Welcome to your Sistema Fellows Program adventure! This is the fifth year of a unique and experimental program that is student-centric, meaning that the curriculum continues to adapt to the expressed needs of the Fellows. The quickly evolving field of El Sistema-inspired programming and resources throughout the United States and in other countries also directly informs the content of this Program.
Each Sistema Fellow brings a unique set of strengths, challenges, and personal interests to our shared experience. Considering the complexity of all that we are going to be investigating together, one academic year is too short to expect to gain mastery in any specific area. Therefore, it is most beneficial to approach this Fellowship with the expectation of being introduced to a variety of new skill sets while simultaneously developing "habits of mind" (borrowing a phrase from Senior Advisor Eric Booth) that will support your ongoing learning, both this year and in the future.
You will thrive in this fast-paced and charged environment if you can hold onto the premise that understanding and practicing transformative (arts) education is a life-long inquiry. This year is a special opportunity to surface and engage with the many questions and challenges created by the promise of El Sistema. Edward Clapp, who you will meet in mid-September, refers to the “generative tension” found in the process of striving for clarity and understanding. It is the quality of the pursuit itself that is an indicator of excellence.
Acquiring the entrepreneurial skills and developing the habits of mind that will allow you to continue your inquiry far into the future is a successful outcome of this Program. There are numerous El Sistema-inspired career trajectories now possible. This expanding field is fast becoming rich and complex, and while you may enter this year with a clear idea of what you want to achieve in this work, you are still virtually guaranteed an emotional rollercoaster ride over the next nine months! (And that is a good thing.)
This year’s curriculum, in its fifth iteration, is comprised of four concurrent strands that are braided together between September and May. Each strand features both classroom and experiential learning, and they are designed to promote a healthy amount of overlap.
1. Inspired by El Sistema. What is El Sistema? Why is El Sistema important? Our premise is that El Sistema is an inspiration, not a recipe for replication. We’ll learn as much as we can about El Sistema (including at least survival Spanish) before traveling to Venezuela to see it in action in November. After we return, we will spend the rest of the year figuring out how the essential qualities of El Sistema, if not the logistics and other particulars, can translate into programs created in the U.S. and elsewhere. In April, as well as at other times during the year, we’ll visit American núcleos and other related programming to learn more about how El Sistema-inspired ideas are evolving in this country. Of special interest will be the seven programs throughout Greater Boston.
2. Building a nucleo. What does it take to imagine, launch, and grow a nucleo in the United States? Over the course of the year, we will each create and refine a comprehensive picture of a nucleo of our own design. As we learn about specific aspects of non-profit organization strategy and operations, this knowledge will be incorporated into the process. In the fall semester, we will focus on the elements of strategic planning. During the spring semester, we will delve into specific topics such as finance, fundraising, and governance. Using Music in Education’s electronic portfolio technology, we will each create websites about our núcleos in order to share our ideas with each other as well as with faculty and others, as appropriate.
3. Leadership. What are the essential qualities of a successful leader in this field? In tandem with the curriculum for building a nucleo, we will cover key aspects of leadership. In the fall semester, we will focus on communication skills, including individual and group presentations. In the spring semester, we will spend time on interview techniques, managing a team, ethics, and entrepreneurship.
4. Personal and group development. What are the habits of mind that will serve us well after
these nine brief months at NEC? What self-awareness can we gain that will allow
us to be both successful and fulfilled in this field? The experience of being
one of ten Sistema Fellows is a very significant learning opportunity in
itself. We will learn about group dynamics in the fall semester, and practice
techniques throughout the year. We will look at personal sustainability and
critically examine the aspirational model of Citizen, Artist, Teacher, Scholar.
Written reflections and opportunities to provide constructive feedback are
built into the year at regular intervals.
Program Director, Sistema Fellows Program