They were pissed. From their perspective, the story presented Arts Corps as a savior, and their program as the problem. In particular they took offense at a parent who was quoted saying, "Our band/orchestra doesn't reflect the population, doesn't reach enough kids of color."
They invited me to visit their program, and so I did, earlier this week.
At first I saw them as protesting-too-much defensive; but our conversation softened. The fact is that the musical ensembles are still whiter than the school at large; the teachers, Elizabeth Fortune-Gobo and Kelly Barr Clingan, presented me with a stack of statistics that back up the parent's observation.
But what Fortune-Gobo and Barr Clingan pointed out to me, and what I think is worth pointing out here, is that they're actively working on the problem. Fortune-Gobo and Barr Clingan want it known that they're not in denial about the ways that the white privilege of society at large enters a place as innocent-seeming as a middle-school music classroom. And I want it known—I emphasized Arts Corps's great partners in the story, but this needs explicit saying—that it's not only Arts Corps that's doing good work. Last year, Fortune-Gobo and Barr Clingan made a concerted effort to recruit kids of color for band and orchestra, emphasizing to every incoming student—and especially those they knew weren't getting instruction at elementary schools—that no skills were needed, so as to avoid intimidating kids whose parents hadn't been able to afford private lessons. (Income and race are strikingly connected in Seattle public-school classrooms, according to the most recent socioeconomic data published by the district.) The result? This year's beginning band has 54 players compared to 19 last year; beginning orchestra has 26 this year compared to 17 last year. That's 44 kids more than last year who may have a shot, someday, at making it into the elite ensembles at Garfield—or who'll just have music in their lives when, without these teachers, they wouldn't.
So raise a glass not only to Arts Corps but to teachers like Fortune-Gobo and Barr Clingan. It really is about working together.