‘Socially, inclusion is the basic principle. Our motto is the disadvantaged first and for the disadvantaged the best tools, the best teachers, the best infrastructure. Culture for the disadvantaged cannot be disadvantaged culture. It should be large, ambitious, refined, advanced; not scraps’
Maestro José Antonio Abreu Founder of El Sistema
The story of the El Sistema revolution in Venezuela is one of the most powerful proofs that art can change the lives of individuals, communities and even nations. On 25th June last year I attended a ‘Festival of the World Summit’ at the South Bank Centre in London entitled ‘Art Will Change The World”. In Britain today such a statement generally brings guffaws of laughter from the rich and privileged and from the people that currently run our country. However much we explain, prove with statistics, give examples of people whose lives have changed through the arts and prove that money spent on the arts saves millions of pounds on other budgets and services the establishment doesn’t believe it. Recently there have been 100% cuts to arts budgets from local authorities across the country in the mistaken belief that the arts don’t give value for money. But it is wrong – deeply and depressingly wrong.
On that day in June I was in the company of people that believed in the power of the arts to change lives and as I heard the orchestra play, any doubts of the possibility that Art Will Change The World were washed away in a tidal wave of passion and friendship and community and love and music
Jude Kelly at the South Bank had brought Jose Antonio Abreu founder of El Sistema (“the system”) to London, with the now world famous, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. They played 4 sold out concerts with live relays in the Clore Ballroom played to thousands more people free of charge
In 1975 José Antonio Abreu set out to help poor Venezuelan kids learn to play a musical instrument and be part of an orchestra. nearly 40 years on, El Sistema has seeded 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras, and 270 music centers — and over 250,000 young musicians. Jose Abreu’s visionary philosophy has, since 1975, been based on the notion that a free, immersive classical music education for the poorest of the poor might positively influence the social problems plaguing the country. His hypothesis has been overwhelmingly vindicated, with more than 380,000 children engaged in national music programmes, more than 80% of whom come from low- or middle-income areas. Of the two million graduates of the programme since its inception, many have gone on to become not just musicians, but lawyers, teachers, doctors and civil servants.
“Music has to be recognized as an … agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values — solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings.” José Antonio Abreu
Listen to the TED Talk HERE
Many music education projects have been modeled after the Venezuelan program in more than 25 countries. Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile,Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, and Uruguay are among them.
There is a documentary film by Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier called “El Sistema”