Chicago College of Performing Arts

The Center for Arts Leadership is a newly launched center for empowering students and alumni of the Chicago College of Performing Arts through experiential learning and growth opportunities in community engagement, social justice and career development.

A Welcome Back Letter and Announcements

Dear CAL friends,

Welcome back to another year at CCPA! If you’re like me, there are few changes as stark as the perennial beginning-of-year rush. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with scheduling lessons, rehearsals, and coachings. You probably have a mountain of fresh syllabi, each of which detailing exactly why your life (and the global economy) will fall apart if you arrive late to class.

The 1618 Defenestration of Prague was a notable ignition for the 30 Years’ War. It is also a good image to represent what the first day of fall term feels like.

This begins the second (!) full year of the Center for Arts Leadership, driven by our valiant director, Allegra Montanari. The CAL is still growing and we, of course, are eager for your involvement and insight.

Here in the CAL, we build relationships between CCPA performers and diverse Chicago communities. Since starting here, I’ve witnessed the role the CAL plays in helping students find extra performance opportunities, but I’ve also seen the way this transforms how students see themselves and their artistic abilities. Most musicians are aware of artistic outreach in principle but showing up for an audience drives a real understanding of the scope of human need for music–beyond concert halls and conservatory classrooms. At least it did for me.

Last year I took a course which, in collaboration with the CAL, required groups of students to design and implement a program for one of the CAL’s community partners. I had the privilege of performing for the residents of Town Hall Apartments at Center on Halsted, a senior home within one of the most robust centers for LGBTQ advocacy in the Midwest. The residents listened to our modest freshman program with passionate, creative intensity, an audience unlike any group of people I had played for prior to that night. They were great artists, craving the same emotional intensity from humble music that we hoped to create. I don’t think anybody in my group emerged from that performance as the same musician they were before.

So here we are, ready to go for another year at CCPA. We devoted the summer to preparing for this season of perpetual change. Questions like “How can we help raise student awareness of our community partners?”, “What is the best way to engage and support CCPA alumni?” and “How can we involve all CCPA students in the CAL, even though we’re closer to the locus of activities of the music conservatory?” inspired serious debate and reflection (and great fodder for future blog posts).

Our 2019-20 community partners emerged from this dialogue. Researching dozens of community centers and meeting spaces in Chicago, we wrestled with ideas like accessibility and equity—terms that we advocate in this office. And these terms are two-way streets. What do we do when we find a partner that would hugely benefit from a continuous artistic partnership with CCPA, but would present an unreasonable financial burden or time commitment for students to reach them for even one performance? What if an institution is reasonably located and willing to sustain a long-term partnership, but it represents a community that already has adequate access to the arts? What do we do if we feel we’ve found a perfect fit with another institution that is comprised of people that are not interested in hosting student performers?

Gradually, our list dwindled down to a few remaining institutions. What followed were countless meetings, follow-up emails, and site visits. This process was long as it was comprehensive, but it assured us that our community partners (and their constituent members) for the upcoming year also want to cultivate meaningful artistic and interpersonal connections between CCPA students. This process also gave us confidence that we can hold up our end of the bargain, that the things these partners need from us are things that we can feasibly give. We are always looking to avoid the sort of community involvement which Allegra fondly calls “drive-by Beethoven”, a self-aggrandizing gesture at outreach that doesn’t consider audience interest or the feasibility lasting impact. Thus, we do not take our partners, nor this process, for granted for a single moment.

This brings us to our current community partners. For this upcoming year, we are thrilled to announce new partnerships with The People’s Music School and the Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch (more information coming soon!). We are equally enthusiastic to continue our partnership with Peter Mulvey Place and Center on Halsted senior programs. These venues will be working closely with freshman music seminar ARTL-101 students as well as the string chamber program.

If you are not enrolled in these courses, please know that you can still engage with our community partners! If you have any interest in community engagement with the CAL, please full out our community engagement interest form. Our hope is that every student is empowered to participate in civic life in their time at CCPA, and we are here to help you find your way.

As a parting note, I will add that words like “accessibility” and “equity” can’t do anything on their own. They are only imbued with meaning insofar that we can imagine or perceive. In other words, these terms have no value until somebody decides to make them mean something. Likewise, social justice is a dialogue with the world, just as a performance is a conversation between composer, performer, and audience. There’s a lot of speculation enshrouding the role of artists in civic life, but we can’t work in a world of pure conjecture.

I feel like a Twitter philosopher now. Socrates, what is praxis?

Still, our goal is never to eliminate the role that questions play in social justice dialectics. It is impossible to grow from a place of strength, and dialogue is one of the best ways to challenge what you know and why you know it. The CAL has so much to learn from you—wherever you may be in your time here at CCPA. As much as we hope to help you along your paths, your connection to CCPA and this office will be immense, meaningful, and important.


Until next time,


amontanari • August 27, 2019

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