El Sistema USA's Boston impasse underlines difficulty in building anything with piecemeal support
Fired up by a visit in 2007 by José Antonio Abreu, the founder of Venezuela's El Sistema children's music network, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (El Sistema's flagship band) and star graduate, conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the New England Conservatory of Music enthusiastically agreed to help nurture an American offshoot, christened El Sistema USA.
The school would act as a home base for an intensive, one-year postgraduate training programme for El Sistema missionaries, the first handful of which have in the last few months dispersed to various American cities.
Now, El Sistema USA feels it needs to expand in order to keep the momentum going (the programme currently has two full-time and one part-time staff people) and the New England Conservatory, which is about to embark on its own, much more expensive expansion capital campaign, says it can't afford to devote any additional resources to El Sistema.
The impasse makes it likely that El Sistema USA will need to move sometime soon. You can read all the details in the Boston Globe.
In Venezuela, El Sistema is fully funded by the national government. There are hoops to jump through when administrators need more money, but the overall programme has stable, core funding from one year to the next.
Go to the U.K. and the U.S., and the El Sistema offshoots have to compete for public and private funding with every other arts and culture organization -- many of which have long, successful histories.
As long as stable, long-term funding isn't made available to causes like El Sistema USA, they will not be able to replicate the impact the programme has had in South America.
It takes a completely different kind of person to be a successful fundraiser as well as administrator, cheerleader and inspirational teacher. These people exist and do amazing things. But they also burn out.
Let's all hope -- and do what we can -- to help ensure a happy ending to this story. Remember that, although there is no El Sistema in Toronto, there are dozens of dedicated teachers and professional musicians involved in outreach to children in the city's public schools and in after-school programmes. Some work as part of a larger organization's outreach efforts. Some are loners with a sense of individual mission. All are equally valuable.
Typical of the tremendous reaction from children all over the world is the positive message in this recent video about a New York City public school programme called Harmony, created under the El Sistema USA umbrella: