Measuring up

The week before the end of term at NEC I was working on a project for El Sistema USA, the national network, involving the creation of a mechanism for profiling start-up  el Sistema nucleos outside of Venezuela. It required a modest amount of thought to find a way to capture succinctly the data that would allow reasonable measurement or comparisons, but as part of that process I toyed briefly with attempting to understand what would constitute “the norms” of a nucleo. I couldn’t – and I doubt that anyone else could, for that matter, for the simple reason that what constitutes el Sistema exactly hasn’t been defined, least of all by the Venezuelans. As we often hear, the only “sistema” is that there is no “sistema“.

I hasten to add at this point that as far as I can tell, there is no immediate intent to define “the norms”, and rightly so. Some parameters may eventually be prescribed, but more for quantitative than qualitative purposes. The reason for this is simple: as we’ve delved further and further into el Sistema, we’ve uncovered more and more manifestations extant around the globe, each with unique features and emphases. If there is a unifying thread to the myriad incarnations, it’s that they all employ ensemble music as much for the social benefit and growth as the artistic. We’ve yet to see one genre, instrumental group or “method” claim primacy, although the western European tradition is frequently employed  – as a point of departure, or as representative of larger national cultural heritage, and not as a destination unto itself.

It’s been wonderful witnessing the proliferation of music for social change, and also appropriately and necessarily humbling.  There’s been plenty of media attention over the Abreu Fellows program, but we’re only ten people, while there are dozens, if not hundreds of individuals who have been active in the field for a year, a few years, even over a decade in some cases, people who may be better described as being “in fellowship with Jose Antonio Abreu.” It would be hubris to call ourselves “the tip of the iceberg”, as ignominious as that would be in reality, when at this moment we more closely resemble some of the water freezing around the periphery. As for the title “Abreu Fellow”, we have the privilege and burden of making it an honourable and worthy distinction, because right now it is meaningless, with its value to be determined by the merit and impact of work that is to come.

And that is my reminder – and thus my resolution – to myself for the year and years ahead.

Happy Holidays.

2 thoughts on “Measuring up

  1. How do you measure interactivity and adaptability? This is not so much about measuring how many notes get played or who plays them but how do they influence the world we live in? Granted an impact much more difficult to measure than educational statistics and requiring much more than educational specialist or cognitive scientist.
    How do you measure the social and spiritual outlook of a community? Wouldn’t the present administration like to have a handle on that as they attempt to turn around the economy?

    Are there models in Venezuela for comparing communities with or with out this level of musical connectivity? You would have to have a baseline of social outcomes that are occurring before as well as after. But which ones to observe?

    It will be so interesting to see how this new generation of Venezuelans influence both their local and national communities? Are we looking at the kind of social economic change that occurred after the Civil Rights movement matured in this country? It takes a generation to observe how a social spiritual movement impacts other factors in a society. How long can we follow the lives of individuals from a particular setting? It is most instructive to look at the aspirations and expectations of many Minority Americans who were able to participate directly in that movement as compared to that of their parents. They did things that changed the fabric and values of a country and reverberated far beyound their own lives.

  2. I think I need to clarify: the project to which I referred was to profile nucleos on an operational level only, primarily to determine program offerings and scale. Evaluation and assessment of social impact is a much larger and much more complex question, as you rightly suggest. That project is proceeding in parallel, and I may be able to report back on that later in the year.

    As for ways to measure social impact, I would refer interested parties to the following document:

    Click to access S-663_Cultural_Indicators_andBenchmarks.pdf

    It’s a broad study from the Government of Canada on how the arts can affect communities. There are a few important features: a summary of actions / research to date, the resources for further investigation, and some key areas of investigation.

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