$50 million gift to Juilliard targets racial disparities in music
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$50 million gift to Juilliard targets racial disparities in music
The Juilliard School, in New York, Oct. 4, 2016. Sam Hodgson/The New York Times.

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- For three decades, The Juilliard School has sought to bring more diversity to classical music by offering a weekend training program aimed largely at Black and Latino schoolchildren.

Now the renowned conservatory is planning a major expansion of the initiative, known as the Music Advancement Program. Juilliard announced Thursday that it had received a $50 million gift that it would use to increase enrollment in the program by 40% and to provide full scholarships to all participants.

“This will be transformational,” Damian Woetzel, Juilliard’s president, said in an interview. “It will broaden the pathway to the highest level of classical music education in such a significant way.”

The gift is from Crankstart, a foundation in California backed by venture capitalist Michael Moritz and his wife, Harriet Heyman, a writer, who are longtime supporters of the program.

Heyman, in announcing the gift, pointed to the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in American orchestras, where only about 4% of musicians are Black or Hispanic. The Music Advancement Program’s “commitment to recruiting underrepresented minorities will help bring new spirit, as well as superb young musicians, to orchestras, concert halls and theaters everywhere,” Heyman said in a statement.

Juilliard aims to expand enrollment to 100 students, up from 70. The initiative will also broaden its reach to include younger students. (It currently serves children ages 8 through 18.) And in addition to full scholarships for all students, the gift will be used to create a fund to help them buy instruments.

The program includes ear training, instrument lessons and theory classes for its students, who largely come from New York City public schools. Students can enroll for four years. The program costs $3,400 per year, although many students receive full or partial scholarships, currently funded from a variety of sources.

Although just seven Music Advancement Program students since 2010 have ended up in Juilliard’s undergraduate program, more have entered other prestigious institutions, including the Manhattan School of Music, Berklee College of Music, and New England Conservatory. And 61 of the students have gained admission to Juilliard’s prestigious precollege division.

Anthony McGill, New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinet and artistic director of the program, said the gift would allow Juilliard to reach students who might have been reluctant to apply because of financial considerations.

“We needed to make sure there were no barriers to getting more of the students we want into our program,” McGill said in an interview. “We wanted to open the doors, the pathways, to their success.”

The program was founded in 1991 as a way of providing rigorous training for promising young musicians at a time when many New York schools were cutting music-education classes. The initiative has at times faced financial difficulties. Juilliard almost suspended it in 2009, citing budget cuts and problems raising money. A group of donors, including Moritz and Heyman, eventually came to the rescue. In 2013, the couple stepped up again, giving $5 million.

The program’s expansion comes amid a broader push by artists and cultural institutions to address long-standing inequities in classical music. Weston Sprott, who helps oversee the program as dean of Juilliard’s preparatory division, said being a musician of color was too often a lonely experience, and that ensembles should better reflect the diversity of their communities.

“Oftentimes, as musicians of color, the reward that we get for our success is isolation,” Sprott, who is Black, said in an interview. “Classical music can’t be the best it can be without these young people that we’re bringing into our programs.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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