Community MusicWorks founder receives $500K to support music programs

Updated at 11:20 a.m.

PROVIDENCE – Sebastian Ruth, founder and artistic director of Providence-based music nonprofit Community MusicWorks, will be receiving a very significant monetary gift to support his music programs.

Ruth is one of three leaders of music organizations from around the country who received an inaugural $500,000 Accelerator Award from the Lewis Prize for Music – the largest prize given by the organization – announced by the nonprofit Tuesday.

“This is really a prize for the whole organization,” Ruth told PBN Tuesday. “There are amazing colleagues who have been with the organization for five, 10, 15 and also 20 years. This is an award for all of them and not just me. It’s an exciting moment for the organization. … and I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

The Lewis Prize for Music, according to the organization’s website, partners with leaders who invests in young people through music and creates positive change in the process. The Accelerator Award, the website states, provides multiyear support to allow organizations and its leaders to make “sustained progress toward ambitious community change initiatives” aligning with the organization’s values and vision.

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In a video posted on the Lewis Prize’s Facebook page, Lewis Prize Founder and Chairman Daniel R. Lewis said he met Ruth at a restaurant for lunch and the reason Ruth chose that particular restaurant was because classical pianist Emanuel Ax performed there as part of what Community MusicWorks wanted to do in the community.

“It reflects on how integral Sebastian [Ruth] wants to be in the community and how unpretentious it ought to be,” Lewis said. “It’s that kind of creativity and sensibility that makes him and them [Community MusicWorks] remarkable.”

Ruth founded Community MusicWorks in 1997 and believes music plays a “pivotal role” in forming a strong community that gives area youth, their families and professional musicians “a base of strength from which to imagine new possibilities.”

Among the programs Community MusicWorks offers are a free Youth Music Program that serves children ages 6 to 18 with “individual group instrument lessons, composition and improvisation classes, a teen leadership program, and a long-term chamber music residency, the bio reads.

Ruth said the funds will be allocated across the organization over the course of three to four years, benefiting multiple aspects. One, Ruth said, is helping Community MusicWorks connect with similar organizations across the eastern part of the United States.

Ruth said the other aspect will be creating a fellowship for the organization’s alumni, allowing former students to participate in training opportunities to become teachers and leaders at Community MusicWorks.

“We’re looking at the next generation of young people coming in as professionals,” Ruth said.

Nine total music leaders received monetary awards from the Lewis Prize for Music, with the grants ranging from $25,000 to $500,000.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at

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