Sististically speaking

The following is a commentary on the article published in the current edition of La Scena. For the article itself, click on the image above.
In my public speaking engagements, I make a recurring theme of “different vocabularies for different constituents.” It’s fairly easy for the artistic community to default to emotive terms when describing el Sistema – after all, it’s a fairly emotional kind of idea – but that language doesn’t sit well with many politicians, policy makers or funders who need more than “When you see the kids play you’ll cry” to satisfy their need to demonstrate accountability. (See this previous blog posting for related musings.)

There’s nothing wrong with inspiring people first: this is how Sistema manifested in the public consciousness, through outstanding musical performances – but it’s essential to offer more than just heartfelt statements and big smiles, or spin some “down-home” wisdom. Effective advocacy requires the ability to speak in economic terms, describe concrete social impact, enumerate cognitive benefits and preserve the intrinsic arguments for music… simple, right? Each one of these areas of thought is important and valuable, but presented in isolation they are at best inadequate, at worst damaging to the larger cause. The inherent risk in the current La Scena Article in talking about the Inter American Development Bank report and the statistics therein is that it appears the argument in favour of Sistema can be framed in only one way, when nothing could be further from the truth. The implications for advocacy when talking about Sistema are nothing short of astounding. They are rich and multifaceted, and offer entirely new avenues for supporting and promoting the study of music beyond those we already acknowledge.

Which is essentially why, after presenting the concrete facts in the article, I chose to “re-humanize” the numbers. It’s tempting to characterize all advocacy as a “war”, replete with skirmishes and battles, but in the case of Venezuela the analogy might be unfortunately even more accurate, given the human casualties in the conflict.  The difference between soldiers in an army and Fesnojiv personnel is that the latter can leave the front any time they wish. The fact that they don’t, even when taking physical and non-metaphorical bullets, is an argument for Sistema all in itself.

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