Make Art Anyway

Okay, but Seriously, Can Music and Art Change the World?


Strange how the longest (for print?) articles receive the fewest comments online. Articles like these have a lasting impact on me and I wish others took the time to not only read them, but discuss them as well.

"You can get your hair done so it looks nice, or save up for nice clothes, but when it comes to what's inside of you in terms of skills because of white privilege and all that—when it comes to whether you know your musical scales or not—that's probably one of the first experiences kids have of how the dots connect, and you can't paint a pretty picture of that. If you're not prepared for music class, you're not prepared."

That's the meat of it for me. Those who don't understand systematic racism, don't connect that fewer privileges in the past translates to fewer privileges now and in the future. And the PTA is a prime example of that - first and second generation family aren't taught how to engage in their school district, and so their children never learn that skill either. Round we go.

"To the makers of music — all worlds, all times".
Great, great article. Nicely done.

Grew up a very poor white kid who married a musician. None of his friends understand why I don't play an instrument.
This may very well be your best and most necessary article. Art and music have saved my life from what could have been disastrous concequences.
Thank you.
Great article, Jen.
Art and music have taken me across all kinds of boundaries and broken all sorts of constraints. Those teachers are amazing. I know art does not change things, but the human intention in those teachers just might.

"Those who don't understand systematic racism...."
Unfortunately there are those who don't understand how their own decisions keep them in a runt, not "systematic racism". Note the comment regarding the 22 year old mother of 3.
Before anyone starts yapping that I am being mean to poor kids-hardly. These programs are great BUT by claiming societial injustice is what continues to keep many of these poor people poor is a bunch of bs.
Having children young, dropping out of school, having children without a partner are what keep people poor and these are things people can control. Why is it when people work with the poor there is so little effort made to encourage them to see how their choices (such as family planning) will make the biggest difference as to whether they are able to have a better life than their parents?
I think the arts and music in general are becoming more homogenized in the US. When kids can instant chat and play x-box as an alternative, it becomes difficult to reach kids and get them beyond the copycat stage into a more creative realm. The arts were once a vital escape for many people, but we have so many things competing for our time now. From my experiences, the most dedicated folks are those with little means who are connected to art in a deep and meaningful way. That being sid, I don't think we should discourage people from pursuing music as a hobby as it can be a nice release.
Fantastic. Thank you for this piece Jen.
Solid work, Jen. I have never read an article with such a realistic understanding of what urban education is and can be (outside of progressive teacher magazines). This is what educating for equity really looks like and it doesn't star Hillary Swank and there is no happy ending where we completed the day's lesson and everything is better now, but we do what we can do as best we can and then, slowly, change happens.
@6 Some of us do. Sex Ed is a month long unit in my classroom. However, my month of lessons is attempting to correct years of exposure to a culture and a country saturated with misinformation about sex and what a healthy relationship is. Once again, we do the best we can as best we can.
Yeah.. there are some facts here. Good job.

I am a music teacher in the Seattle District.
I am not sure if everyone knows ... BUT... private lessons and excellent groups like Musicians Corps are NOT the only place where music education happens in Seattle. Who do you think drives around all day long with instruments in their cars from elementary to elementary starting kids out??? Public school music teachers at all grade levels put in countless hours (a lot unpaid volunteer time) working with students of all colors interested in music. With growth and awareness of the public with this issue, I hope people understand that music teachers are still teaching and trying to reach all. The budget allowed for a music teachers presence in the starting grades is MINIMAL to all colors of students. Get on board with making instruments as common as books and football pads if you really want to see a change for all of the kids that are part of the Seattle School District.
As another Seattle general music teacher, I agree.
Arts Corp is one portrait, and its great.
There are, however, many portraits, many of us doing long term work in the "arts trenches" - (and occasionally there ARE Mr. Holland moments) - come down to S.E. and S. W. Seattle schools, there are, against the odds, here and there, many great things happening outside of the white privilege arena - especially where teachers, parents, and community come together. It's A LOT of work - we can use your help.
THANK YOU. This is a terrific and inspiring story. I grew up in a place and time when arts and music classes were recognized as an essential part of a child's education, and I know that my life has been better and richer for it. I'm sorrowful for the children who never get exposed to the joys of recognizing music and creating their own, but this story gives me hope that good people are working hard to fill that gap. Thanks again.
the struggle is perpetual.
YESS!!!! GREAT article, Jen!!! The world needs music and art now, more than ever before.

God bless, and keep up the good work!

Thank you for the article Make Art Anyway, Jen Graves, solid and witty!
Was 19 days in Seattle, read on the way back to the Netherlands, one of the things in Seattle I visited was Tim Rollins and K.O.S. A history in Frye Art Museum.
Wish Art Corps and Musician Corps
all the best and a lot of funding.

Ilona Hakvoort ( NL)
I seldom read articles on topics like this that aren't saccharine and worlds removed from the day-to-day experience. Thanks for an insightful and well-written piece, Jen.
While we support Jen Graves’s efforts to publicize the success of the MusicianCorps program (“Make Art Anyway,” May 11, 2010), she has seriously misrepresented the music program at Washington Middle School and, by extension, the current efforts and persistent challenges in arts-education equity in Seattle Public Schools. Had she contacted either one of us —and visited the very classrooms that host the drumline program she describes—she would have been able to present an accurate and full picture of the music opportunities offered at WMS.

The Washington Middle School music program serves nearly half the student body (400 students), including students from all grades, academic programs, and ethnicities. We use not only classical, band, and jazz curricula but also incorporate bluegrass, Mexican Banda, and cutting-edge collaborative compositions with prominent figures such as Wayne Horvitz and Jovino Santos Neto. Our music department has two beginning classes that require no prior music training and are open to all students at WMS, 6th-8th grade. Instruments are provided at no cost ensuring that our programs are accessible to any student who wants to participate.

Claiming that “our band/orchestra doesn’t reflect the population, doesn’t reach enough kids of color” (Anang) is a distortion of the truth. Had Graves stepped into one of our classes, she would see the results of our labor in actively recruiting as many students from our elementary school feeders as possible, of all backgrounds, using massive fundraising efforts to ensure that all students can participate regardless of family finances. We actively recruit so that our program IS representative of our student body because we are committed to equity of access.

True, there is still much room for improvement, but if greater equity is sought in elite ensembles such as the Garfield Jazz Band as mentioned in the article, this is where the work must begin—efforts that will continue because we are committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to benefit from a music education.

MusicianCorps teachers are doing this work because they believe that music is vital and should be accessible to all. As public school music directors we believe the same. It is the right of every child to have a comprehensive music education. Unfortunately, Jen Graves’ reporting of only half the story doesn’t promote a collaborative spirit and it is through partnership and acknowledgement of shared commitment that our students will benefit.

We extend an invitation to Ms. Graves so that she can see first hand the work that is happening at WMS on behalf of all students. We look forward to her visit!

Elizabeth Fortune-Gobo
Kelly Barr Clingan
Washington Middle School Music Department

Dear Stranger,

Jen Graves, thank you for your extensive work on this article and for your commitment to bringing these stories to light. It is great that these issues have been discussed at length and that this article has sparked more community dialogue. In reading the article – it became clear to many that my work in partnering with the public school music programs, as well as the characterization of the programs themselves were not put in an accurate frame.

In addition to working with great programs this year like Seattle Music Partners and Washington Middle H.O.S.T. YMCA (the organization that hosts the afterschool drum line that I direct), my work with the Washington Middle School and Garfield High School music departments has been a great experience for my professional development and service though music education.

The Central District programs that have been getting such great attention in competitions and performances such as the Washington Middle School Music Program (lead by Beth Fortune, Kelly Barr-Klingan and formerly Robert Knatt), the Garfield High School Jazz Program (Clarence Acox) and Garfield High School Drum Line (Tony Sodano) have elevated our music education accomplishments and standards to a new height in Seattle.

I am a product of the Central District Music Factory; created and molded into a serious musician and community member through my experiences drumming for the jazz programs directed by legendary educators Mr. Robert Knatt and Mr. Clarence Acox. If it were not for their hard work, talent and endurance in our community since the 70’s – I would not be who I am today as an artist and I would not be working with youth and families in arts education. For more information on current my work and history as a student at WMS please visit:…

All of the teachers and programs mentioned above have made strides in making these programs more accessible to all youth but they cannot win this fight on their own. It is up to all of us in the community (teachers, community organizations, media, voters, activists and parents) to continue to find ways to support the very important work that the public school music teachers and administrators have done and continue to do to make quality arts education accessible to all.

We should also realize that the public school system that our music teachers work within is suffering through the divisive and polarizing effects of regular, honors and APP programs perpetuating the inequities of our nation. Adding these elite and sometimes harmful academic segmenting systems to gentrification, hundreds of years of oppression and the failing justice system - it is no wonder that the music programs often don’t reflect the beauty we hope to see. They are a reflection of the real state of our society. This is even more of a reason for us to find more ways to support the music programs that are fighting in the trenches to change the culture and equity of music education.

Through time and endurance, successful partnerships will continue to help undo the damage of systemic racism that we are all working together to fight against.

It is important that I dissect a quote of mine from the article to put it in a correct context.

“Sixth grade is hard enough. You're trying to stay out of fights, stay out of gangs, stay sane, stay confident, stand your ground—and now you've got to run up against the good ol' boys club even in music classes?”

I was speaking on the state of America’s systemic racism that becomes very real to 6th graders nationally when realizing that because of our construct, many opportunities have not been made available to them (like finances for private lessons or consistent and quality elementary school age music education). It is not a description of the music program at Washington Middle School. I would not be working on building on-going partnerships with any individuals or organizations that promote or operate with systems that perpetuate racism.

A response of needed context to a couple of the article’s author’s statements:

“…he (myself) wants to broaden the overwhelmingly classical band-orchestra-choir curriculum by using more things like hip-hop, rock, and drum line…”

I fully support the study of classical traditions in concert band, orchestra and choir because they are crucial elements of a well-rounded music education; and all different types of kids truly enjoy studying these forms. I will also keep working on providing additional opportunities with contemporary forms that engage healthy learning experiences for students interested in music.

“…He (myself) wants to see younger kids in the neighborhood better prepared to try out for the vaunted ensembles at Garfield (in-depth music education doesn't really exist in the lower grades)…”

It is clear that the reason for the success of high school music programs like Garfield and many others – is due largely to the hard work of teachers and students in the middle school music programs like Washington Middle School. Without that foundation – there would be no trophies flying home to sit in our local high school display cases.

Let us all keep the important work moving forward and let us keep the dialogue consistent, honest and productive. Thank you.


Aaron Walker-Loud
MusicianCorps Fellow – via Arts Corps Seattle
Director – Big World Breaks
Thanks, Aaron, for setting the record straight and thanks, Jenn for writing this article. Between the two, the whole picture comes closer to being in focus.
The 67-year-old Seattle music institution I work for, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras, is working with Seattle Public Schools to change things so that more kids have access to instrumental music. As a student of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian percussion and a bass player in many different types of bands, I want to see kids have access to all kinds of music. Working for a youth symphony organization, even one with four orchestras working with kids at different skill levels, it has become brutally clear that this is an expensive art form. To successfully audition for our orchestras, kids almost have to have had private lessons. By providing free group lessons in partnership with the classroom teachers in schools serving low-income communities (the District has instruments to loan to kids whose parents can't afford to buy or rent them, although not enough), buy augmenting those lessons with before and afterschool sessions, and by trying to be systematic about the whole thing so that something remains if the grant money runs out; we're trying to level the playing field a bit.
In Portland, I'm told that the PTSA's pool their money so it can be equitably distributed around the city. It may take something like that to improve the situation in a big way here in Seattle. I don't see how the District how can increase the budget for the arts any time soon.