Community Engagement: Part One—Organizational Foundation

Downtown Los Angeles
Navigating through the Los Angeles haze to develop a meaningful community engagement program at Colburn.

It turns out that Los Angeles is a difficult nut to crack when it comes to designing a deep, meaningful community engagement program.  What an amazing and rewarding challenge the last year has been.

The time has come to start a deep discussion—via this blog—about the strategies I’ve adopted in the construction of the program.  I’ll tell you up front that this is not a “how to manual” for Community Engagement, rather, it’s a behind the scenes look at how this program has come together.  The hope is that some of the strategies I discuss will serve as inspiration for programs at your institution.  The reality is that you know what’s best for your school and, when it comes to developing a highly impactful program, it’s understanding the dynamics on the ground, in your geographical area, that will help you develop the best strategies moving forward.

I think the best way to deliver this portion of the blog is to think about the program chronologically.  So, today I’m going to focus on what organizational factors led Colburn create to a Director of Community Engagement position at the institution.  I’ve broken down four main points of interest—and their outcomes—below:

  • Unified Structure: The administration at Colburn wanted a unified structure around its community engagement offerings.  Colburn has had a long history of giving back to the community at all levels at the institution.  From our Community Music School (CSPA) to the Conservatory (CSCM), the institution has been a part of the Los Angeles community engagement scene for the better part of 40 years.  That being said, this great work has, historically, been siloed between the divisions of the school.Outcome: The Director level position, reporting to the President, allows the school to have a unified plan for engagement—both in strategy and in financial terms.  All programs now flow through the CE office.
  • Institutional Footprint:With a unified structure for engagement, the school has been able to look deeply into what our role should be in the community as an institution.  This internal dialogue has been especially interesting as we, like schools in many major metropolitan areas, are working with a public school system that is facing incredibly large budget deficits. The unfortunate outcome in many parts of the country, including here, has been deep cuts to the arts.Outcome: We’ve created a balance of broad programming (Community Programs) that serves many with a focused program (Colburn Scholars Program) that deeply serves students that are passionate about learning the artform.
  • Whole Musician Mentality: Finally, many of our discussions with this program have been centered on our own Colburn students.  We have been especially interested in establishing the notion of the “Whole Musician” with our students.  The brainchild of our Dean, Richard Beene and President Sel Kardan, the institution has set forth a mission to provide students access to opportunities that unlock their full potential as artists.  Be it entrepreneurship and career development, or teaching and community engagement, the goal is to help students find ways to follow their passions.Outcome: The creation of the “Learning at Colburn” program, a curricular and co-curricular approach to experiential learning in community engagement for students attending Colburn. 

So, there you have it.  I know, I know, you’re probably saying, “This is way to broad, I need more substance.”  Not to worry, it’s all on the way! Stay tuned, I have more information than you could ever ask for.

I’ll close with two questions for you.  How does this differ (or relate) to the programs you’re envisioning in your community?  In light of “Arts Deserts” popping up all over the country, what can we do to encourage a culture of sequential arts learning in our communities?

Published by Nate Zeisler

Nathaniel Zeisler is passionate about supporting and developing the careers of artists and artistically minded entrepreneurs. Serving as the Director of Community Engagement and Adult Studies at the Colburn School, Zeisler is working to build a program that offers a menu of services and training to world-class artists who seek sustainable careers, through engagement activities in Southern California. In 2004, Nathaniel founded the Envision Chamber Consort; an organization dedicated to presenting music as a form of contemporary communication. Continuing to pursue connections between the business and arts communities, Zeisler co-founded and led Arts Enterprise, an organization that helps students find sustainable careers in their chosen field. Additionally, Dr. Zeisler served as the assistant professor of bassoon and professor of entrepreneurship at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. As a musician, Nate served as the principal bassoonist of the Ann Arbor Symphony and performed as second bassoonist with the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit. Nathaniel earned his doctorate of musical arts and master’s degree in bassoon performance from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degree in choral and instrumental education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

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