With a change of tune, Snohomish County Music Project thrives

EVERETT — In the annals of struggling arts organizations, the story of the Snohomish County Music Project stands out for finding a creative solution to the perennial problem of survival.

Four years ago, the Everett Symphony Orchestra, an 80-year-old mainstay of high culture in a largely blue-collar city, had hit rough times, a victim of the economic downturn and poor financial planning.

A failed capital campaign in 2008 had forced the symphony to sell its offices and rehearsal hall, and the symphony itself shuttered in the middle of the 2009-2010 season and laid off its musicians and most of its staff.

Then two things happened. The musicians reorganized into the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra and embarked on a new season under new management. The Philharmonic remains viable today with a full concert schedule.

Meanwhile, the board of the former symphony also reorganized, turning itself into a fundamentally different type of organization. “Asking our community to support the arts for the sake of the arts wasn’t working in that community,” said Roger Pawley, president and CEO of the Snohomish County Music Project. He was also the last executive director of the symphony when it shuttered, brought in to try to revamp the business side of the orchestra.

“We turned that around and asked how we can use the power of the music to inspire people to good things in our community,” he said.

The concept that emerged is “artistic citizenship,” turning music toward serving people, especially in educational and therapeutic contexts.

The project now runs several music education programs, including The Casino Road Community Keyboard Orchestra, which provides free piano lessons to school-age children.

The organization also brings Carnegie Hall’s popular Link Up music education program into the classroom and offers after-school group lessons in the Everett and Marysville school districts.

Coupled with music education are a variety of music therapy programs: for youths who are considered at-risk or who are already in the juvenile justice system; for seniors suffering from depression, Alzheimer’s or other neurological disorders; and for veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions stemming from their military service.

Many of these programs are still in their infancy, said Karla Hawley, the project’s music therapist.

But they’re already gaining traction. The Keyboard Orchestra, which she said has worked with 50 to 60 children so far this year, combines lessons with a therapeutic approach designed to reinforce positive behaviors.

“It’s not just music therapy, also a prevention and enrichment initiative, using some of the principles and approaches of music therapy,” Hawley said.

The Snohomish County Music Project’s initiatives are largely supported by grants from a variety of government agencies and groups, including the Tulalip Tribes Charitable Fund, the Norman Archibald Charitable Foundation, the Marysville and South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary clubs, the Everett Clinic Foundation and the city of Everett’s Human Needs grant program, among many others.

The Everett mall has also donated the use of the newly renovated Everett Music Hall, a former movie theater, for recitals from the various project initiatives as well as special fundraising concerts that pair a 40-piece orchestra with a five-piece cover band playing rock and pop hits of the 1960s and ’70s.

Through it all, the project has worked to keep its costs down and identify opportunities for expanded programming and support.

To that end, Pawley is still just one of two full-time employees. The other is Vasheti Quiros, the project’s new development director.

They’re seeing a need for programs for men over 50, who are at a higher risk for depression and suicide, she said.

She said she hopes to expand the new veterans program to reach 40 to 50 people in the coming year, and is looking at partnering with other organizations, such as Edmonds Community College’s resource centers, to better reach those populations.

In addition, Quiros said, the project is trying to double the size of its children’s music clubs in the next year, to get more school districts to offer the Link Up program, and to increase participation by seniors and veterans.

“The art and the quality of the art becomes a given,” Pawley said. “But it’s now how we can use that art for the community.”

“It’s a very different social contract we have with the community right now,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Coming soon

This story is part of Snohomish County Gives, a special section highlighting the spirit of philanthropy in the county. Look for more stories on HeraldNet and the full section in the print edition of The Herald on Sunday, Aug. 31.

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