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Bringing Music to At-Risk Communities

SDSU's Heartpower Performances has been honored with a $12,500 NEA Arts Work Grant.
Todo Mundo is one of the bands working with the Heartpower program.
Todo Mundo is one of the bands working with the Heartpower program.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently awarded San Diego State University’s Heartpower Performances a $12,500 Art Works grant to fund its unique combination of music performances, classes and clinics for at-risk audiences throughout Southern California.

Led by SDSU School of Music and Dance faculty member Marian Liebowitz, Heartpower Peformances is a career-training program for music majors, who serve as performers, teachers and role models to the at-risk populations including youth, individuals with mental illness and those in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

The program underscores the importance of music as a vehicle to redirect energy toward positive change.

Art Works Grants support activities that make the arts more widely available, especially in areas where the arts can strengthen communities, and projects that extend to underserved populations — those limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability. 

Music for the public good

Since 2010, Heartpower has presented more than 975 performances, clinics, and workshops to upwards of 90,000 audience members who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend a concert or receive music education.

“These are people who typically cannot get to concerts, but benefit from music being brought to them in their environment” Liebowitz said.

“We start by exposing them to a wide variety of music genres, including classical, jazz and pop.  Enrichment comes from offering a series of concerts, not just a one-time performance.  We also provide participatory music, such as our Veterans Choir Project.”

The student performers are enriched as well, receiving training specific to their audiences and important experience to bolster their future careers.

Partners in healing

Each year, new partnerships develop with organizations such as Veterans Village San Diego, Breaking Cycles, Reflections Central Probationary Day School, Scripps Healthcare System and the San Diego County and City Libraries.

In 2013, Heartpower partnered with the Veterans Module of the Vista Detention Center.  The Veterans Module is based on similar successful programs at jails in other large cities where grouping veterans together improves their chances for reintegration into society. 

Most of the vets have a disability and have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems. Heartpower presents monthly concerts to the module, and has implemented a weekly choir class taught by SDSU undergraduate voice major Megan Winslow.

“My time at the Vista Detention Center has been extremely rewarding for both the inmates and myself,” Winslow said.

“Seeing them put effort and passion into music is an astounding thing to watch especially given their circumstances.  I look forward to seeing them every Wednesday night because while working with them I'm able to forget all of the stresses I have going on in my day," continued Winslow. "When I told them that, they seemed thrilled and agreed that our Wednesday nights are a time of not only musical stimulation, but of relief and happiness.”

New in 2014 is a partnership with The Fred Finch Youth Center, a residential facility for teens who have developmental disabilities concurrent with a mental health diagnosis.

Continued support

Heartpower Performances has won successive National Endowment for the Arts grants for SDSU even as the grant title and specifications have evolved each year. 

Award amounts have ranged from $10,000 to $15,000 and have served as a match to other important grants and donations.

For more information, follow the Heartpower Performances Facebook page.

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