Princeton University Library Catalog

Social Change Through Music: Supporting Arts Education Through El Sistema USA

Leung, Edward [Browse]
Senior thesis
Katz, Stanley [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
107 pages
Summary note:
In America, there is a movement towards defunding arts education, because many people do not see any practical value in the arts. Research has shown otherwise; there is a strong theoretical basis supporting music’s positive benefits on the intellectual, social, and personal development of children. Arts education is also valuable because they foster subjective, nevertheless important, qualities like aesthetic awareness, creativity, and self-expression. Music education has persisted in America despite the lack of funding and resources, but this has led to a decline of the quality of arts education. Venezuela has proposed an innovative solution: El Sistema. An intensive, after-school music program, El Sistema rests on the philosophy that music serves as a vehicle for social change. El Sistema was a solution to the dangerous streets of Venezuela; it was an opportunity for youth to chart a life of success through music, instead of a life of poverty and gang violence. Since its founding in 1975, El Sistema has affected over two million children in Venezuela, and has inspired over one thousand similar programs around the world. The model of El Sistema was implemented in the United States in 2000, and since 2014, has reached over 28,000 students in over 100 programs nationwide. What is the relationship between El Sistema USA and sustaining arts education? I argue that implementing the principles of El Sistema in the United States has two significant benefits: first, El Sistema USA is a distinctive model of supporting the arts, because of the resources that are introduced from additional partnerships and funding sources. Second, the success record of El Sistema provides the reasons for preserving arts education, which will hopefully help to counteract the current culture of defunding the arts. My research is primarily qualitative. I research the theoretical support for arts education, from scientific and philosophical standpoints. I also research the elements that define a successful music education partnership. When researching El Sistema, I explore the logistics of the programs and any evaluations that were made regarding the programs’ effectiveness and performance. I examine a case study in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s El Sistema-inspired program, CHAMPS, and I conducted an interview with Joanna Borowski, the Manager of Education & Community Engagement at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, in order to put my research of CHAMPS in the grander perspective of El Sistema USA programs and related research. The principles that govern El Sistema are frequency, accessibility, ensemble, connectivity, and social change through musical excellence. Theoretical research shows that music education has beneficial effects on cognitive skills and social development of children. Arts education also has several purposes: fostering creativity, teaching technique as a means to a larger goal, providing ways of understanding the world, providing ways for community engagement, presenting venues for self-expression, and helping students develop as individuals. I apply these theoretical evidence to empirical studies on global examples of El Sistema, as well as five El Sistema USA sites: YOLA, OrchKids, Harmony Program, Conservatory Lab Charter School, and NJSO CHAMPS. I ultimately argue that music education is crucial towards the development of a civil society.