How Chorus America Centered ADEI in Our New Grant Program

by Alysia Lee and Diana Sáez

It’s no secret that these have been difficult times for choruses and choral music educators lately. It’s why, as board members of Chorus America, we are delighted to share some wonderful news – the launch of Chorus America’s Music Education Partnership Grants. This new funding partnership will be awarding over $900,000 this grants cycle to support collaborations between community organizations and elementary, middle, or junior high schools during the 2022-23 school year.

This is Chorus America’s first endeavor into grant-making and the team at Chorus America is committed to making sure this is done in a way that upholds our organization’s values and the principles of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion. To that end, Chorus America engaged a group of 12 Community Advisors to guide the team in co-developing the grant guidelines for this new funding opportunity.

Community Advisors brought a wealth of expertise and diverse lived experiences to this work and shared their personal perspectives as classroom educators, touring artists, conductors, grant-makers, researchers, and arts administrators. Representing regions across the US and British Columbia, Community Advisors have expertise in a diversity of musical traditions and deep understanding of music education access. More information, including a full roster of Advisors can be found here.

ADEI & Music Education Consultant Christina Alexander and Chorus America staff met with Community Advisors in a series of small-group conversations to understand community needs, project priorities, and barriers to accessing funding. The new grants program was shaped by these conversations and refined through a multi-stage draft process. Co-creating these guidelines with staff was critical, as they will ultimately influence how we distribute funding and support choral music education access.

This means that this grant program may be different from other funding opportunities choruses may have applied for in the past. We’re delighted to share outcomes of this work:

  • An inclusive approach to program eligibility. Community advisors brought attention to the need for an inclusive definition of choral singing – one that includes traditions and styles outside of North and Western Europe.Not all communities include many organizations with a formal nonprofit structure, and in those cases, it’s important to provide opportunities for schools to directly apply for funding.

  • Streamlined application requirements and opportunities for relationship-building. Grant-writing can be incredibly tedious and time-consuming, and often the return on that investment there is simply not there. To address this issue, the new grant program will only require answering 5 narrative questions – which may be submitted either in written or audio format – that focus primarily on community relationships and opportunities for cross-cultural learning. No attachments (other than documentation of nonprofit status) will be required. Finalists will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual learning session with panelists so Chorus America can better understand how to support applicants during the grant term.

  • Commitment to transparency. An equitable grant-making program is one in which applicants understand the when, the how, and the who behind the application process. Chorus America will share scores and anonymized feedback on all projects and will provide updates to applicants throughout the grants cycle. All decision-making tools, such as scoring rubrics, will be published in advance of the grants cycle.

  • Addressing implicit bias. Chorus America will be offering both bias training, as well as addressing the power dynamics present in funder-applicant conversations for panelists and staff.

  • Prioritizing equity. This grant program is committed to serving partnerships in specific communities where music education opportunities may be limited by socioeconomics, systemic racism, and/or geography. As a result, evaluation tools like the scoring rubric prioritize projects that serve students representing historically marginalized communities, are BIPOC-led, and serve economically-distressed regions.

  • Prioritizing diversity on the review panel. Great care and intention can be taken to craft an equitable process, but it is ultimately people who make decisions and score applications. Chorus America is prioritizing recruiting panelists who bring diverse lived experiences, teaching experience, and musical expertise. We will be working with many partners across the US and Canada to encourage nominations; a link to the nomination form and more information about the panelist opportunity can be found here.

We hope you’ll join us in sharing information about this new funding opportunity with your colleagues. The application portal opens November 15, 2021 and applications are due January 28, 2022. More information about the Music Education Partnership Grants, including the full grant guidelines can be found here.

Alysia Lee is the Founder and Artistic Director of Sister Cities Girlchoir and the Education Program Supervisor of Fine Arts for the Maryland State Department of Education. She serves on Chorus America’s board and has contributed to the Music Education Partnership Grants program as a Community Advisor.

Diana Sáez is Director of Choral Activities at Towson University, a leading specialist in the field of Latin American music, and Founder and Artistic Director of Cantigas. She also serves on Chorus America’s board and as a Community Advisor to this project.