The August rendezvous in Sisters provided a great opportunity to observe a community that has fully embraced and nurtured an innovative, local arts education program. The Sisters Folk Festival and the connected Americana Project have very obviously become major features of life in Sisters for both children and adults. In turn, these projects have grown and taken on unique characteristics and traits from the Sisters community. The rendezvous was inspiring for our team because it allowed us to see how a music-based arts education program could thrive in a roughly similar community. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was seeing the interplay between the Folk Festival itself and the educational and developmental aspects of the Americana Project. The Sisters team has been able to build on the success of a major local arts event by expanding into the classroom and using its popularity to inspire students who may have otherwise been uninterested in music. In turn, the Americana Project creates new interest in the Folk Festival by building students’ knowledge of folk music traditions and draws in families who may have otherwise had little interest in the festival by providing performance and volunteer opportunities for their children.
This last point is, perhaps, the most relevant to our work in Elkton. Our team is in a desirable position in that we have been working in Elkton for several years. In that time, we have been able to create a strong culture of support for music and the arts. Elkton’s school concerts have great attendance and every time I visit, I am able to talk to families who happily tell me of the developments their children have made through the music program. Andrew’s band programs have provided another level of advancement for his students to aspire to and new programs like the percussion ensemble will attract new students who are interested in a different type of instrumental performance.
In many ways, we feel that the culture of arts appreciation in Elkton is quite strong. However, there is always room for improvement and in our case that improvement can come through attracting students and families who are not currently at the arts-appreciation table. While it can be difficult to trace exactly why particular students or community members are not engaging with our programs, we hope to address the issue by working to expand the scope and focus of our programming while also developing methods to track engagement and interest among previously-disengaged families. In addition to Andrew’s recently-developed percussion ensemble, we will again host several community performances throughout the year. Our goal is to make these performances as diverse and original as possible. We want to find musicians and artists who can present work that is new and exciting for parents and students. Our primary focus area is bringing in non-western musicians including Taiko and Caribbean percussion groups. We will also focus on music technology and math and science-related music integration. Finally, we are working to create surveys and evaluation materials that will allow us to track not only overall community interest and attendance but interest and attendance among community members who had not previously attended our events. If families haven’t attended in the past, why did they attend this event? We hope that these steps will allow us to better assess the needs and tastes of the community so that we can plan effective programs in the future. Our ultimate goal is to draw in greater interest from the community while maintaining the maintaining the successes of Andrew’s regular music classes and bands. Sisters has given us one example of how we might achieve this goal and, hopefully, our upcoming peer visits will provide us with another.