2013-10-23 NEC President Tony Woodcock describes the evolution of NEC's Sistema Fellows Program
2015-8-3 Resource Center Director Heath Marlow describes effort to make Sistem Fellows Program curriculum accessible to local musicians
Sistema Fellowship Resource Center
As we approached the end of the initial five-year Sistema Fellows Program, NEC began to imagine how it could build on its success. How could we best contribute to the now flourishing field of El Sistema-inspired programs throughout the country? After analyzing the projects that exist, conducting a survey among the first four classes of alumni, and listening to many specific requests, we determined that our next step should be to strengthen and enhance the expertise and skills of the 50 alumni Fellows. To that end, we created the Sistema Fellowship Resource Center.
We engaged in detailed discussion with arts management consultant Greg Kandel and senior advisor/teaching artist Eric Booth, who were both deeply involved in the Sistema Fellows Program and the entire field from its inception. With their counsel, we decided to devote the next two years to providing professional development, facilitating field work, arranging networking and collaboration opportunities, and developing online resources. Details are provided below.
We also consulted with our admired colleagues who lead El Sistema in Venezuela and who have inspired us and supported us in countless ways. To our delight, they embraced our new strategy, while celebrating the success of the past five years.
Our plan, then, is one of reinvestment in our Fellows. We are enormously proud of the great work they are doing and we want to assist and sustain them as they move beyond the foundational level of their programs into the more mature phases.
Looking even more broadly, we are seeking ways to integrate the ideals of El Sistema more completely into our college curriculum, working in conjunction with our outstanding Entrepreneurial Musicianship and Community Performances and Partnerships programs. Our hope is to deepen NEC students’ commitment to become citizen artists. As the Fellows are already demonstrating, El Sistema offers a new vision of musicians in the community, one that takes them from the periphery to the center as agents of transformation. It’s a vision that beckons musicians to become what Dr. Abreu calls “Apostles to Society.”
Between July 2014 and June 2016, the Resource Center focused on three main objectives, while continuing to explore additional programming that would meet alumni needs:
Sustain the Cohort. Act as a convening body for the Fellows, and their colleagues as appropriate, through conferences, online meetings, and symposia.
Beginning with the National Guild for Community Arts Education conference in Los Angeles in November 2014, we are built Fellow-specific activities into relevant national conferences. We hosted a reunion for the Fellows in January 2016. In addition, NEC continues to seek opportunities to advocate for and promote the work of the Fellows, both as representatives of their own programs and as emerging leaders in an expanding field. Our outcomes include:
- Fellows continue to learn from and support each other.
- Regular communication helps the Fellows avoid isolation and burnout, and maintains the Fellows’ connection to each other, NEC, and to the El Sistema-inspired movement.
- Fellows continue to develop their leadership skills and gain influence on the national level.
Promote Innovation and Research. Invest in fieldwork by the Fellows that will improve programming and contribute to ongoing learning.
Modeled on our faculty professional development competitive grant program, the Resource Center offered grants to defray the costs of field research. Recipients’ findings have been incorporated into the growing body of knowledge disseminated by NEC through online media and future class curriculum. Fellows also received domestic travel assistance for the purpose of attending conferences and visiting the programs of other Fellows. Our outcomes include:
- In keeping with their role as the field’s “designated learners,” Fellows identify and investigate topics that need deeper study, thereby leading to development and documentation of advanced strategies and best practices.
- Practitioners in the El Sistema-inspired field have access to an accumulating body of research, ideas, and best practices.
Offer Professional Development. Provide ongoing learning opportunities and mentorship.
In addition to in-person opportunities, NEC experimented with distance learning focused on topics suggested by the Fellows. These ranged from specific management skills to broad conceptual topics. By subsidizing the cost of their initial membership, we also provided Fellows access to the extensive online resources of the National Guild for Community Arts Education. Our outcomes include:
- Fellows identify skill gaps and areas for further development in order to receive additional training from specialized Fellowship faculty.
- Fellows increase their capacity as leaders, and serve as mentors and advisors to colleagues in the field.
- NEC’s investment in the Fellows adds depth—in addition to breadth—to a young field, creating more varied opportunities for entry into the El Sistema-inspired ecosystem.