Planning for Our Future Building: Intersections of Mission and a New Set of Challenges

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Planning for Our Future Building: Intersections of Mission and a New Set of Challenges

Sebastian Ruth, Founder/Director, Community MusicWorks


Sebastian Ruth and Capital Campaign Committee Co-Chair Doris De Los Santos at launch event. Photo: Erin X. Smithers.

Community MusicWorks celebrated its 25th season this year. An important, and unusual, part of the celebration was a ceremony launching our project to build a new center for music performance, education, and community-building.

The ceremony was a milestone in a long and iterative journey of planning for this facility, envisioning what it could become, and raising money from individuals, foundations, and government that would become the base on which to launch the public campaign.

CMW student Jannessa at launch event. Photo: Erin X. Smithers.

At the celebration event, the crowd heard remarks from a diverse group of elected officials, most of whom were from the Black and Latinx communities in the West End of Providence, where CMW has worked for 25 years. They each expressed enthusiasm for CMW’s ambitions—as one state representative said, arts and cultural organizations that build significant structures have typically located them in affluent and predominantly white parts of the city, and this is a change from that pattern.

One of the CMW parents, who is a co-chair of the capital campaign, spoke about the milestone moment in a decade-long series of conversations about CMW finding adequate space for its programs. A student talked about how the next generation of students will have space to see friends, practice, and make music as often as they like.

The celebration and cheer were well warranted. But the deeper and more challenging effort of this project has been one of bridging—bridging our organizational values with the structures of fundraising and the construction industry. Working with young people and families to articulate an ambition for the future space was, in some sense, the easy part. Continuing to ensure that the building and fundraising processes remain accountable to the very community we are looking to serve—that is proving much more difficult.

A first step in this direction has been to include young people, alumni, and their families on the capital campaign committees, on the building committee, and in planning conversations. Of course, membership on a committee isn’t an automatic successful solution. Current and former parents did, in fact, become central leaders in the capital campaign. But our alumni members on the building committee weren’t able to sustain their commitment. And several times during the process, we’ve looked at the composition of the architecture and building planning groups, including consultants, staff, and volunteers—and seen that those groups don’t racially or ethnically represent the communities we serve.

CMW charette. Photo: Sebastian Ruth.

As a correction, we planned a charrette—a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project work collaboratively together—for all students and families to engage with the architects so that the process wouldn’t get too far ahead without students and families weighing in, expressing preferences and priorities, and guiding the evolution of the project.

For me, as a white leader, it’s especially important to be constantly asking what perspectives I’m not able to bring and how I can facilitate the involvement of others whose identities are closely tied to the histories of our community. We’re continually asking: Who’s in the room? Who’s making the decisions? What perspectives are missing?

The process of actualizing our ambitions in a way that’s consistent with our values of racial equity and power analysis requires constant interface with the structures that exist in our society, many of which are deeply exclusionary. The way we go about building this Center has to reflect our ambition for the evolution of the organization toward ever-increasing responsiveness to, and governance by, people in the community of CMW. This process is every bit as important as the finished result.


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