full report, We Are Each Other’s Magnitude and Bond: An Evaluation of Community MusicWorks’ Extending Our Reach Initiative, is available for download.

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