18. Winner - Music Generation

Members of the Barrack Street Youth Band, partners of Music Generation Cork City, with tutor and musician Clodagh Kearney in performance at the Music Generation National Musicians Day, during March 2018. Image: Barbara Flynn

A philanthropic partnership between Music Generation, U2 and the Ireland Funds (with the support of Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation) remains as strong today as when it started nine years ago. One of the measures of its success has been the commitment by the Irish Government to fund the national music education programme for children and young people going forward.

The Music Generation scheme – which aims to transform young people’s lives by providing access to high quality and affordable performance music education locally – was piloted by Music Network in 2003 and then independently evaluated as a workable and practical framework for the whole country.

Despite efforts since the 1930s to initiate a publically supported system for music tuition, research carried out by Music Network revealed that the provision of music education in Ireland was one of the lowest in Europe.

When the economic crash put the brakes on government support for a plan to roll the Music Network pilot out nationwide, U2 stepped in with a €5m philanthropic donation and the Ireland Funds, with support from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, donated €2m to bring the total initial investment to €7m.

According to Caitriona Fottrell, vice president and director of the Ireland Funds, U2 had been looking for a way to get involved in a music education initiative for some time. “They all felt strongly that access to music in school was what shaped their own lives – and not just the opportunity to be musicians, but actually shaped them as students and people. And they have a very strong personal desire to make sure that other people have exposure to that.”

Once the financial commitment was made, the partners spent some time planning all of the elements of Music Generation to ensure the programme would be delivered in the best possible and most sustainable way. “One of the great successes has been the work that was done before any kids ever got access to a musical instrument,” says Fottrell. “It was really well set up.”

Music Generation’s national director Rosaleen Molloy stresses the fact that the partnership was always more than just financial. “U2 and the Ireland Funds as our lead donors have been very heavily involved in Music Generation’s evolution from the beginning. The programme has been significantly shaped by the thought leadership of our main philanthropic donors.”

During phase one of the programme, Music Generation was established in 12 local authority areas in Ireland (Carlow Clare, Cork City, Laois, Limerick City, Louth, Mayo, Offaly/Westmeath, Sligo, South Dublin and Wicklow).

Following a further donation in 2017 of €6.3m from U2 and the Ireland Funds, again with support from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, phase two is currently underway and is on track to add 10 new areas by 2021: Cavan/Monaghan, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Galway City, Galway County, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Roscommon, Waterford and Wexford.

In 2013, the Department of Education committed to providing long-term co-funding of the programme along with local music education partnerships. At the end of last year, on the back of the success to date, the Government announced it would support the expansion of Music Generation nationwide by 2022.

“That will be achieved with no philanthropic investment, which actually is the real measure of success,” says Molloy. “The philanthropic investment of €13.3m from U2, the Ireland Funds and Bank of America Merrill Lynch has led to a significant amount of money from government and local departments to make sure that what has been started will continue into the very long term on a sustainable basis. This is quite unique in the arts and education landscape in Ireland.”

This outcome is largely due to how successfully the philanthropic investment has been leveraged and the fact that all the partnerships are very much embedded locally, says Fottrell. “Government has been really supportive but the results show why it’s such a great return on investment: the hard numbers of kids who have participated in this and the number of jobs that have been created. It’s just been incredibly effective.”

Molloy attributes the remarkable achievement so far to the strong engagement by all stakeholders. “The collaborations and partnerships between education and training boards, local authorities, youth services, schools, the community and voluntary sectors, parents, children and young people, and the musicians who deliver the tuition are the backbone of why we believe Music Generation is very successful.”

Other countries are now looking at the Music Generation model. “It’s very cost effective: philanthropy can kick it off and government can come in when it’s a proven process,” says Fottrell.

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