When Hollis Headrick catches a moment to speak with me, he is in especially high spirits despite the chaos of transitioning to the directorship of the Weill Music Institute, a newly created position at Carnegie Hall he’ll start fulltime in mid-December, while phasing out his work as Executive Director of the Center for Arts Education in New York City. After just a few minutes of conversation, his energy seems explained—he is optimistic about arts education, cares about his role in that process, and is excited by the opportunities ahead of him at Carnegie Hall.
The recently established Weill Music Institute, named in honor of the long-time education proponent and Carnegie’s largest single-gift donor Sanford I. Weill, will encompass the hall’s current music education programs and serve as a launching pad for future initiatives. The Institute’s resources, including the current education endowment fund, are put at $70 million. Weill’s contribution to that figure speaks loudly, underlying his philosophy that the “pursuit of art education is a key to giving children a sense of self-worth and happiness and the possibility of expanded horizons.”
It’s a demonstrated commitment that attracted Headrick. “One of the main reasons that I was interested in the position,” he explains, “is because Carnegie Hall, through the leadership of the Weills and the donors who have created the endowment for the Weill Music Institute, really want to raise the profile of education.”
As the Institute begins its work, this will mean evaluating how the entire organization “can think of education as a more integral part of what Carnegie hall does,” says Headrick, from what goes on in the new Zankel Hall to the effect of Neighborhood Concerts throughout New York’s boroughs. The new financial and physical resources will allow the Carnegie staff to re-imagine the opportunities for education across programs.
Personally, Headrick says he’s most excited by the potential the new Zankel Hall offers, exemplified by the eclectic kinds of programming already taking place there. “From my background—jazz and contemporary music—that is what interests me, having the widest possible range of musics to use for educational purposes, to build upon the wonderful things that happen in classical music that Carnegie is know for most.”
The role living composers need to play in that education is not lost on Headrick. “I think that it’s very important that young people understand that composers still work everyday,” he says. It’s a living tradition that for Headrick covers everything from a rap artists composing live onstage to a Juilliard-trained musician with a pen and manuscript paper. He is convinced that “we need to get that into the schools so that the work of living composers is something that’s valued. Composers and their work can be presented [in Zankel Hall] in a way that will allow for a conversation and a broader understanding of how living composers work. I think it’s very important and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Sounding more optimistic than the usual media coverage (encouraging considering his long-time involvement in education and the arts), Headrick says that “nationally I think music education probably is in as good of shape as it ever has been in the sense of having different types of performance opportunities—different ensembles and choruses and marching bands.” He also cites the importance of more research about the value of arts education—music education in particular (remember the Mozart Effect?)—on a child’s development. But new federal legislation focusing on testing and the general economic need for school budget cuts has meant new challenges in making sure the arts are a part of a complete education for all students.
In New York City, a committee that includes Department of Education staff as well as music educators from the cultural community is working to develop the arts in the schools. Headrick encourages this public-private partnership since for the “foreseeable future, the department of education cannot address all of the needs in arts education that the public school system has.”
And that’s something Headrick thinks Carnegie Hall, with it’s instant name recognition and branding, is also in a place to address. “That’s all in development, but these are the kind of broader vision pieces that we’ll be looking into.”
Arts education may not be top priority in today’s school systems, but it’s still getting attention and Headrick says he is “very optimistic.”
“While we’re having this conversation, there are music education programs going on all across the city in the public schools,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that every elementary school has a music teacher or all the resources that they need, but it does mean that overall we are in much better shape in the area of arts education than we were 5 or 6 years ago.”
Bringing it back to his new role at Carnegie, Headrick stresses that education is not just about school programs. “This is education in the broadest sense,” he explains, “so that when a person comes to a concert, there are ways we can think about that in an educational context.” Whether it’s a Web site visit, the chance to meet a performer, or attending a premiere, Headrick will encourage an attitude of always asking: Are there opportunities for education here that we haven’t explored before?