I was watching Venezuelan television the other day in my hotel room when I saw what I thought was a program devoted to FESNOJIV. I caught a glimpse of those distinctive tri-colour jackets, as made famous by the Símon Bolívar Orchestra at the Proms, and paused in my channel surfing. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with music; it was the official introduction of the U-18 Venezuelan girl’s football team, with remarks by Hugo Chavez.
I’d never thought about the jackets before except as nice patriotic touch, but seeing a national sports team wearing them too prompted a novel train of thought. I don’t know whose use of them inspired whom, but the fact that both artists and athletes wear the same makes clear the aspiration that both should be publicly valued, that both contribute to national ideals of pride and identity. The jacket is a tangible symbol that speaks strongly to the ideas of inclusion and integration.
Since arriving in Venezuela, I’ve seen many more concrete examples of the idea of integration in FESNOJIV. It’s clear the Fundacíon has gone to extraordinary lengths to create opportunities for persons of all levels of ability to participate in music-making. In the last few weeks I’ve witnessed signing (as well as singing) choirs, hearing-impaired youth playing a variety of instruments, a pianist with cerebral palsy, and multiple musicians with Down Syndrome, including one extraordinary young woman who sang and played piano, percussion and violin all at the same concert. More importantly, these musicians weren’t performing in isolation, but were actively collaborating with and complementing conventionally-abled students.
Some dispute the social value of the work of the Fundacíon, but in this area it is undeniable. I’m not a big fan of “you have to see it to believe it”, but it’s so immediately visible, what it means to disenfranchised groups to be brought into, and actively contribute to, a larger community. And for those who might subsequently suggest that the benefit of the Fundacíon ends there, I’d offer the reminder that you don’t have to be differently-abled to be disconnected. In fact, you usually aren’t .