The Price Tag of Independence

The Orchestra at the 2014 International Seminario
The Orchestra at the 2014 International Seminario

If you looked carefully at the images I took in Acarigua last year, you probably noticed the shirts the orchestra wore for the performance. Not the brightly hued blue, red and yellow Venezuelan flag jackets that remain the international calling-card of the ensembles of the Fundación, but white football -style jerseys emblazoned with the corporate logo of a national agricultural co-operative headquartered in Acarigua, ANCA.

Perhaps no one looked closely at the photos because this development didn’t seem to provoke any commentary, least of all among the visiting international faculty when we were there. There seemed to be a tacit understanding that a relationship of this nature was not just necessary, but perhaps even a positive development, to see industry becoming more involved with the local activities of the Fundación, even if it meant wearing corporate colours at the concert.

I can also understand why ANCA were interested in a relationship with the Acarigua núcleo. Since my first performance with the orchestra in the Araure town square during my Abreu Fellowship, the orchestra managing a barely passable rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Márquez’s Danzon No. 2, to the blazing 2014 rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the orchestra has grown by leaps and bounds technically, musically and physically. The ensemble is easily triple its 2010 size, and at least three times more competent, if competence may be so quantified… and all this in the space of four years. Graduates of the program are now part of the musician mill that is Caracas, performing in the Teresa Carreño and Caracas Youth Orchestras, touring the world. I’d say it’s amazing what high standards and clear vision can do, but it isn’t. We’ve known for a long time what drives excellence. Musical excellence is driven in Acarigua and people are noticing.

It's not a bad look...
It’s not a bad look…

I’m not criticizing ANCA’s involvement. Rather, I applaud Roberto Zambrano for doing what had to be done to support his program, and doing so with the benefit of his charges in mind. In wearing the shirts (and I wore one too) we compromised nothing artistically or pedagogically. We used part of one rehearsal to provide a mini-performance for ANCA’s leadership, and ANCA banners were visible at the performance. There’s nothing surprising here: ANCA provided substantial sponsorship funding and was legitimately entitled to a publicity benefit. ANCA seems to be a largely uncontroversial organization with no apparent direct government ties (hard to tell in Venezuela these days) and so was a sensible choice on Roberto’s part.

I’d be curious to know how the Fundación feels about this particular arrangement. My own perception of the relationship between Roberto and Caracas is one of grudging respect. Roberto has a habit of planning, executing and then seeking the support of the Fundación, a sequence that they naturally resent somewhat even as they admire his initiative and his passion, but were Roberto to ask permission rather than seek forgiveness I’m not sure he’d ever be able to proceed. Money and resources trickle down from Caracas very slowly, when they do at all, with the normal arrangement between the capital and the rest of the country the provision of faculty salaries only.

Sistema Politics are back in the news, of course, with Gustavo’s recent statement on why he tries to remain apolitical, impossible though such a task is. The emergence of a little logo on the official Sistema page, pronouncing “Pueblo Victorioso” in bold Maduro red didn’t seem to excite any attention in English speaking Sistema circles. Yes, the Fundación is becoming politicized, and for those who deplore the situation, I can offer very simple guidance. The price tag of complete political freedom for the Fundación is set at $127 Million USD per annum. Just as ANCA is entitled to some reciprocity for its largess in Acarigua, el Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela demands the same for bankrolling the Fundación nationally and internationally. The moment the Fundación can raise the money elsewhere, they’re free. The question is, even if they could, would they want to? Not so easy to answer.

I’ve never gone to Acarigua for profit. It usually costs me money, but I respect and admire what Roberto has done, all the more so because I’ve been able to witness firsthand the extraordinary growth both within the students and also the program. Roberto’s efforts at securing sponsorship are not just an attempt to fund the program, but secure some degree of independence and autonomy for it locally. Fortunately for him, the price tag of that freedom is far lower. With my international involvement in may Sistema initiatives I don’t normally help programs fundraise, but for Roberto – and for Acarigua – I will make an exception. One American dollar goes a long way in Venezuela right now, thanks to triple-digit inflation. If you can send a few his way, you know it will be put to excellent use. Message me and I’ll put you directly in touch.







2 thoughts on “The Price Tag of Independence

  1. Interesting blog Jonathan, as always. This highlights the inherent weakness of our organisation’s providing these programs – relying on others for our funding; relying on one or two other organisations, or governments to support the enterprise. You always run the risk of becoming a part of someone else’s agenda, be it political or commercial or both. All of this is phenomenally short-term thinking. The only way around this is to think long-term and to build endowment funds and alternate income sources. The Venezuelans may already be doing this with fee-for service work, and fees and royalties from the SBO and TCO etc. For the new ones in the USA, Europe and even here in Oceania, it will take much more work to secure such returns on investments. Also I think we need to try to be leaner organisations if we can as we grow – and look for economies of scale. Sistema USA needs to form. 200 seperate instances is complete rubbish, and a huge waste of economies that could be brought to bear if it were unified. Same in Europe. National and State boundaries need to be broken down. And other benefits could be realised – like uniform ethics codes, insurances, child protection standards, vetting of volunteers, teachers and tutors; the certification of teachers and training facilities etc etc. Stadards!! None of this can eventuate with the current schema. But I digress. Suffice it to say, we need to think bigger and smarter – and longer term.

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