Artist as Agent of Change

To Anna Shapira

The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance is one of the smallest academic institutions in Israel. Yet, within five years of its existence, the JAMD Community Outreach Program has twice received The Council of Higher Education Award.

In these projects, students and faculty work with young people in the periphery, sometimes driving weekly more than two hours in each direction. Why do we do it? What is the change we want to make?

I personally believe that talent is not a matter of geography. There are gifted young people everywhere. On the other hand, opportunities ARE a matter of geography. The possibilities a talented child has in the center are very different from the ones present for children in the periphery.

A former minister in Israel said once that the social gap between the center and the periphery is not the difference in how much money people make, but in the quality of education.

Many years ago, when I worked for MATAN (Arts and Culture Project for Youth), I did a survey that later on led to a paper that was published in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. As I was going from one community center to the other and talking to the administrators, I always asked the Million Dollar Question. Can you guess what it was? NO, it was not how you get a million Dollars. The question was “If I gave you now one million Dollars, what would you do with them?”

Very few of them gave the answer I had expected. Most of them fantasized about a new grand piano, a new wing to the building and other such things. The answer I had in mind was “I would hire the greatest teachers I could get”.

I think that if we could find five great music teachers who would come to a small town, and each one would mentor thirty students over a period of five years, then these students will become one hundred and fifty agents of change.

I feel that the most important change we need is to go back to the original values of music making: the song, the dance, the religious ceremony, the expression, the imagination, the social event of people getting together to sing or play music, the learning of something for its own sake. Cellist Anner Bylsma wrote in his book Bach, The Fencing Master that children like Art, not Culture. I think he is right because art belongs to the artist and culture belongs to the consumer. I would love to see this new generation of young leaders, each one a Performer-Creator-Teacher, someone who can perform well, who is creative in one way or another and who knows how to pass it on. They are the ones who will be role models, who will create powerful musical experiences, redefining the VALUES of music making, bringing music making back into people’s lives. Those leaders are the only hope for the endangered species called art music. They are the only hope for it not to become an extinct species.
If you would like to read more about those subjects I welcome you to visit my website at

You can also contact me at

Anna Shapira worked with me at JAMD for five years, since the beginning of the outreach programs. She now runs the entire program on her own and she teaches the course The Artist as Agent of Change at JAMD.

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