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Taking a Stand Should Be the Standard: PROTESTRA’s Benefit Concert Model

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

PROTESTRA’s mission as an organization is to prioritize inclusivity and accessibility by inviting everyone—artists and audience members alike—to contribute their time and talents and join us in literally and figuratively “taking a stand” for what’s important. We use our concerts to respond to current events and advocate for social justice because we believe in the unique power of music to inspire empathy and action in our listeners. We accomplish this through intentional, issue-centered programming: Each concert has a “theme” or issue about which we raise awareness, and we present our musical program in the context of that specific issue. In addition to music, we have also incorporated community-based hosts and guest speakers, spoken word segments, and artwork by local visual artists into our events to provide a wider array of perspectives and further advocate for social change.

Typical orchestral concerts feature music and program notes with minimal interaction between the performers on stage and the listeners in the hall. Our innovative concert model inspires activism by contextualizing classical music performance through multimedia education. We offer audiences the unique opportunity to experience the joy and wonder of live music while also gaining valuable insight about the important issues affecting our world. It is through this model that we remove traditional boundaries between ensemble and audience and actively engage with listeners during our performances.

If you’ve attended one of our recent events, you may have noticed that we use a “suggested donation” ticket model. Our tickets are “pay-what-you-can” because we never want money to be the barrier that prevents you from enjoying music and learning from our educational concerts. In addition to raising awareness and educating our audience, we also want to use each concert to “put our money where our mouth is,” so we choose mission- and policy-driven charities or activist organizations—often locally-based—who are doing important work “on the frontlines” related to the issue we are highlighting. After the concert, we donate a portion of all ticket proceeds to these inspiring organizations that endeavor to create tangible institutional and societal progress.

For “Take a Stand: A Concert for Climate Action” in October 2021, we’re donating to the internationally-known Environmental Defense Fund and the local-to-NYC WE ACT for Environmental Justice. For “Music in Action: Heritage Against Hate” in May 2021, we donated to the NYC-based Heart of Dinner, and to Friends of ANIM (Afghanistan National Institute of Music). For “Take a Stand: A Concert for Black Lives” in September 2020, we donated to the nationally-renowned NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the new, locally-started organization, Black Classical Music Educators.

We suggest a donation amount because our events are benefit concerts with the goal of raising funds for activist organizations. When an audience member is inspired by a specific cause and donates above the suggested amount, it allows us to give more to these important charities while also helping to cover our costs of production. This includes artist fees and music rental fees: We prioritize hiring and fairly compensating a diverse group of local musicians, and we place particular emphasis on performing the works of underrepresented and/or living composers alongside those considered part of the classical canon.

PROTESTRA is determined to set new standards for American orchestras. By embracing this concert model, we strive to produce high-quality concerts that are inclusive, representative, and accessible to all. What’s more, we firmly believe that our equity-centered model is one that any orchestra—but especially large-budget professional orchestras—can and should adopt. It is incumbent upon us as arts organizations to use our talents and platforms to call attention to the societal issues that affect us all, but we must do so in a way that embodies the spirit of community and offers a seat in the concert hall to anyone who wants one.

In light of recent extreme weather events and the urgent need to address climate change, we feIt that a concert for Climate Action would be timely and relevant as we collectively face a crossroads that will determine the future of our planet. In keeping with our benefit concert model, a portion of all proceeds from this concert will be donated to further the fight for environmental justice at the local and national levels. As musicians, we may not always have the solutions to the world’s biggest problems, but we feel that it should be part of our mission as artists to shed light on these subjects, to use our craft to generate support for the experts doing work on the ground, and in the case of this specific concert, to also give those experts a platform to educate an audience that they would not typically reach.

If you missed seeing “Take a Stand: A Concert for Climate Action” live, we invite you to watch it on our YouTube channel until this Friday, November 19 at 11:59pm EST. Tickets to access the concert recording are still available for purchase via Eventbrite—all tickets are “pay-what-you-can” (minimum donation: $1; suggested donation: $25). Your donation will help us continue to raise money for our featured environmental organizations, WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Environmental Defense Fund. We hope you tune in, and we hope to see you at one of our future benefit concerts—your support is instrumental!

This blog post was written by Michelle Rofrano, PROTESTRA Founder & Music/Artistic Director; Erin Schwab, PROTESTRA Marketing Coordinator; and Ian Vlahović, PROTESTRA Co-founder, Director of Operations & Board Chair

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