R.I. Philharmonic, Papitto Opportunity Connection ink partnership to expand diversity initiatives in music

PAWTUCKET – The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School announced Tuesday at Agnes E. Little Elementary School a major four-year partnership with Papitto Opportunity Connection in an effort to expand diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within its music education programming.

Rhode Island Philharmonic Executive Director David Beauchesne told Providence Business News Monday in an email that Papitto will provide more than $3 million over the next four years to support the philharmonic’s work to promote diversity within the music education it provides to the community. Beauchesne said both partners put diversity, equity and inclusion forward in their respective missions, and recognize that supporting equity in education is essential.

Ting Barnard, who serves on the boards of both the Papitto Opportunity Connection and the philharmonic, helped bring this partnership idea to Barbara Papitto’s attention, Beauchesne said, “and from there she helped shepherd the partnership into existence.”

“Music education positively impacts students’ academic performance, assists in developing social skills, and provides an outlet for creativity that is crucial to development,” Barnard said in a statement. “The Papitto Opportunity Connection believes this investment will make a significant impact toward ending educational disparities for children of color in Rhode Island.”

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Through the partnership with Papitto, the philharmonic hopes to achieve various goals over the next four years. Along with increasing financial aid for students to attend the music school and offer more free community concerts, the philharmonic also hopes to expand both participation in the Link Up education concerts and music literacy curricula and the Victoria’s Dream Project.

The Link Up program, the philharmonic said, has included approximately 12,000 students within 100 local elementary schools each year. It gives students a yearlong curriculum of classroom studies in music, culminating with a concert where students perform with a professional orchestra.

The Victoria’s Dream Project at Agnes Little Elementary offers students afterschool music instruction three days a week, a free string instrument and a pathway to attend the philharmonic’s music school, among other program offerings, the philharmonic said.

The philharmonic, through the partnership, will launch research study into

the effects of Link Up and Victoria’s Dream Project on participating Pawtucket School District students. Brown University’s Urban Education Policy Program Director Kenneth Wong will lead the independent four-year study to track the musical, academic, and social-emotional growth of participating students, the philharmonic said, and determine if the program helps narrow systemic achievement gaps for children of color in Rhode Island and elsewhere.

“We are excited to watch [the connection’s] investment in the [philharmonic to] make music education a reality for so many students of color who currently do not have access to the arts simply because of where they live,” Papitto said in a statement. “I encourage others to invest in similar programs that provide access to the arts so that all Rhode Island students have similar opportunities.”

Additionally, the partnership between the philharmonic and Papitto hopes to hire more guest artists and conductors, faculty and staff, and orchestra extras who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color. Currently, the philharmonic has two full-time BIPOC staffers and 1 part-timer, and part-time orchestra members who consider themselves BIPOC.

Beauchesne also said the philharmonic has increased the number of BIPOC artists hired from 20% to 50% over the last four performance seasons. Additionally, the philharmonic increased from 4.5% to 19% the number of works performed that are written by BIPOC composers, he said.

“We believe we have a long way to go to become truly representative of the communities we serve, across all parts of our mission; nevertheless, we are encouraged by our progress,” Beauchesne said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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