I went to college for free. Yes, I know- definitely not something you want to shout in a room full of other millennials. But, indeed, I went to college to study opera for free, because I received a full scholarship based on a successful audition. An audition I was prepared for because I went to an arts high school that offered every music student free, weekly voice lessons. And my determination to apply for this arts high school was stoked by passion and exposure to the arts and music throughout elementary and middle school. After college, I did not hit the “Operatic Superstar Level”, but I continued performing professionally, while working in the private sector. I founded my own music non-profit organization, Hued Songs, and eventually landed an incredible role at The Miami Foundation, leading our Music Access, Arts, and Culture initiatives.

But even if I hadn’t sung another note out of college, my free degree enabled these opportunities. It opened doors that may have otherwise been closed. All because of music and the arts. The trajectory of my career was shaped by having access to learning, exploring, and honing these areas. That access, however, could have been altered significantly had I just lived in a different neighborhood with less exposure to the arts.

The work I lead at The Foundation is rooted in the belief that access to music, music education, and the arts are a right- not a privilege. Our vision is that every child have access to high-quality music education, that every resident in our city has the opportunity to experience art in their community, and that we continue to provide meaningful mediums for local artists to grow, amplify their voices, and be paid for their work.

Miami’s vibrant arts offerings have solidified our city as a cultural and global hub for creativity. We are the stomping grounds for renowned music festivals and international art fairs and, moreover, we are fortunate to have many incredible arts organizations and artists, who call Miami “home”. The reality is, however, that there are too many pockets of our city in which our youth and residents don’t have access to the arts, whether it be arts education or the opportunity to experience the arts within their community. And while a silver lining of 2020 was actually the increased  access to the arts due to technology, this requires capable devices and high-speed internet, which is not something all Miamians have access to. Further, the capacity, know-how, creation space, and resources required to create high-quality digital content have all been in limited supply for artists and organizations during this time of great uncertainty. And even as we look ahead to brighter and safer times, the arts still need our help.

Many things have changed from the lives we once lived pre-pandemic. Despite this, the arts continue to be a vibrant beacon helping to transform, inform, and inspire our communities. As we prepare to launch more initiatives aimed at strengthening our arts communities, like our summer Music Access mini-grants and increased opportunities for general operating support, we are continuing to think of ways to amplify and support the work happening in this space.

Lean in; artists and organizations are using their platforms in powerful ways to address urgent issues surrounding our community. Music, Dance, Literature, Theatre, Cinematic Arts, they are all vital because they help change lives and shape futures, just like mine. I hope you will join me on this journey of making our city even more brilliant through the arts. One song, one play, one film, one plié, one step at a time.

Kunya Rowley is the Manager of Music Access, Arts, & Culture at The Miami Foundation.

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