Students Elevate their Community Commitment, with Help from MacArthur Fellow

Colburn faculty, staff, and students with Vijay Gupta and Weingart Center staff during Community Engagement Week in 2017

This fall, Conservatory students in the Pathways to Citizen Artistry seminar are confronting social issues facing not only themselves as individuals and musicians, but also Los Angeles and the rest of the country. Taught by newly minted MacArthur fellow Vijay Gupta, the course is designed to empower students to create a more just and equitable world through the lens of their own musical, and human, talents.

“As the emerging generation of preeminent international artists, Colburn students will be called upon to utilize not only their musical talent, but critical civic and social skills, in engaging the various communities they will encounter in their professional lives beyond the school,” Vijay explained over email.

So far this semester, students have been laying the framework for the community engagement work they will be doing. By discussing the history and background of homeless and incarcerated populations in LA, and the broader structures in place that have led their disenfranchisement, students have developed empathy and understanding that will guide their work.

“I’ve never seen students respond in such an authentically engaged and vulnerable way with the material,” said Jazmín Morales, Manager of Community Engagement and Career Development. “Students have come to the class ready to not just learn, but explore.”

The class is a self-selecting group of students who, because of that, have created an honest and vulnerable environment for discussion. “The fact that we’re all in this class with Vijay means that we’re all open to being deep and thinking about these things fully,” Conservatory freshman Dallas Noble shared. “All of the things that Vijay says and all of the things that we do are designed to really make us think.”

The timing was opportune for Vijay to begin teaching here this semester. Last month, he was named a MacArthur Fellow for his years of social justice and community engagement work with Street Symphony, with whom we announced a formal partnership last year. “This is just the perfect moment for it to happen,” Jazmin explained. “Street Symphony is just bursting at the seams. They have a lot of forward momentum.”

Next week, during our annual Community Engagement Week, Conservatory students in the class will have the opportunity to put their discussions into practice by performing at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row.

“This class is the first step in what I think will be a long relationship with us, Street Symphony, and Vijay, of increasing depth,” said Jazmín. For students, this means more opportunities to apply what they’ve learned to programs in the new Center for Innovation and Community Impact. “That same empowerment that we’re looking for is also possible through teaching, or through involvement in these community programs that we grant students access to. We hope the class will serve as a launch pad for expanding more of the work that we’re already doing and seek to do in a meaningful way.”