Music in Medellin: Citizenship, Social Development, and Urban Renewal

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Music

Abstract

The field of "social action through music" (SATM), a term popularised by Venezuela's youth orchestra program El Sistema, currently faces two problems: a paucity of rigorous research, and a disconnect between that research and the practice and policy spheres. My proposed project is intended not just to augment that research base but also to inform, and ultimately impact on, practitioners and policy makers. Focusing on Medellin, Colombia, it will explore how musical practices shape and are shaped by conceptions of citizenship, which is central to SATM, and consider the impact of music education programs on social development and urban renewal. It will entail a year of ethnographic fieldwork, and build on my previous research on El Sistema, music education and citizenship, music and the city, hip hop, and cultural policy.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Medellin was considered the murder capital of the world. In 1997, aiming to reverse the city's fortunes, the city government adopted a strategic development plan labelled "social urbanism" for its emphasis on education, culture, and citizenship. A key initiative was the creation of a network of 27 music schools in poorer neighbourhoods. An important hip hop scene also arose around this time, and gave rise to a number of educational projects. The result is a city with a remarkable concentration of music education activity, particularly on the urban margins, in which issues of citizenship and social development play a prominent role.

My project will take a comparative, relational approach, exploring the different managerial regimes that organise musical activity in Medellin and focusing in particular on (1) the Network of Music Schools (predominantly classical music); (2) Cultura y Libertad (hip hop schools); and (3) Canto Alegre (Colombian popular music).

My primary research questions are:

1. How is citizenship conceptualised in different institutional contexts and musical genres? And how do conceptions of citizenship relate to actual practices of music making and learning?

My initial hypothesis is that the Network imagines the personally responsible citizen, whereas Cultura y Libertad focuses on the justice-oriented citizen (Westheimer & Kahne, "What kind of citizen?"). Canto Alegre is chosen because, in contrast, it targets the upper-middle class, from which the city's future leaders are likely to come, and thus approaches the questions of citizenship and social development very differently. I will focus primarily on education, but also consider music making and listening more broadly as potentially fostering "intimate citizenship" (Stokes, The Republic of Love).

2. In what ways does music education serve as a form of social development?

Heightened publicity surrounding El Sistema has led to an upsurge of interest in the potential of music education to ameliorate a range of problems in disadvantaged sectors of society. Youth orchestras, in particular, have been a central focus, because of the presumed benefits that they bring in terms of teamwork, discipline, solidarity, and inclusion. However, my book El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela's Youth (OUP, 2014) revealed that such benefits were neither fully conceptualised nor (in many cases) realised in the Venezuelan context. Further research on the theory and practice of SATM in other contexts is thus a high priority.

3. What roles have music policies played in processes of urban renewal?

Music education plays a prominent role in "social urbanism," Medellin's strategic development plan. The city government has also embraced the "creative city" paradigm as part of its urban renewal strategy, and Medellin was recently designated as a City of Music within UNESCO's Creative Cities Network. The use of music and education in the city's reimaging attracts national and international investment, yet inequality is rising. Music may therefore play ambiguous, even contradictory, roles in broader urban processes.

Planned Impact

My project is designed to inform and benefit socially oriented music programs around the world and those involved in:

a) the design, funding, and creation of SATM programs - policy-makers, governments, development banks, charities, performing arts organisations
b) the running of SATM programs - managers, teachers, other employees
c) the documentation and analysis of SATM programs - consultants, researchers, the media

The project aims at improved practice as well understanding. It is intended to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of current practices, and thereby promote the design and implementation of more effective SATM projects. Putting SATM on a firmer foundation of research will contribute to the wise investment of resources and the tailoring of programs to maximise the desired social outcomes. Such improvements will benefit not only the funders and deliverers of such programs, but also the participants and, by extension, the communities in which they live.

The project's outputs and activities will thus be aimed at a mixed audience of academic and non-academic beneficiaries. The principal topics have already demonstrated ample appeal to non-academic sectors. Two major SATM conferences in 2016, "Reframing El Sistema" (Baltimore) and "Music and Social Transformation" (Bogota), involved predominantly non-academic participants, and Medellin's social urbanism is frequently covered by the international media.

Communications and engagement with these beneficiaries will take place through two principal routes: (1) public events, and (2) mainstream and social media.

(1) The public events at which I will engage with users and beneficiaries will include:

a) The third SIMM symposium in Zurich (spring 2018)
b) The world conference of the International Society for Music Education in Baku (July 2018)
c) A two-day conference on SATM that I will organise at Senate House in London
d) A two-day conference that I will co-organise at the University of Maryland Baltimore County: "Reframing Social Action through Music"
e) A two-day conference that I will co-organise at Porto Polytechnic, Portugal (the fourth SIMM symposium)
f) An event with the National Foundation for Youth Music (UK): "SATM: Dialogues between South and North"
g) A symposium for researchers, managers, and teachers with Symphony for Life (Australia)
h) A knowledge exchange event with NEOJIBA (Brazil)
i) Collaborative events with institutions in Medellin and Bogota (Colombia), such as the Network of Music Schools, Casa Morada, and the Universidad Nacional and Universidad Distrital.

A further route to engagement will be via SIMM, an organisation based at the University of Ghent, which aims specifically to connect research, practice, and policy in this area. I am now a steering committee member and co-organiser of the second symposium (London, 2017) and the fourth (Porto, 2018). SIMM will soon be launched as a permanent, multi-institutional, international platform, providing an important public-facing outlet for my work.

(2) My research on El Sistema has been disseminated and debated in major media outlets around the globe, including the BBC, several UK broadsheets, and the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. I have also served as a consultant for numerous journalists writing about this topic in several countries. This experience has left me with an international network of media contacts and a good understanding of public engagement via the media. I intend to draw on this knowledge and experience in order to publish further articles in The Guardian and other prominent media outlets, and I hope to make a radio program on SATM, drawing on a decade of work on this subject in Venezuela and Colombia.

I will also publish regularly on my two research blogs, which have received over 60,000 page views. One of these, Tocar y Pensar, is bilingual (English/Spanish), thereby targeting Latin America as well as Europe and North America.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Buenos Aires symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I organised a one-day symposium on youth orchestras in Buenos Aires.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Démos scientific committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to join the scientific committee of the French national music education program Démos. This involves an annual multi-day meeting, advising the program on their internal research processes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description Music education seminar in Xalapa, Mexico 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I gave a keynote presentation and participated in a panel and other activities at a 5-day seminar for music education students and professional music educators in Xalapa, Mexico.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Salvador visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I gave a presentation and Q&A on youth orchestras at the program NEOJIBA in Salvador, Brazil. I spent several days interacting with the program and its staff and students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Social Impact of Making Music conference in Bogotá, Colombia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I participated in and helped to organize the Social Impact of Music Making conference in Bogotá, Colombia, in July 2019. This event brought in music educators, program leaders, and researchers from across Colombia and from a number of other countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Toulouse symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I catalysed the organisation of a one-day symposium on youth orchestras at the University of Toulouse.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Visit to program in Pau, France 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I was invited to participate in and present to a working group attached to a music education project in Pau (France) called El Camino.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019