Putting Music at the Center of Global Development Conversations

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Putting Music at the Center of Global Development Conversations

Shain Shapiro, Founder and Group CEO, Sound Diplomacy; Executive Director, Center for Music Ecosystems


Why is music almost entirely absent from global development conversations, outside of staging benefit concerts?

This is one of the questions that led me to launch two organizations in recent years, Sound Diplomacy and the Center for Music Ecosystems. I realized that in the key conversations that drive development decisions across the world, there is little understanding of the value of the music ecosystem and what it can bring to human development.

Sound Diplomacy, an economic consultancy, was created in 2013 to address one segment of this challenge: specifically, how to help municipalities understand and leverage the economic value of music resources.  Our role is to provide data to those who need it, and to show how investing in music, in all its forms and functions, can create jobs, wealth, and economic benefit.  We partner with specific city governments on music policy case studies that encourage cities to better leverage their music economies, and that guide municipal decision-making to include the true value of supporting the creative sector. We also foster connections between cities pursuing this work, through our Music Cities Community and related events.

While there are many factors involved in determining the economic benefit that music can bring to a community, they can be distilled to a reliable few that can be applied universally. For us, the first step is usually a cost/benefit analysis. This is a calculation about how a given music resource, be it a new live music amphitheater, a free instrumental instruction program, or a reform of intellectual property law that benefits performing artists and creators—or, indeed, a whole ecosystem of music resources—can eventually generate savings or even income for a municipality, through its positive, long-term ripple effects in the community over time.

Many cities, particularly in North America and Europe, have an ordinance or bylaw where an average of 1% of the general fund is to be devoted to public art. Or a percentage of hotel occupancy tax is allocated to art or culture. I believe there should be a similar ordinance for music, with the proviso that it’s the community who determines what music resources that money should be spent on.

The Center for Music Ecosystems, founded last year, is about much more than economics. It is about the entire music ecosystem and its impact on our health, education, and quality of life—and how it can be leveraged if we understand it better.

Those who set global rules about what we invest in, and how we measure value, need a wider and deeper recognition of music’s value. In fact, we need a global language for music ecosystems that is aligned with the global language of development and sustainability. Through the Center for Music Ecosystems and similar initiatives, we hope to contribute to the creation and spread of this language.

In March 2021, the Center released an expansive report titled Your Guide to Music and the SDGs, which links music in all its forms and functions to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations. These goals are used as a framework for policy decisions and development strategies by governments, NGOs, financial institutions, and corporate entities across the world. The Guide shows how intentional, deliberate investment in music can contribute to the achievement of a broad range of SDGs, including education, health, economic prosperity, and environmental progress.

One chapter of the Guide describes the 17 SDGs in clear, accessible language, and suggests the positive roles music can play in relation to each one. Another chapter proposes ten key actions any government or organization can take, to use music in the service of fulfilling its commitment to the SDGs.

Programs dedicated to music education will find the Guide deeply resonant with their core assumptions about the wide range of benefits music education can bring to people and communities. Such programs may find that the Guide provides clarity and distinctive language that can help them articulate their social contributions in terms of a universally valued framework for positive change.


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