For years, the Indianapolis not-for-profit once known as Bands of America built a reputation for organizing a series of regional marching band competitions that culminates in a national march-off here each November.
In 2006, the organization broadened its scope through a merger with an East Coast advocacy group, marrying performance-based evidence that music education has value with research-backed efforts to keep school programs around.
Now Music for All's research is making waves nationally, and the organization just landed $495,000 to complete its transformation.
The grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment comes on the heels of its release of an in-depth report revealing that almost one-fifth of New Jersey schools were ignoring a state mandate to provide music and arts classes.
Music for All also provided 26 recommendations on how to improve access to music and art classes, many of which New Jersey officials already have adopted.
The organization will use the grant to diversify funding that now comes mostly from earned revenue. For the fiscal year that ends Feb. 29, Music for All expects just $1.1 million of its $7.1 million revenue to come from contributions.
The group also is ramping up its research efforts-including a study on the state of music education in Indiana. With that in hand, music-education proponents plan to lobby to restore cuts made to music programming.
Advocacy was part of the former Bands of America's mission, but it got overshadowed by competitions.
"We were so driven with events and programming ... that our advocacy efforts weren't near as successful as we'd hoped," said Scott McCormick, president of Music for All and its predecessor.
Before the merger, Bands of America had about 21 employees and ran on a $6 million annual budget. The combined organization employs 28.
The idea behind Bands of America's merger with the New Jersey-based Music for All Foundation was to make the most of their combined resources and common missions: supporting music education.
Bands of America's competitions and summer camps provide schools a platform to showcase their music excellence and students the access to top instructors.
And advocacy was the Music for All Foundation's primary mission. It collected data so music-education advocates would know where school programs were lacking. Before the merger, it had a $500,000 budget and a staff of two.
In 2004, the foundation released a study it conducted on music education in California public schools. Researchers found that, over five years, music programming in the state had decreased 50 percent. The outcry against the cuts spurred California to invest more than $500 million to restore music and arts programming in schools.
"There's a need for this kind of data and analysis across the country," said Bob Morrison, Music for All's executive vice president for public affairs. "When you take the emotion out of the argument and look at the facts, positive change occurs without fail."
The foundation paid the entire $40,000 cost of the California study, in which researchers conducted spot surveys to come up with its broad-based findings.
The attention the report attracted helped Music for All land funders-including the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and rock star Jon Bon Jovi-who paid for a $350,000 school-by-school study of music and arts offerings in New Jersey.
New Jersey law requires all public schools to offer such classes, but Music for All's report released in September showed 19 percent of the schools were ignoring the mandate.
Since the report, schools are required to report all arts classes to the state Department of Education. Schools with no offerings were not disciplined, but state leaders worked with them to develop a fast-track plan to get art classes.
Changes in tune
To keep up with the research mission, though, the merged Music for All realized it would need to find new sources of revenue.
That work can't pay for itself, so leaders want the organization to become a bit more like other not-for-profits, doing more to reach out to donors and go after grants.
McCormick tells of a recent luncheon where he and several other arts organizations met with Mayor Greg Ballard's chief of staff. The groups introduced themselves and explained their funding streams, with most saying they're pulling in about half their money through donations and grants.
"I thought, 'Wow, our goal is to get to 25 percent contributions,'" McCormick said.
McCormick has been in talks with Lilly Endowment the past year to figure out what the organization needs to mix up its revenue stream. The grant came through in December.
The endowment wants Music for All to build a fund-raising program so it can afford more music-education research, and become the national leader in such studies, said endowment spokeswoman Gretchen Wolfram.
Music for All has hired a development director and is working with a consultant to develop a fund-raising plan.
Setting up a development program almost from scratch can be a challenge, said Kris Kindelsperger, a senior fundraising consultant at Greenwood-based Johnson Grossnickle & Associates.
But Music for All should have a leg up because it has a strong database of participants. Those music lovers-including alumni, parents and music professionals- are easy targets for direct appeals to support music-education advocacy.
"The key issue that any organization faces when they decide they want to do fund raising is, do they have a natural constituency from which to draw support?" Kindelsperger said. "If not, they've got to create one that would believe in what they're doing."
Music for All's research may have another advantage, too. While many groups are studying the benefits of music education for brain development and leadership skills, what's missing is a good snapshot of where state music education stands. It's hard to advocate for music programs unless supporters know where classes are missing.
Only some states require schools to report on art and music programs and even those facts need to be checked.
"Music for All gives an independent review of what's happening on the ground that's very valuable," said Mary Luehrsen, executive director for the NAMM Foundation, a New York-based group that lobbies for music education on a federal level and supports local advocacy through grants.
"Music for All's contribution to that body of work will continue to hold funding and policy decision-makers accountable," Luehrsen said.
Closer to home, music educators say although they need the research, few advocates can afford it. They hear anecdotal evidence of cutbacks, but don't have hard facts.
"It's critical to know what's going on now and how that compares to 10 years ago," said Lissa May, president of the Indiana Music Educators Association.
Music for All already has started work on studies in several states, including Indiana, Arkansas, New Hampshire and Oklahoma. A preliminary analysis of Indiana's data shows "an erosion" of music programs in Indiana, Morrison said. He's working with the state Department of Education and the Indiana Arts Commission to decide how to best dig deeper into the decline.
"[The trend] begs for a more in-depth review," he said.