On Organizational Service
Patrick Slevin, Executive and Artistic Director, Austin Soundwaves, TX
The El Sistema-inspired field is committed to ongoing dialogue, reflection, and adaptation. We regularly analyze our successes and failures, and ask questions like, “What more can we do to support our communities?” and “How can we respond to events happening in our backyards and across the nation?”
These are important, healthy questions that are worth coming back to consistently. At Austin Soundwaves, we have started to think more broadly and generally about these questions, asking ourselves, “What more can we do with what we have?” We try to generate multiple responses and ideas, especially ones that don’t necessitate new funding sources or new programs.
One of our answers was to designate one day each quarter as an organizational service day. These service days are a way for us to deepen our community impact and strengthen relationships among our students, staff, and partners. They also provide more entry points for exploring the broader aspects of our mission. This is especially important for students, part-time staff, and others who may not see the full scope of our work on a regular basis.
On organizational service days we cancel all classes, rehearsals, and meetings whenever possible. And while it may be relatively easy for a board member or salaried staff member to participate, we recognize that this isn’t the case for everyone. For hourly staff we provide a participation honorarium as well as compensation for any missed classes that would have taken place that day.
Our first service day took place on October 16 and focused on assisting our alumni to get to the polls. In the weeks leading up to this day, staff supported voter registration efforts and helped our alumni create a voting plan. This also gave us the opportunity to update our alumni database and ask graduates what they might like to see from future service days.
Establishing organizational service days was a small step that has already elevated our actions and conversations around artistic citizenship. It started by asking the simple question, “What more can we do with what we have?” I encourage you to pose this question to your students, staff, and collaborators. I’m sure you will get meaningful and unexpected responses.