In what may well be an international first, a private Canadian foundation has stepped up to create a nationwide granting initiative for El Sistema programs. Thanks to the generosity of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, a fund of $60,000 CAD has now been established from which grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded. This initiative, to be administered by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, is intended to catalyze the proliferation of social action through music in Canada by strategically supporting three key areas of activity that are normally extremely difficult for programs to finance: pre-startup, early years, and evaluation. The deadline for submission of proposals is January 11th, 2013.
Information concerning the application process, including eligibility criteria, is available here. Please do not contact me for assistance with an application: I have been asked to serve on the adjudication committee, and in the event of any conflict of interest will be honour-bound to recuse myself.
It’s important to recognize that this is a remarkably bold move on the part of the McConnell Foundation. In specifically targeting start-ups, and not just recently created programs but those not yet in existence, the Foundation is accepting an uncommon degree of risk. Philanthropy is naturally and reasonably risk averse: the fact that returns are social, as opposed to financial, does not diminish the expectation that they be achieved. It’s much safer to support established programs or activities that directly serve program constituents, but such an approach does little to foster geographic growth.
I cannot speak on behalf of the Foundation, but I assume they recognize that in undertaking to fund the creation of programs, they accept the higher potential that some grant recipients will eventually prove unsustainable. But this is precisely where social investment differs from financial: with social investment there can be more than one definition of success. Under the parameters established through this granting program, even if a venture falls short of sustainability, it will still have made an important, if not essential contribution to the development of a national critical mass of socio-musical activity, as well as a critical mass of knowledge on implementation challenges and how to resolve them.
It’s a long game to play, and few have the vision and patience for it. Congratulations to the McConnell Foundation and to the NAC.