Why Is Mellon's $2 Million Gift to Support a New Masters Music Program So Important?

Readers should know that we here at IP are big fans of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. After giving him a shout-out in a theater post regarding the Roy Cockrum Foundation, we can now say that we're spending our free time tackling his ambitious novel The Savage Detectives.

The book looks at a clan of aspiring (and starving) poets in Mexico City in the early 1970s. It's romantic stuff. The characters are young, idealistic, and obsessed with the art of poetry, whether it's spending all night discussing Ezra Pound or Chinese masters from the mid-first century.

The book evokes a simpler, bohemian time that nowadays seems quaint and anachronistic. None of the poets seemed to have day jobs. They floated around from cafe to cafe. They somehow got by on poetry, charm, and the kindness of others.

We couldn't help but juxtapose the past and the present upon coming across today's news, which finds the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarding a $2 million grant to support Bard College's innovative master of music degree program in "Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies," and its resulting ensemble, The Orchestra Now.

Vividly aware of the financial, economic, and professional demands on modern artists, curators, and musicians alike, the Mellon Foundation realizes that it's actually difficult to pay the bills with one's poetry, charm, and the kindness of strangers. So they've been recently funding programs that create hybrid career paths that blend both performance and professional dimensions.

Take, for example, a $2 million grant to fund the Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program at a half-dozen museums, which provide specialized training in the curatorial field for students from diverse backgrounds across the United States. The program attracts not only curatorial students, but also visual artists who, for whatever reason, may be burned-out or disenchanted with the art-making world.

Viewed through this lens, the gift to Bard makes perfect sense. Just take the title itself, which blends three distinct elements of the arts and music world—curatorial, critical, and performance. Rather than settle for just one of these three fields, students can dip their feet in all three.

According to the press release on Bard's website, the program is designed to prepare select conservatory graduates for the challenges facing the modern symphony orchestra and to produce scholars and advocates of classical and contemporary music as well as practiced members of a top-grade orchestra. Musicians receive three years of advanced orchestral training and take graduate-level courses in orchestral and curatorial studies, leading to a master of music degree.

And so the gift to Bard, like those that preceded it, aims to a create a logical and economically viable career roadmap for artists and performers of all stripes.