Building Community on the South Shore through Art
Eleven years ago, the South Shore Conservatory (SSC) hosted the Duxbury Music Festival as a one-off event aimed at strengthening the organization’s relationship with the community in the vicinity of its beautiful satellite campus.
“There was a sense that we weren't as engaged, or that people within the community weren't as aware of the conservatory as we wanted,” recalls Kathy Czerny, SSC president. “So we decided to start a chamber music festival, and at first, it really was just going to be a one-year activity, and we engaged a number of volunteers the first year.”
SSC was so pleased with the community’s response to the festival that it has continued ever since, growing into a unique two-week annual event that is both teaching venue and performance venue. The festival draws faculty, students and adult professionals from around the globe to Duxbury, a seaside town 35 miles south of Boston. More importantly, the festival is now nearly totally driven by community members, including more than 150 volunteers, who take enormous pride in helping to stage what has become the most anticipated event of the summer in and around Duxbury.
Czerny loves seeing residents take ownership of the festival. “It’s something that they can participate in on a variety of different levels,” she says. “They can fix a meal for someone or they can house a faculty member or they can come to a free concert in the tent on the lawn and bring their families and their picnics. There's a little something for everyone within this festival that brings this pride in their community. It really is a true community activity and it's all focused on people engaging in the arts.”
The festival is just one embodiment of SSC’s mission to provide “access to exceptional arts education and performance for the South Shore community, fostering creativity, artistic growth, and well-being for individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.” Founded in 1970, SSC is the largest community school for the arts in the Commonwealth―and the largest arts organization on the South Shore―offering a full array of education and community-oriented programming across a range of creative disciplines, from dance, music, and drama classes to creative arts therapies. The conservatory makes the arts accessible through a number of partnerships with organizations and institutions throughout the region, such as that with the Brockton Public Schools, a cash-strapped district where about 650 students annually receive arts education through SSC. Additionally, more than 300 conservatory students receive tuition assistance based on financial need.
Czerny says SSC’s commitment to making the arts accessible to everyone, particularly those facing financial, physical, or geographic barriers to arts programming and education, stems from its belief in the transformative, life-changing power of the arts.
“It's critical for people to be able to have access to the arts, and it's not always something that gets funded,” she says. “That’s also why I'm a huge advocate for the arts in our community, in terms of making sure that people really understand that this is a necessity. It's not something that’s ‘nice to have,’ which I think is how people sometimes view it: ‘Oh, the arts, isn’t that sweet?’ It's a real necessity for people, and that's the role that we fill on the South Shore.”
SSC is a member of MASSCreative and has been active in the organization’s advocacy campaigns to preserve funding for the arts in the statewide budget. SSC’s involvement with MASSCreative has helped the conservatory strengthen relationships in the communities it serves says Czerny, who is a member of MASSCreative’s Leadership Council, which aims to strengthen arts advocacy outside of the State House.
“The engagement that we've been able to do with our legislators through advocacy on a variety of issues―from political campaigns to Massachusetts Cultural Council funding and Arts Matter Day―has given us an opportunity to connect with business people in our community,” she says. “It’s also been an opportunity to engage our own constituents differently―by talking with them about the importance of the arts in terms of what it means in their own lives, how it strengthens community ties, supports the local economy, and generally makes for a more desirable community in which to live.
“I’m really excited about moving that work forward here on the South Shore,” Czerny adds. And it’s going to make a big difference for the arts in general to have MASSCreative thrive and grow. It's helping all of us in the arts and cultural community.”
MASSCreative 15 Channel Center Street | Suite 103 | Boston MA 02210