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Arts as Infrastructure: How PMAY Shared Resources for the Benefit of Music Educators

As arts advocates, it can begin to feel like you’re shouting into the void when trying to explain the value of arts and culture. In recent months, the Alliance led a campaign to highlight the importance of the arts as infrastructure. Like power lines and bridges, we said, the arts are critical to our collective health and wealth. But even a metaphor suffers from abstraction. So what do we really mean? This is what we mean:

On a frigid Friday this February, the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY), a collective of 20 music education organizations and the School District of Philadelphia hosted a free virtual shared professional development day for music educators. This event, which was supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, and the work of Settlement Music School and a sub-committee of PMAY as convenors, brought together 321 educators, coming from Philly’s school district, other school districts, independent schools, charter schools, nonprofits, and universities. The event featured a keynote address by Grammy winner Christian McBride and 10 breakout sessions on topics like creative youth development, online learning communities, trauma-informed education, selfcare, and more. To streamline the virtual convening the members of PMAY shared their technical resources, going so far as to use their respective Zoom accounts to host various breakout sessions.

One of this event’s most remarkable elements, though, was that PMAY designed this event as a shared professional development day. 321 educators came together not so that they could be lectured on what they don’t know, but to learn from one another. A group of music education organizations, each with its own objectives and priorities, sharing resources and expertise to provide a free professional development experience is an incredible community service. That the experience isn’t a lecture or panel discussion, but an exchange of knowledge and a broadening of collective expertise is an illustration of how arts organizations bring not just their expertise to the work, but their creative, collaborative spirits. This is the power of the arts as infrastructure, and unlike our power lines and bridges, this is an infrastructure that responds to and supports its community in real time.

Challenges of a systemic nature, however, cannot be solved in a day. Beyond professional development, PMAY, is playing a role in the future of music with its Artists’ Initiative. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Initiative goes beyond music education, to connect student musicians with mentorship and resources to power them forward towards their educational and career goals. This type of deep concentrated support, unavailable to students from many local communities, is actively shaping the future face of the music workforce by striving to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field.

This is what we mean by the arts as infrastructure. It is not a catch phrase. It is a strategic, working objective of the Cultural Alliance, PMAY, and hundreds of other organizations in our region. Looking ahead, we are excited to continue highlighting the great work of incredible organizations and individuals making a difference through the power of arts and culture.

In the meantime, you can learn more about our ongoing advocacy work at the Cultural Alliance by going to https://philaculture.org/. To learn more about PMAY, including how students can apply for the Artists’ Initiative, visit https://www.pmayartists.org/.