At the end of the morning discussion about the power of celebrities in support of causes they care about on day two of the conference, we got a beautiful surprise: the high, sweet, and brilliant tones of Robert Vijay Gupta’s violin reverberating throughout the ballroom. When he concluded his piece as part of the conference’s “random acts of culture,” he spoke from his heart about his work as an artist not just in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but on Skid Row when he teaches and plays music with people there. He spoke eloquently about the power of music reaching through the walls of mental illness or substance abuse to tap into the humanity of the person who was listening to his work and the way these experiences changed him as a musician.
Later, I spoke with both Ruth Eliel and Janice Pober, two grantmakers at the conference who love to sing but, like many people, feel embarrassed at their less-than-perfect pitch. They nonetheless bravely participated in the “It’s a Sing Thing” vocal music workshop and described it as a transcendent
experience. Practicing and being coached along by the amazing vocalist Karen Hogle-Brown, Janice and Ruth soon felt their fears melt away as they breathed and crooned in rhythm with everyone else in the room.
Soon thereafter, Leslie Ito and I attended a two-minute accordion concert in the Machine Project’s “Studio 3.” As I closed my eyes and let the gorgeous, full-toned minimalist sound drench the room, I almost forgot where I was. These experiences and observations remind me just how powerful and necessary music is for everyone—from wealthy patrons in a concert hall, to homeless people in
need of some kind of sanctuary, to foundation staff during a busy conference day.
The way musicians can serve others as facilitators of change is a great parallel to think about given our work in philanthropy. In a way, what artists like this do for and with us parallels what we want to do in the world through our work. They can coach us to lift our voice, to practice and struggle to improve our skills, to work with others and harmonize—a rich metaphor for the kind of social change we all envision in the world. The inclusion of such an eclectic and proactive series of experiential arts opportunities has made this year’s gathering really memorable and meaningful to many of us at the conference.
Josephine Ramirez is the arts program director at The James Irvine Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.