Whether remote or in person, the new school year comes with new expenses for young musicians. Lift Music Fund, launched in August, aims to help lift this burden for underrepresented musicians by awarding microgrants every month directly to student musicians. The fund is open to Black, Latinx, and Native American students aged 11-22, with the first applications due September 15.
We spoke with Executive Director and Founder Emily Mariko Eng ‘18 MM, an NEC alum and current doctoral student at the University of Georgia, to learn more.
Racial justice, socioeconomic status, and equity
“In early June, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I had a feeling of paralysis,” says Emily. “I mean, I'm a musician. What can I do? What is my role in this movement?”
Looking for an action to take, Emily found herself thinking about “how ridiculously expensive music is, and how current systems in our country disproportionately make it more difficult for Black, Latinx, and Native American families to gain access to wealth.”
“In one way or another, most people who succeed in it either come from a place of privilege, or come from a place of assistance,” says Emily.
When she turned to her network, Emily found fellow musicians who were eager to share and take action. “I did a couple of social media posts asking friends what some of the expenses were for some of the pivotal and crucial experiences they'd had. People were really responsive. Many people mentioned lessons, but there are so many other additional costs, like strings and reeds and mouthpieces and application fees. And in order to be successful, you really do need all these things.”
Nimble, simple, and longterm
Reflecting on what she heard from peers, Emily aimed to design a fund that would fill a unique niche of support for students: “I realized there wasn't any scholarship fund that gave support for these kinds of things on a consistent basis,” says Emily. “A box of reeds costs $30, and you need that box eight times a year if you're a saxophone player. A kid needs $50 to pay for a tuneup on their instrument. That might not seem like much for someone who has an amount of privilege, but it really can be a barrier for a family who is working to put food on the table.”
Lift Music Fund accepts applications on the 15th of each month and delivers microgrants of up to $250 by the end of the same month.
Emily hopes that the easy application process and quick turnaround will make the fund easy for students to use, noting, “If you need to get your instrument fixed, you need it, like, yesterday. We wanted to be able to have students apply and then not wait months to hear back, so that the money can go to use quickly.”
Lift Music Fund also aims to meet students at the beginning of their musical journey and travel with them through their undergraduate years. “Existing scholarships are often for high school juniors and seniors, but our age range starts at age 11 and goes all the way up to 22,” says Emily. “Lots of kids start an instrument in middle school band—personally, I started with cello in 5th grade—and that's their first introduction to playing an instrument.”
A community of fundraising & support
Lift Music Fund's launch campaign, running through October 7th, has so far over raised $10,000 toward the $25,000 needed to fund the program's first year.
Musicians have rallied to support the new fund through a Micro-Concerts for Microgrants fundraiser series which launched August 12 and runs through October 7. The series features online performances by professional musicians across the nation. The fundraising series features over 35 concerts, including performances from NEC alumni Rob Flax, Alyssa Wang, Ian Striedter, Nick Biagini, and Kyle Peck.
“I think musicians have felt a need to use their art to better the world, and this is giving them an outlet to do that, and in a direct way, to address the systemic racism and the injustices that are in our world right now. The response has been unreal,” says Emily.
“For many young people, music is a place where they can go to escape the negativity in their lives. We envision a world where every student has the opportunity to realize their full potential in music.
“While these grants may be small relative to many charitable gifts, they can represent the difference between a student continuing their career in music and abandoning it entirely.”