Sistema Fellows Program


For five thrilling years, the Sistema Fellows Program (2009-2014) was a unique professional training program at NEC that provided a transformative experience for each of the fifty remarkable individuals profiled in this report. The highly selective Program was designed to serve postgraduate musicians and music educators passionate about creating careers for themselves that connect music, youth development, and social justice. 

The Program’s stated goal was to prepare the Fellows to launch, manage, lead and teach in El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States. Following their experience at NEC, many Fellows have done just that: successfully guiding the development of brand new El Sistema-inspired initiatives across the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition, each class of Fellows became the conduit for sharing their exclusive knowledge of El Sistema’s complexities—acquired at the source—with colleagues in the field, thereby helping El Sistema principles become a significant element of the community arts education landscape in the U.S. Along with their work on the ground, many Fellows are making increasingly important contributions to the national conversation about effective creative youth development. 

Each year, ten Sistema Fellows engaged in an intensive nine-month curriculum that featured, among other topics, leadership development, presentation skills, nonprofit strategy, finance, resource development, evaluation and assessment, and education philosophy. This learning happened through a combination of classroom seminars at NEC and experiential work in the field. Fellows spent one month in residence at El Sistema-inspired programs of their choosing across the United States. The highlight of each year was a month-long residency in program sites, known as núcleos, throughout Venezuela.

To put their learning during the Fellowship into practice, the Fellows were required to spend the following year supporting the emerging field of El Sistema-inspired initiatives.

Sistema Fellows Program Final Report 2014 (2014)

Click the link above to download the Sistema Fellows Program final report, published in October 2014.

"Realizing Visions" by Eric Booth, Senior Advisor

Six years ago, Maestro Abreu took the occasion of being honored by the TED organization to envision an essential step in the growth of El Sistema-inspired programs in the U.S. He imagined a long and healthy future, citing the wealth of resources available (when he had started in Venezuela with so little). The specific vision he offered in his acceptance speech was: “Here is my TED Prize wish—I wish that you help to create and document a special training program for fifty gifted young musicians, passionate about their art and social justice and dedicated to bringing El Sistema to the United States and other countries.” His vision was to fast-track young leadership. 

This essay presents a snapshot of the impact these Fellows have had on the U.S. field. They are, inarguably, the single biggest asset and influence on the U.S. El Sistema-inspired movement. NEC made it happen, and NEC is staying with the challenge. The impact of these 50 is growing. El Sistema in Venezuela has gained its momentum and influence through its inherent multiplier effect: an inspired teacher changes the lives of dozens of students; an effective program director changes the lives of all the students in a núcleo; a strong núcleo changes the lives of those in its community, family by family; and a strong leader changes the lives of countless people in a variety of ways, and draws them into the vision they pursue in alignment. The Sistema Fellows have already demonstrated their multiplier effect in the U.S., founding and leading programs, consulting with emergent programs, with their eyes always on the right prize—children and music. 

Maestro Abreu says “trust the young,” and this Fellowship has done so, fearlessly and ambitiously. It has fostered the multiplying power of these visionary, effective leaders who are realizing Maestro Abreu’s dream and joining him in his vision of joy and success for young people through musical excellence, joy and success for their families and communities, and for a worldwide movement that plays and strives for beauty. With the inauguration of the Resource Center, we launch the next step in this ambitious support of young leadership. We help the fifty become even more powerful, more joyful, more cohesive—to succeed in ways we couldn’t even imagine...

Continue reading Eric Booth's essay, excerpted from the Sistema Fellows Program Final Report, on the Resource Center's blog.


Contributions to the field

The Fellows are uniquely positioned to respond to and provide for some of the major needs and interests arising across the El Sistema-inspired field in the U.S. Included here are links to two projects undertaken by the Fellows to increase the knowledge and effectiveness of their colleagues.

Say Yes to Assess: An Exploration in El-Sistema Inspired Assessment Practice (2013)

One of the main areas of need identified by the 2013 Sistema Fellows was for increased assessment and evaluation practice across the El Sistema-inspired field in the United States. Realizing that growth and sustainability are impossible without such research initiatives, as well as the sheer difficulty for most El Sistema-inspired programs to initiate such endeavors alone, the Fellows spent the year consulting with experts in the field and pursuing their own research to produce a document outlining a rigorous assessment process and examining several proposed indicators of success. 

An Inquiry into Creating Intentional Social Change through Ensemble-Based Music Programs (2014)

In 2014, the fifth class of Sistema Fellows authored a paper synthesizing a year of inquiring, discussing, observing and experiencing the El Sistema movement. Seeking to contribute to ongoing dialogue around using music for social change, they outlined reflections potentially helpful to the leaders and instructors working within the El Sistema-inspired field, as well as those interested in joining the field.