Boston Children’s Chorus – Challenge Semi-Finalist

Members of the Boston Children’s Chorus.

Our adaptive challenge

Because deep and meaningful relationships don’t automatically form just by bringing diverse people together or by physically locating programs in underserved neighborhoods, Boston Children’s Chorus will inspire a sense of belonging across social and racial lines and a more just community in the future by approaching our work in a community-centric vs. arts-centric way and redefining our relationship with our communities by being open, active listeners and building trust.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

BCC’s mission is to “harness the power and joy of music to unite our city’s diverse communities and inspire social change.” We focused our early resources on building the artistic integrity of the organization, resulting in a strong platform that garners significant visibility. It is now our responsibility to bring balance to our integrated mission and go further beyond just having a diverse constituency, moving toward greater appreciation and acceptance of our uniqueness. We are intrigued and energized by the role that young singers can play in connecting us more deeply. As a city that has not yet emerged fully from behind the shadow of entrenched social and racial discord, Boston is the perfect place for testing a bold new direction.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

  1. That we can create social change just by bringing diverse people together.
  2. That as trained professionals, we are the “keepers of culture” in our community and that the community needs what we offer; that art must be preserved at all costs, and therefore, programs must be approached in an arts-centric way vs. community/audience-centric way; and that there is no value in seeing what the community can offer us, since it can only be marginal and threaten our high standards of art.
  3. That culturally specific programming and targeted marketing are what drives community into our programs.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

BCC brings diverse students together for a common purpose, and yet they still struggle to know each other in a meaningful way. We thought connection would form organically. Strategically placing choirs in four underserved Boston neighborhoods has not yielded results in additional membership from singers from those areas, and non-family residents from those neighborhoods don’t attend concerts. It seems residents don’t even know we are in their neighborhood. Also, while we attracted the Latino community to a special all-Latin program, they have not returned to any of our other concerts. In addition, although we tried to reach out, we had difficulty attracting the Arab community to a concert in which we premiered a song with Arabic and English lyrics.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

BCC seeks to be known for social bridging to the same degree as the artistic recognition we’ve earned in the past decade. To do so, we need to challenge traditional power dynamics held by most cultural institutions, and become active listeners and learners to more fully connect with each other and our diverse communities. We need to ask questions: how do we more deeply understand who BCC’s singers and staff are as individuals? How do we understand our relationships with each other, and collectively as an organization in relation to the community? What ideas can we test to promote increased connection and trust? As we journey in this bold direction, we imagine this work will be most powerful through the unique lens and context of our music.

Our vision of success

Our vision is for Boston Children’s Chorus to be recognized as a catalyst for connecting people in our community across socioeconomic and racial lines in a meaningful way, just as much as it is recognized artistically, and to be an organization that inspires a sense of belonging and community in our singers, and among families and audiences. We envision helping to inspire a vibrant Boston where folks are treated with respect, dignity and fairness regardless of differences. In this vein, as we redefine and transform our relationship with audiences, we want to become a model for other arts organizations around the nation for how our community can come together. We hope our efforts of promoting deeper connectivity lead to a more just society.

The Boston Children's Chorus singing at a service with President Obama.
The Boston Children’s Chorus singing at a service with President Obama.
Boston Children's Chorus is an afterschool music education program that provides sustained learning in music literacy, vocal technique, performance, and leadership skills for children ages 7-18. BCC serves 450 youth across differences of race, religion and socioeconomic status from over 80 neighborhoods of Greater Boston.