To Our AYA Friends and Family-
We hope you all are well and finding what you need to both show up meaningfully and care for yourself during this time. The murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and George Floyd- the latest in the history of police brutality and killing of Black Americans- along with the recent uprisings have added to the long history of resistance fought by Black communities, organizers, activists, artists and others who have been fighting this fight long before the latest headlines.
What this means for us…
When we began our most recent season of Aspiring Young Artists in January, we spent time reflecting on the following quote from “Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues,” by education researcher and activist Monique Morris:
“Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, and others who would later weave their blueprints into rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country, and funk understood that their freedom could be accessed through their wails, moans, and dances. Millions of people consume the blues for entertainment without acknowledging its most important contributions to the freedom struggle: a platform for truth telling, a form of resistance, and thus a pathway to healing and learning.”
We are an arts organization. To be more specific, we are a music organization. But, before either of those things, we are a community of artists committed to supporting each other and the next generation of Philadelphia music. As such, we have no choice but to be an organization grounded in principles of equity, freedom, resistance, and racial and social justice. We owe this to our students- whose identities often lie at the intersections of American oppression based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. We owe this to our staff, for whom the same is often true. And we owe this to the legacy of Black artists, especially Black LGBTQI artists, who created the blueprints for the music we love today, without ever receiving the credit they deserve.
We do not believe that our work as music educators will bring the changes we need to see by itself. However, we do believe that in a nation that stifles Black joy, creativity, and freedom at every turn, our work does occupy some place in the resistance- in the struggle for freedom, for healing, and for change.
With the present reality of COVID-19 and significant cuts to Philadelphia’s Arts and Culture budget, combined with internal staffing changes and transitions, it is hard for us to predict what exactly AYA will look like in the near future. However, we know that for as long as we are functioning, we will continue to work to amplify the stories, skills, and voices of young Black and Brown artists, queer artists, low-income income artists, and artists at the intersections of these identities. We will continue to build a community of mentors that reflects these identities while ensuring they are properly compensated for their own time and expertise. And we will continue to ensure that our leadership is equally reflective of both these identities and our values as an organization.
If you are in a position to support, here are some actions we are taking and encourage you to join us in:
- Donate to a local black-led grassroots organization :: we recommend the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, Philly REAL Justice, or the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund
- Contact Philadelphia and Pennsylvania State Representatives and advocate for proper funding of both schools and community organizations :: specifically- you can demand increased and equitable state funding for education, an end to the 10 year tax abatement, increased payments from mega-non-profits, or a decrease in the police budget to ensure our children are safe and healthy in their schools and at home
- Purchase art and merchandise from local Black and Brown artists – performing artists especially have been hit hard by COVID and will greatly benefit from your support. If you’d like some suggestions, let us know.
With love as we fight for a better world.