Hardy, inspiring community engagement is vital for the continuing health of the performing arts. That is a given. With challenging times for arts funding; the changes in the acceptance of the one-time, all-encompassing subscription-based model for patrons; and so many newer forms of entertainment available that have caught the eyes of theater-goers: building strong community relations seems to be critical to develop mutually beneficial, balanced community-based alliances.
With that as a starting point, I gave myself a task: to locate unexpected community engagement models that created value from the POV of the performing arts and met a unique community’s need.
This column is about one long-time performing arts connection; a connection with the legal services needs for those unable to afford a lawyer, or for whom access to legal services is difficult. As you may know, over the past years, federal funding for legal services has been less than hardy. The 2018 budget proposal is here.
In suburban Fairfax County, VA, with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the United States, and the largest population in the DC metro area, there has been a 16-year, social justice partnership focused on raising funds for legal services. The partnership, between George Mason’s Jazz Studies program
and the Fairfax Law Foundation is called Jazz4Justice.
Since 2002, the GMU Jazz Studies-Fairfax Law Foundation partnership has raised funds to support enhanced public access to legal services for those with few resources with Jazz4Justice.
The Jazz4Justice partnership began with connections between Jim Carroll, professor and founder of Jazz Studies at George Mason University, and attorney Edward L. Weiner of the Fairfax Law Foundation. The Foundation is the charitable organization of the Fairfax Bar Association.
In an interview, Carrol made this clear. “In 16 years Jazz4Justice has evolved into something so beautiful and wonderful. The sense of community that it has built is a work of art! And Jazz4Justice helps make jazz more than just music for the students. It is a wonderful opportunity to make things ‘real.’”
What struck me in my interview with Carroll was his fervent notion that for his students, being a performing musical artist is more than just learning notes. And than there was this comment from Carroll: “Like a good lead sheet, we are given the opportunity to improvise with friends in another.” He called it the “quantum mechanics of music.”
Then I interviewed Shannon Gunn, program manager, Jazz4Justice Foundation. Gunn, too, was clear that the university and foundation partnership is a way to support public access to legal services by two distinctly different organizations “working together on a mutually beneficial project that also strengthens connections with the local community.”
David: What is the Fairfax Law Foundation mission?
Shannon: The Fairfax Law Foundation exists to increase access to justice, improve the administration of justice, and provide law-related community education initiatives. It is the embodiment of our legal community’s commitment to the fundamental principle of Justice for All and the only Fairfax foundation solely dedicated to supporting the county’s legal service community.
David: What are funds raised at the Jazz 4 Justice concert used for?
Shannon: Proceeds from Jazz4Justice have helped the Fairfax Law Foundation continue its mission of service to the Northern Virginia community, and equally supported the GMU Jazz Studies Department, with funds for student scholarships, instruments and other departmental expenses. Over the years, Jazz4Justice has grown to other universities across Virginia, accumulating over $330,000 in funds raised for Legal Aid and Scholarships.
David: What can patrons expect at this year’s Jazz 4 Justice concert?
Shannon: The theme for this year’s concert is “Woody, Bird and Diz.” The music comes out of the Swing era and moves us into the Bebop era, the “common practice” period in Jazz. America has produced some of the greatest musicians the world has ever heard, including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, otherwise known as “Bird” and “Diz.” Woody was a bridge between the Big Band period and Bebop. He featured Charlie Parker on “Bird with the Herd” and Dizzy wrote “Woody N’ You” for Herman. This performance includes favorites from these three legends including “Four Brothers,” “Manteca,” “Anthropology,” “Woodchoppers Ball,” “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Woody N’ You,” and more.
So, let me ask this of DC Theater Arts readers: If you know of other community engagement models that have withstood the test of time, let me know for a possible article so that others can be made aware. Your contributions will be noted and much appreciated.
Jazz 4 Justice will also be performed on November 11, 2017, at The Center for the Arts Concert Hall at George Mason University – 4400 University Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For tickets call (703) 993-8888 or purchase them online.