Expanding Horizons through Music


Community work inspires a new cadence for the Jacobs School of Music

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The arts are a critical part of the human experience, providing opportunities for creative expression, self-reflection, and transformation. Music in particular offers a common language that brings people and communities together to explore their collective identity, values, and dreams for a brighter future.

I’ve always believed this to be true on a personal level, but seeing the arts at work in rural communities through the Center for Rural Engagement has opened my eyes to the profound impact of the arts on audiences, communities, and the artists themselves. By leveraging IU Bloomington’s celebrated programs in the arts and humanities, the center is promoting stronger community identity, creating authentic arts experiences, and cultivating broader participation in community development efforts. These projects are also giving emerging professional artists at Indiana University the opportunity to connect more deeply with communities through their craft.

Building on a strong history

Established nearly a century ago, the Jacobs School of Music has become one of the most renowned music schools in the world, training performers, composers, scholars, educators, and dancers who go on to become global leaders in the arts. The conservatory model offers a rigorous and focused approach to musical arts training that attracts students from around the world to Bloomington to learn from expert faculty and hone their talents in the campus’s state of the art facilities. At the core is a belief in the inherent value of a creative life, which ultimately helps students connect their training to a shared human experience and guides musical arts training far beyond the gates at IU.

Brown County High School school band students in Nashville, Indiana, participate in a workshop and performance with members of IU Jacobs School of Music’s Classical Connections student group.

Our colleagues at the Jacobs School of Music have been extraordinary partners in this work, developing more than 20 performing arts and research projects over two years in partnership with neighboring communities, including Nashville, Salem, Huntingburg, Paoli, and Batesville. Faculty, students, and staff are working with schools, municipalities, local businesses, and cultural organizations to build artistic skills, capacity, and local networks through music. These programs and collaborations expose residents of all ages to new experiences and artforms and inspire local leaders, artists, and institutions to build community pride and hope through the arts and their own arts heritage. In the same key, the Jacobs School of Music is building lasting, meaningful relationships with communities and positioning public engagement as a fundamental component of the school’s curriculum and student experience.

[This experience] solidified my opinion that community outreach is an extremely important aspect of being a performance-based artist.

Jacobs School of Music student

Teaching the teacher

While the goals of these engagements remain focused on local outcomes, it is also important to consider the extraordinary impact of community work on faculty and students at IU. Through master classes, collaborative performances, lessons, panel discussions, and concerts at community events, I’ve seen students expand their personal and professional horizons and supplement their academic experience in immeasurable ways.

When the Jacobs School Symphonic Band traveled to Salem, Indiana in February 2019, IU student musicians performed alongside Salem Middle and High School students in a concert that brought together an all-ages audience from across the county. While success was documented in how the event inspired local teachers, students, and community partners, the experience also empowered Jacobs School faculty and students to connect with the community and use their expertise to teach and demonstrate career pathways in the arts.

Residents of Huntingburg, Indiana, enjoy a concert at the new Market Street Park for the 4th Fridays festival.

Arts and community development

In Huntingburg, most projects have centered around a new downtown park and designing programs that unite community members and expand opportunities for downtown businesses. But this collaboration is building more than a new stage for IU musicians and local performers. Sociology of Music students spent a semester researching the community, interviewing local partners about the town’s cultural interests and creative activities, and documenting a plan to develop impactful, equitable community programming. Through deliberate examination of the community’s diverse assets, the Jacobs School is innovating sustainable forms of engagement to meet the challenges and opportunities facing our state. Students are learning how to respond to community needs in an ever-changing arts environment, expanding their development as artists and leaders to contribute to community needs. When artists and communities work together, communities prosper and the arts become essential.

While Jacobs School artists may one day find themselves performing in concert halls, opera houses, and on the world’s biggest stages, their gifts also have a place in civic life, cultural development, and arts education. As we’ve learned through two years of collaborative community programming, the arts bring joy and hope, build trust, and change lives. Music is building bridges between Indiana University and wonderful rural communities at a time when we all need a little harmony.

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.