At a time when the need to strengthen music education in our schools and increase the level of community participation in music, it is concerning to see that one of Australia’s most successful programs doing both is closing down. Canberra’s Music Engagement Program (MEP), delivered through the ANU’s School of Music to provide a range of teacher training courses and community outreach programs, had its $400,000 annual funding discontinued at the end of 2017.
The Music Engagement Program, developed by Associate Professor Susan West at the School of Music, was financed by the ACT Government through artsACT and for nearly 20 years. However, last July funding ceased after artsACT concluded that the program “did not align with its mission”. The ANU propped it up until the end of the year, but it now appears that the School of Music was already developing a number of other programs to replace it.
CityNews reports that the Music Engagement Program’s imminent loss has been met with “alarm and consternation” in Canberra’s music community, and says a number of its readers have expressed dismay that “both the ACT government and the ANU no longer care” about the program. Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union has described the news as “terrible” and is calling on the ACT government “to restore funding to this vital community program”.
MEP’s achievements are many and varied. Over its 35-year lifetime, it is claimed by The Canberra Times to have reached tens of thousands of students in providing opportunities to learn and be involved in music. Its flagship ‘Big Gig’ concerts, involving some 2,000 students, have filled Llewellyn Hall each year, while its Outreach Day is no less impressive. In 2016 for example, it brought students from 21 schools to 18 care facilities and community centres to experience and engage in music-making.
To combine social as well educational needs in an integrative manner like this makes MEP uniquely valuable in this country. So to characterise it merely as “an educational program aimed at Year 1 to Year 6 students”, as the ACT Government did in announcing its community outreach funding decisions for the next triennium, would appear to seriously underestimate MEP’s wide scope of activity.
ArtsACT has instead announced it will support a new raft of community outreach activities that begin this year. Developed by ANU, these include a rock music program for young girls, jazz for women and younger girls, a development program for Year 7-12 music students, mentorships for Aboriginal youths, and a Community School of Rock for the wider community.
Arts minister Gordon Ramsay said in announcing these: “I appreciate that ceasing some programs will be disappointing to some members of the community but we have been working closely with the ANU to assist with transition arrangements to the new music and visual arts programs”.
Much commendable work has gone into the Music Engagement Program over its long lifetime. No government funded program can expect to live forever of course, but one hopes at the very least that some form of transition funding could be procured to ensure it stays alive until alternative funding sources can be found.