Our 4th Annual #SingItFwd benefit concert is just around the corner. This year we are on track for another sold-out crowd with special performances from some of Canada's best bands including K-OS, Hey Ocean!, July Talk, Bear Mountain, and many more. The event is a fan favourite in Vancouver, even earning an award for being the city's Best Grassroots Fundraiser. Looking back on the past four years it seems natural to ask how we got here. It's hard to believe such a positive and meaningful event was born from the fires of frustration, but that's precisely how the story begins.
In 2011, shadows of federal cuts to the CBC, FACTOR (The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records), and the arts were looming. Conversations erupted in the music industry, among my group of friends, and in my own home about how to effect change. At the time it occurred to me that we were only addressing the symptoms of a much bigger problem for the arts in Canada: public apathy towards local music, theatre, and art has forced artists to rely heavily on government subsidies to build viable careers. When those grants are cut, the apathy remains, and artists suffer.
My wife and #SingItFwd co-founder, Ambrosia Humphrey, and I feel strongly that one of the best ways to combat this is by investing in a younger generation. Giving kids meaningful and positive experiences with local music will naturally lead to a generation that values local arts and culture -- just as someone who grew up playing or watching hockey is more likely as an adult to play hockey, go to games, or watch on TV.
In fact, they are more likely to attend soccer or football games due to their positive experience with organized sports. This means fostering a generation who cares about the arts requires starting with youth.
All-ages venues are powerful places where young people can get inspired by live music and art, but such venues are uncommon in Vancouver. We began to investigate, but this is where the frustration set in. Infiltrating the endless layers of narrow-minded bureaucracy and rusted policy was an insurmountable task. Clearly, empowering a new generation with artistic zeal is simply not at the front of people's minds when they are writing the rules and policies that affect youth arts the most.
Just as we began to feel hopeless, Ambrosia suggested we try finding somewhere else to focus our philanthropic energy. Her friend had been volunteering at Saint James Music Academy (SJMA), a grassroots non-profit providing classical music lessons, meals, and substantial after school care for kids who otherwise couldn't afford it on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Maybe we could get involved?
Little did we know that this shift in approach would have a bigger impact than anything we had personally done to date, and change our lives forever.
Blog continues below slideshow:
After checking out the school it was clear we had the chance to be a part of something really special in our own community. We met Kathy Walker, the Director and Founder of the program, and we knew immediately that we had something in common: We believe in local empowerment and social change through the power of music.
The SJMA website describes their efforts and impact perfectly:
The children find joy. They discover the deep riches of their own potential and find new self-esteem. They learn about the beauty and the necessity of collaboration with others. They improve their intellectual and other skills. They learn to overcome barriers they did not make. In a word, they become empowered for the good. Saint James Music Academy brings social transformation to the community, one child, one song at a time.
Kathy started the SJMA in her church basement in an effort to afford her kids and some friends the chance to have music lessons. The school now teaches around 200 kids throughout the week as well as providing meals, instruments, and outreach programs to over 250 kids in local schools whose music programs have been cut.
I had thrown an acoustic concert earlier in 2011 which used a live performance video series for promotion. Ambrosia and I decided we would use the same template to raise some money for the school. My band, Hey Ocean!, agreed to headline and I sent some invitations to other friends in the industry. We agreed to start small and hoped to sell a few hundred tickets with just four or five bands on the bill. We never expected the overwhelming response to our call to action.
With enthusiastic support from the Vogue Theatre, The Peak radio station, VancouverIsAwesome.com, Hootsuite, and countless volunteers, we sold out with over 1,200 tickets for our first show featuring 13 artists.
Now in our fourth year, we have worked with 30 bands including Juno award winners and nominees including The Sheepdogs, K-OS, Dan Mangan, Mother Mother, Shad, July Talk, Yukon Blonde, Hannah Georgas, and so many more. Most of these artists collaborate with the kids for our concert and videos, providing mentorship and inspiration.
With this year's event we estimate that we will have raised almost $150,000 for the school. To put that in perspective, a month of lessons for one student is $50: that's close to 3,000 months of music lessons.
I used to be obsessed with the obstacles in the way of change. For me, that meant the policy and politics obscuring the potential for us to connect with the arts. But Saint James Music Academy has taught me that sometimes the best way to help the many is to simply reach out your hands to those around you.
My involvement in #SingItFwd has proven to me that collaboration can ignite change from within our social groups, our communities, our cities, and even our country, inevitably affecting the policies that support the arts and culture in Canada.
I hope that #SingItFwd gives others a chance to experience the power of music to change lives and the power of people to affect change -- and to pass it on.
The 4th Annual #SingItFwd is this Thursday, Jan. 8 at the Vogue Theatre. Tickets are available through NorthernTickets.com, Zulu Records, and Red Cat Records.
You can watch all our videos at singitfwd.com.
For more info on the Saint James Music Academy: sjma.ca.