Miami Music Project

Miami Music Project is known for their heralded free after-school music program. Students come from ethnically diverse, multi-generational households, many of which are socio-economically disadvantaged and experiencing hardship.

Little Black girls and boys living in Liberty City, Miami Gardens, Overtown or Little Haiti have enjoyed unique exposure to orchestral music composed by Beethoven and Bach for more than one decade thanks to the Miami Music Project. The community organization invites the curious and willing minds of novice young artists, most of whom receive their first introduction to a string instrument’s bow or a trombone’s exhilarating slide.

But the COVID-19 global pandemic abruptly stopped the music — almost. Classes taught by contracted teaching artists continued virtually, while funding dwindled. The 501(c) 3 nonprofit that staffs 13 full-time and five part-time employees through a 2.1 million operating budget, found itself seeking a new theme for survival during an era of uncertainty.

As the June 30 fiscal year’s end approached, the two-month, pandemic-peak that preceded inspired a budget decline of 100,000. There were no internal layoffs, but the crisis sent executive director Anna Klimala into a more rigorous fundraising mode that included applying for assistance through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Business of music

“We are here to serve the people and believe that every child has a musical talent,” Klimala told The Miami Times May 15. “We use music to transform lives, and our teaching artists are our greatest asset. To continue serving 750 students annually, we must compensate them and allow them to focus on teaching. You don’t get the same level of commitment when you recruit artists to volunteer.”

The accomplished musician from Poland studied piano, bass and has worked many jobs including that of a “gig” musician. Klimala served as a volunteer for one year and helped launch the nonprofit close to 11 years ago. Her passion is homegrown and may be a competing, first asset to teaching artists.

“Like many small businesses, we were declined funding in the first round of SBA funding through the CARES Act,” said Klimala. “We bank with Chase and were deeply disappointed because we thought we had our application so complete. We later learned that our application was actually never submitted the first round because they were so backlogged.”

According to Klimala, many other nonprofits switched to smaller banks, but Chase encouraged Miami Music Project to stay onboard because their second application was in the queue awaiting a decision.

Approved for PPP

The Miami Music Project was approved for $168,000 through the PPP program last week and must apply the money toward maintaining payroll with smaller percentages going toward rent and utilities. If the organization sustains its payroll without layoffs, loan forgiveness will be granted.

According to the JPMorgan Chase media center, the financial institution secured approval for an additional 211,000 loans through “Round Two” of the PPP, totaling about $15 billion to its small business customers. Loans were awarded to small business in all 50 states with the average loan amount being $123,000. About 50% of the loans went to companies with fewer than five employees, over 75% were for under $100,000 and over 40% of the loans were under $25,000. In Florida 18,500 businesses received funding at an average loan size of $81,000 totaling $1.5 billion. .

The heart of the program

Miami Music Project is known for their heralded free after-school music program. Students come from ethnically diverse, multi-generational households, many of which are socioeconomically disadvantaged and experiencing hardship. The program not only introduces classical music, each child is allowed to select and is provided an instrument free of charge.

“We’re serving sanity and emotional relief to many households, and in some cases giving parents a break,” said Klimala. “During the pandemic, there is already lots of tension and our students have to commit to complying with a schedule of attending classes afterschool for two hours, five days per week. The student’s lives are enhanced, but parents are also given a break.”

Profiles of students from black communities are exampled by sisters Lauren and Paige Louine. The siblings are being raised by a single mom, who is a single parent and has worked as the bus assistant for the Little Havana chapter for the past two years.

Both siblings attend Charles R. Drew and have been in Miami Music Project for two and a half years. Last summer they spent over one month visiting their uncle in Vietnam, and this year, Paige received a viola scholarship to Interlochen. She additionally plays flute in the Drew marching band while Lauren marks time in the brass section on trumpet.

Beyond COVID-19

When COVID-19 began to impact the community, the program acted quickly to elect board chair and vice-chair Maria Pia Leon and Daniel Mazanec. Under their leadership, bold and urgent decisions were made, but ensuring support to underserved communities remained the utmost priority of the organization.

Miami Music Project shifted all after-school programming to a temporary virtual space by reinventing its methodology to be applicable online and retraining the faculty. Miami Music Project Connect has been now fully operational for few weeks, providing hundreds of kids from Miami’s most under-resourced neighborhoods with a variety of daily class offerings and support materials. 

“It seems clear to me that when we emerge from this crisis, music will play a role in healing us spiritually. It will literally bring our physically-and-financially-wounded-selves together,” chairwoman Maria Pia Leon says regarding how she plans to navigate through this challenging time. “Our challenge today is to understand which path will allow us to adapt to what may be a new order of things. When it comes to fundraising, our aim is to communicate to our donors that they are investing in human capital where there is only room for growth!” 

Fundraising remains a priority and through a virtual concert performance by renowned jazz vocalist Nicole Henry on Saturday, May 16, the Miami Music Project raised more than its $10,000 goal by allowing viewers to contribute via phone, text, Pay Pal, Venmo or direct to the organization’s website.

“Institutionally, we’re doing well because community funders like Miami Foundation and the Knight Foundation helped us early on find extra money,” said Klimala. “Our individual donors are taking a little longer to fund and 65% of our fundraising budget comes from individuals.”

The Miami Music Project fully intends to maintain the new online virtual learning format until schools reopen and they envision their summer music camp to also be online. For more information visit www.miamimusicproject.org.

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.

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