There are many ways we artists can become advocates, whether it be for the arts or other causes. It is imperative to be more than just an advocate for one's self. This essay is primarily addressed to young classical artists who are starting their adventures. However, even if you are not an artist, please read on.
An opera singer or soloist can become very myopic and self-involved, losing perspective of a larger community. In the early 90's when I realized this I started using my voice and connections to start an annual gala fund-raiser for The Alexian Brothers Bonaventure House, a Chicago residence for people with AIDS.
A young, talented pianist I know became part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Just last Christmas I wrangled a few students to help me visit (and sing to) hospital patients through the Holiday Project in Houston. The list goes on.
Below I summarize, with help from their websites, a few amazing feats of advocacy and charity in the classical music world. I particularly highlight these three because the founders were not considered famous at the time that they started these ventures, yet they persevered. Just think of what else can be achieved with a vision and a little elbow grease.
Classical Action and Charles Hamlen
Over thirty years ago Charles Hamlen started Hamlen Management which ultimately became IMG Artists. For the past 3 years he has served as chairman at IMG after having left the management business 16 years ago to start Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, a not-for-profit organization which raises funds for AIDS services through the generosity of the performing arts community. Classical Action is a fund-raising arm of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He writes:
Classical Action, like most ventures, started as a concept, in response to a question.
The question, posed to me in the early 1990's, was "Why isn't the classical music performing arts community more engaged in the fight against AIDS?" In the 16 years since Classical Action opened its fundraising doors, we have raised more than $8 million. This response certainly bears out the concept, as witnessed by the inspiring generosity of so many lovers of the arts, performing artists, managers, recording companies, administrators, and other professionals in the performing arts field who care deeply about helping those who have been impacted by the AIDS epidemic.
Sing for Hope: opera singers Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus
These close friends from Juilliard, established Sing for Hope in 1995 as a resource for New York artists who want to use their art for charitable outreach through a non-profit organization. They had a desire to lift their voices for social change, Sing for Hope is a non-profit organization that mobilizes professional artists - from classical musicians to photographers to Broadway performers - in volunteer service programs that benefit schools, hospitals, and communities. Each Sing for Hope program is defined by the needs of the community, the service of professional artists, and our belief in the transformative power of the arts.
They have three primary areas:
Art U! introduces under-resourced students to the arts, and to art as a tool for positive social change.
Healing Arts brings live performance to patients and care-givers in health care facilities.
Community Arts enhances access to the arts and provides support for events that benefit charitable causes.
The Rachel Elizabeth Barton (REB) Foundation: violinist Rachel Barton Fine
Rachel, the founder and internationally-known violinist from the Chicago area has managed to master not only classical music, but also rock music, and is a tireless advocate for arts outreach. In 2001 she founded REB with funds she received as part of a settlement from an accident in which, as a teenager, she was dragged 366 feet by a commuter train before being pulled underneath and run over, severing one leg and severely mangling the other. The goal is to expand awareness of and appreciation for classical music. It provides services and funding for classical music education, research, performances, and artists, to benefit listeners and learners alike. Current projects include an instrument loan program, grants for education and career, and creation of a supplemental curriculum of music for strings by composers of African descent.