Grant funds Portland orchestra’s education, outreach efforts

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PORTLAND — Starting from the framework that access to fine arts can enrich the lives of young people, the Portland Symphony Orchestra is providing new and expanded educational and outreach programs for students across Maine.

“Providing world-class classical music performances for young people in Maine ensures that this valuable art form is enriching lives today and preserved for future generations,” said John Elliott, the director of education and community engagement for the orchestra.

With the school year starting up again, Elliott said he grateful for a grant from the Rines Thompson Foundation, which allowed the PSO to hire an education coordinator to expand the reach of its music education programs for kids.

“The PSO’s education and community programs have been growing at an incredible rate, nearly doubling in size in the last four years, and with the addition of new programs the need for more staff became very apparent,” Elliott said.

Using funding from the grant, he said, “we can reach more and more learners of all ages for years to come,” which is critical because “access to high quality arts experiences can have a wide variety of positive impacts (for) students.”

Elliott said the PSO used the money to create a full-time position from a previously part-time post that’s partly responsible for personnel management and partly for overseeing its education and community programs.

“This move took place just over a year ago (and it’s already had) a large impact,” he said, from the addition of new events like the PSO Explorers program and new communities reached, to programs like the long-running KinderKonzerts.

Elliott said Martin Webster, the new community programs coordinator, oversees more than 200 education and community outreach events annually, which includes hiring the PSO musicians and visiting artists that take part.

“Martin has (become) invaluable in ways that we did not predict, including providing insightful programming ideas for youth and KinderKonzerts, even spearheading a continuing collaboration between the PSO and the Portland Museum of Art,” he added.

“One of the biggest benefits off this new position,” Elliott said, “is that more students in Maine will be offered a chance to experience the PSO in their community.”

“The best example of this is from last year when our ‘America: The Musical Melting Pot’ program grew to three new venues. This growth would not have been possible without the added support this position provides.”

Elliott said when the PSO engaged in long-term strategic planning several years ago, it identified five areas of consistent need in communities across Maine, and music and arts literacy was one of the top needs.

“We have been working ever since to not only dramatically increase the scope and frequency of our education and community events, but also design our programs to have a stronger connection to the educational goals of the teachers and classrooms that we visit,” he said.

“The PSO does not (wish) to replace existing music education in any school,” according to Elliott. “Instead (we want) to support existing programs and provide teachers with great ways to integrate our performances into their classrooms.”

The Rines Thompson Fund is now accepting applications from community-based organizations that contribute to the vibrancy of Greater Portland through programs that focus on the environment and conservation, early childhood and youth programming, and arts and culture.

Awards of up to $10,000 are available; the deadline for the new round of grants is Sept. 15. Apply online through the Maine Community Foundation at www.mainecf.org.

“Growing all of our education and community programs to reach more and more people every year is not just a strategy to increase engagement with our organization, but also something that we feel is the right thing to do.” Elliott said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Martin Webster is the personnel manager and community programs coordinator for the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Bob Couture, a trombonist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, shares his love of classical music with a local youngster during a special Discovery Concert event last fall.

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