It’s not hard to find on the internet: a group photo from a Grammy Museum workshop that featured Stevie Nicks as the guest teacher, circa 2011. She’s surrounded by musicians, executives and a few hopeful young musicians — including a young Billie Eilish and Finneas, who were 9 and 13 at the time, and have spoken often of how many events they attended at the museum.
Since 2008, the museum in downtown Los Angeles has championed the notion that music is a gateway to learning, while enlisting the help of prolific artists and industry leaders along the way. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, that one tells a very clear story of what a difference such a foundation can make for young creatives.
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“We have inspiring stories,” says Michael Sticka, president and CEO of the Grammy Museum Foundation, and Variety’s 2023 Music Education and Advocacy Leadership honoree (presented by City National Bank). “Maren Morris went to the first Grammy Camp, which is our signature program, and talked about it when she got on stage for Best New Artist.” Giveon has spoken openly about discovering Frank Sinatra’s music at the museum. Olivia Rodrigo grew up right down the street.
“But it’s not just [about] the famous ones,” Sticka, who took the helm of the foundation in 2018, continues. “Any time I’m at the museum and see school groups — with kids smiling and laughing and learning, probably about an artist or genre they didn’t know existed — that’s what reminds me why I do what I do.”
At a time when research continues to prove that music education is linked to enhanced cognitive function in children and contributes to improved creativity, mental health, and emotional stability — yet continues to face budget cuts — Sticka and his team have produced more than 80 public programs and concerts annually, impacting over 50,000 K-12 students.
“That’s why we exist: to remove barriers to access,” he says. So when COVID threatened to restrict access to music education in an even more virulent way, Sticka and his team dialed-in to all the new and unexpected ways they could compensate. They launched the Learning Hub, which offers 80-plus lesson plans for students and teachers globally; “Collection: Live,” a streaming service featuring a curation of artist interviews, performances, and livestreams; and last year launched the inaugural Campaign For Music Education with the help of Eilish, Dua Lipa, Bruno Mars, Shawn Mendes, and Rosalia.
“The pandemic does seem like it was ages ago, doesn’t it?,” he asks rhetorically. “But when you’re a museum or a performing arts organization [relying] upon people coming in your doors or sitting in your seats, it hasn’t been an equal recovery. But we’ve really figured out how we can advance our mission digitally and in-person.”
Thus, certain long-term goals, like implementing free admission for all students, will take time, imagination and generosity. “Admission cost helps pay for our education programs,” he says. “It helps keep the lights on at the museum.”
Not surprisingly, Sticka’s personal sense of mission dates from his own childhood. “My music teacher in Ohio, she’s really the one who helped me understand music and different genres,” he says. “We were lucky enough to be able to have plays in grade school and musicals, and that was my foundation. That’s what I’ve built upon.”
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