I had a very nice conversation with an executive in the communications office at Fidelity. She was very helpful in both listening to my concerns (one hit wonder?) and then answering some of my skeptical questions. The main points I learned are:
Are the partners in it for the long haul? I will admit this is a tough question for someone to answer. All you can look at is history. Fidelity does have a long history of supporting programs. However, and this is important, this is only the SECOND program they have ever established at the corporate level for charitable purposes. The first is the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, which has a well-established history. Also consider Sir Paul has not gone into anything half heartedly… and the fact that this is being set-up as a separate non-profit… these are all strong signs that this is more than just a marketing stunt for the aging baby boomer business.
Will Music Lives Be an Independent Non-Profit? According to Fidelity, Music Lives will have a separate independent board of directors made up largely of music educators and experts related to the field. (They said the board would be named shortly.) It will not be a corporately controlled non-profit… but will benefit from the generous in-kind support to cover staffing, administration, as well as the marketing and promotional tie-ins (a $20 million ad campaign and a sold out concert tour doesn’t hurt!) to generate the base revenue of the organization. This is REALLY important. There have been other music ed based non-profits with corporate ties where the corporation's interests actually interfered with the mission of the non-profit. When the business tries to control the non-profit nothing good usually happens. It seems to me the structure Fidelity explained will go a long way to protect the foundation from any corporate interference.
Are they Reinventing the Wheel? According to Fidelity, Music Lives will primarily be a fund to support other programs that are doing great work. They will NOT have programs of their own. This makes some sense since there are plenty of great music education programs and non-profits that could use the support.
How Does Someone Apply? Like many umbrella funds (money generated for re-granting purposes) Music Lives plans on identifying programs for potential support and then inviting organizations to apply. It does not appear there will be an open application process for anyone. This is not an uncommon practice with this type of fund. The question will be “how does one get on their radar screen for consideration?” This I am sure will become clearer as they develop the overall organization model.
Even though the roadway is littered with the wreckage of corporate tie-ins to music education that have gone into the ditch, Fidelity deserves the benefit of the doubt. I do think they probably are sincere about the issue and love the tie-in with a music legend. Their intentions seem to support the broad goals of the music education community.
My only hope is that Fidelity/Sir Paul/Music Lives will work strategically with the rest of the field who have been fighting the good fight to ensure their effort have the greatest impact on the entire field, and that when the allure of the shiny new initiative wears off they are right there in the trenches, standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us fighting for this idea of music for all.