United States Artists, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting artists and innovators, awarded alumnus Eddy Kwon an unrestricted $50,000 Fellowship to encourage his work with young Cincinnati musicians.
Kwon (BM Violin Performance, 2011) co-founded MYCincinnati with cellist Laura Jekel shortly after he graduated from CCM. The youth orchestra program offers free music lessons to children in Price Hill. It is part of Price Hill Will, which strives to revitalize the neighborhood through renovating homes, creating community gardens and other community-building initiatives.
“Price Hill has many wonderful assets, but, in 2011, it was clear that there were not many opportunities for intense, high-quality arts engagement in the neighborhood,” says Kwon. “Since MYCincinnati’s founding, we have always been at enrollment capacity with a long waiting list, which clearly demonstrates the community’s desire for such a program.”
The unrestricted fellowship gives Kwon financial support, which will allow him to “take some risks” in developing future projects as he deepens his investment in MyCincinnati and Price Hill, he says. Kwon is one of 45 innovators to receive the 2016 United States Artists Fellowship. The winners were nominated by peers and field experts for their impacts on their respective fields, including architecture and design, dance, literature, media and music. Each fellow receives $50,000 to help them continue to pursue excellence and innovation in their crafts.
“It’s an honor that I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I quite deserve,” says Kwon. “It’s a reminder that there is so much more we need to do to ensure that all young people — not just those with access to privileged resources — have opportunities to build upon their imaginations and be recognized for their work.”
MYCincinnati is a “musical family,” Kwon says. The program is modeled after El Sistema, a Venezuelan program that engages at-risk children in extensive music classes and rehearsals that culminate in the renowned Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. El Sistema is not a parent organization to MYCincinnati; rather, the latter is part of a loose network of programs inspired by the Venezuelan initiative. All of these groups strive to teach young people more than just music.
“At its core, MyCincinnati is a youth development program that uses music as a vehicle,” says Kwon. “We’ve seen children that, when they are first enrolled, cannot focus for more than a couple minutes at a time. After a year of MYCincinnati, they are able to focus and strive for excellence for a full hour of rehearsal.”
After several years, the children are also teaching and mentoring younger students and interacting with the community as ambassadors for the program. Some are even composing their own music while others conduct and lead orchestra rehearsals on their own. “There are too many amazing individual stories to recount,” Kwon says.
Kwon has been the director of MYCincinnati for several years, and he also directs the organization’s Ambassador Ensemble, an avant-garde string sextet that combines social activism with collaboration and performance. When he isn’t working with MYCincinnati, he often composes and performs with The Happy Maladies, a string quartet of which he is a founding member.
Two years ago, Kwon was awarded a $6,000 Cincinnati Art Ambassador Fellowship, which he used to compose, perform and film three concerts with the MYCincinnati Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, the program was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Louise Taft Semple Foundation to continue and expand the Ambassador project, which encourages outstanding MYCincinnati students to develop their own creative projects. All of these awards have allowed Kwon and his organization to shape Price Hill youth into artists, community leaders and mentors to their younger peers.
“I have absolutely seen many positive changes in both individual students, our MyCincinnati community and the greater Price Hill community in the short time MYCincinnati has been active,” Kwon says, adding that the program now has more than 100 students. “MyCincinnati is a musical family, and we strive to make every child feel welcomed, expected and supported.”
Story by CCM Graduate Student Alexandra Doyle