Last week I got to chat with some staff members from Hopewell Music Cooperative-North, a non-profit organization in North Minneapolis who are making music education more accessible in its community.
After reading up about this passionate group, and hearing about their benefit concert (which features Doomtree member Sims), I immediately wanted to arrange a time to chat. Lucky for me, they invited me over to the Webster neighborhood to see the school and hear about their ongoing mission work.
Over the course of an hour, we discussed how they started, how they’ve grown, and their recent collaboration with artists to create an ongoing concert series (with the help of some friends over at Fine Line and First Ave).
Most of us grew up with access to music in school, whether in choir, band, theatre or even the dreaded year of 4th-grade recorder. But for many schools, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, music programs were the first to go after the recession hit.
Raise your hand if you love music! Senator Bobby Joe Champion poses for a photo with Hopewell students after their performance in a student recital
Hopewell was created to inspire students from North Minneapolis to discover, grow, and express themselves through music. The school’s founders were actually working for a for-profit music school when they decided to pursue this venture in 2012.
“With the recession, obviously everyone was struggling a bit on the Northside. People found themselves in precarious financial situations and were unable to pay for lessons,” said executive director Brianna Farah. “They actually got slapped on the wrist for giving free lessons on the side. So, they were like, ‘you know what, if that’s what we want to do, we’re going to make it a reality.’ And so, Hopewell Music.”
Hopewell’s mission is to enrich the lives of its community through accessible, affordable music education. All lessons and equipment, from instruments and sheet music to metronomes and tuners, are provided. There are sliding fees for every student depending on what they can afford. If they can’t pay anything they are still offered lessons and resources in exchange for some extra help keeping things running at the school.
Brianna started heading up Hopewell in its infancy stage in 2014. The dream back in 2012 was serving maybe 50 students. They surpassed that number within the year. Currently, Hopewell is serving nearly 500 students through individual and group lessons and ensembles, offering after-school programming at six locations and in-school programming at a charter school.
“Every year we have grown exponentially with the kids that we serve. And if that tells you anything, it tells you how much need there is for music education…as well as a place that’s welcoming and community-driven, a place they feel ownership over. The founders made a huge point to make that the foundation of the school.”
They have a waitlist, maintaining a priority for Northside students. Their impact goes beyond simple access to an instrument and affordable music lessons, as mentorship between students and teachers plays a key role. As Brianna notes, “When kids and students come to lessons, they are getting a music education, yes. But what they are also getting is an adult mentor. That relationship is really important.”
She discussed their concerns about larger schools with plenty of volunteers but a high turn over rate. Not only are the kid and adult students at Hopewell receiving a quality music education, but they also get the chance to develop a longterm mentor relationship. “If a kid is having a really rough day they might just sit there and talk. It’s not a waste of our time, it’s not a waste of the kids’ time. You know, without going through and developing that relationship, they are not going to be able to get through their learning process. You got to allow room for all of it.”
To help create space for that process, Hopewell offers training to help teachers navigate some of these relationships, especially with kids experiencing first or second-hand trauma. She discussed the many challenges the neighborhood faces, and the incredible resilience of the community, which helps each other out when a friend or family member is in a tight spot. “When somebody needs something, everyone comes to the rescue. Literally, the community and our students’ families supported Hopewell financially for the first three years.”
She joked about how all the staff made $0.50/hr that first operating year when she came on. It’s clear that there’s no way this start-up, non-profit would have survived if the community itself didn’t want Hopewell there, and that’s what makes this organization so remarkable. “If they didn’t want us here, we wouldn’t be here. I pride myself on that, I think we all do.”
I often hear about mission-based organizations entering marginalized communities with good intentions but a crippled partnership model. Before I sat down with Brianna and communications director Shelby Joy Adams, we swapped experiences working in the realm of communication and marketing for non-profit organizations. We referred to non-profits that struggle to find a healthy partnership model, impeded by the “let me fix you” or “let me do this for you” mentality.
“There are a lot of non-profits that tend to go into communities of color, high-poverty communities, saying ‘well, let me help you.’ We’re not one of those organizations,” Brianna said. “We give them access to the resources that allow them to fulfill their potential.” Shelby Joy emphatically agreed: “Yes! What Brianna is talking about is really the way we create the access and empower people to use what they learned here. It’s not just the music but those mentor relationships. Bring that elsewhere and build up your community with it, build up our community.”
When I asked about students who have brought their knowledge out into the community, she immediately listed several names. Or maybe exclaim several names is more fitting, haha, as the two were obviously brimming with excitement. Andre is one student in particular who has gone on to do incredible things.
“Andre! He is a rockstar!” Brianna beamed. “He went from being a student to doing an internship. After his internship, he wanted to become a teacher. So now he teaches… Man, he has like 30 students plus he’s an in-school aid at a school that’s been struggling to keep a music teacher, so just having a classroom aid helps support some of the infrastructure that is trying to help music education in this neighborhood.”
Hopewell has an ongoing internship program for its students who come in the summer to help design summer camps and teach them. Brianna calls them their “little youth leaders.” They also started a pre-internship program, Hopewell Ambassadors, for students who enjoy performing in the community to help raise awareness. They currently have two active teenage ambassadors, Jeffrey and Sidney.
One of the many challenges Hopewell faces is creating a business model that enables them to become more sustainable so they can lean less on contributed funds and support their paid staff. In 2017 all staff started at $8/hr., they’re currently at $15/hr., and their goal is the $25-$30 range within two years. But damn, that’s a lot of fundraising, which means that they had to think outside the box about ways to make money. The idea of a benefit concert became reality a year and a half ago.
They recently became more closely connected with Steve Hark, the previous owner of Fine Line. Serendipitously, Steve’s chef’s daughter is a student at Hopewell. They first approached him to see if they could use the Fine Line kitchen for a casual fundraiser on site. Soon after, Steve Hark joined the board alongside Jeff Horowitz, a former sales rep at Rhymesayers who now works at Street Factory Media.
Turns out Jeff is a good friend of Sims. When he pitched the idea to him, Sims was quick to jump onboard.
“So, a friend of mine sits on their board and he was like, ‘hey, we’re trying to put together a concert for the 2019 fundraising season.’ That buddy of mine reached out, gave me more information about them, and I thought it would be a great thing to do,” Sims said.
Hopewell also added Dayna Frank, the CEO of First Avenue and 7th St Entry, onto their board recently as well. This most recent benefit concert was the first to utilize First Ave staff and resources. And, from what I hear, it won’t be the last.
“All of First Ave, they’ve been incredible! This has been our first experience working with them. They put a big team behind it and really put in some extra hours…You know, Minneapolis as a whole, we have an incredible scene going on and a lot of amazing, talented people and musicians who love to give back. We’re just really excited about it!”
They dropped hints that they would love to connect with local artists like Lizzo or DJ and producer Megan Hamilton. They talked to Megan about also helping put together some production classes for the students.
“I mean there are a lot of amazing organizations out there and if we can learn to collaborate in a more effective way. That’s another big mission of mine looking into the future, is really figuring out how to build this music community. To build bridges between us, so we grow. And, we grow stronger together,” said Brianna, “We’re all doing amazing things, we all have this little niche. We’re all still here, how can we support each other?”
To learn more about what you can do to lend your support, visit www.hopewellmusic.com. To see Sims’ visit to the school, check out the video below.
Sims took a trip to Hopewell Music Cooperative-North to pay a visit to students before he headlines their benefit concert on December 1st! Proceeds will continue to help provide musical instruments and lessons to people of all age ???? https://bit.ly/2D5MTJA
Posted by Shredders on Monday, October 29, 2018
“I just loved the community that came out and the energy in the room… I mean it’s just a really natural thing with an organization that’s really easy to believe in, to get behind. That’s why we decided to do the show. We believe in Hopewell and we’re excited to lend as much support as we can,” Sims said.
The school itself may be small, but Hopewell’s impact, reach, and passion is anything but. With all of these new additions to their board, new live music fundraisers, and an ever-growing chain of collaborations, the bigger, brighter future of this community-driven non-profit seems bright.