The "Glee Effect": Behind 21st Century Fox's Music Education Funding Lifeline

It's no secret that the smash Broadway musical Hamilton is very, very popular. How popular? Since tickets are so scarce, the production recently rolled out an online lottery making first-row seats available for as little as $10 each. On Monday, January 4th, the lottery went live—and promptly crashed. Visitors received an error message saying, "The service is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later."

We here at IP are particularly intrigued by Hamilton because some smart people have framed it as a kind of "gateway" production to the arts for young people. As we previously noted, the Rockefeller Foundation and Hamilton producers agreed to an arrangement whereby 20,000 New York City 11th graders—all from schools with high percentages of students from low-income families—can see Hamilton at a series of matinees beginning next spring and running through 2017. The foundation will allocate $1.5 million to subsidize student tickets and develop educational materials to help students contextualize the show.

The value of such an arrangement is pretty obvious. After all, one of the biggest challenges facing any arts organization is building demand, especially among the younger demographic. Hitching your wagon to a theatrical juggernaut like Hamilton is a outreach coordinator's dream come true. And the good news is that this model, built upon a pop culture phenomenon that excites audience hearts and minds, can be applied elsewhere. For proof, first take the field of music education in public schools. Next, replace the Rockefeller Foundation with 21st Century Fox and Hamilton with Glee. Suddenly, you're looking at a fantastic strategy for exciting kids about music education.

Partnering with the Give a Note Foundation, 21st Century Fox recently announced it distributed grants to 16 under-funded music programs at schools across the U.S. to coincide the end of Fox's music series Glee, which, over the course of its six-season run, sparked interest in school arts programs. In some cases, the grants served as the music budget for the entire school year, and others saved programs on the verge of elimination. Since 2011, 21st Century Fox businesses have donated more than $1 million in grants to nearly 90 arts programs across the country.

We have devoted a good deal of (figurative) ink to the topic of music education in public schools, and one ingredient that's often missing from the discussion is good, old-fashioned marketing. A music education program is only as strong as the interest it generates in its "consumers" (for a lack of a better term). The inherent magic of Hamilton and Glee, coupled with the savvy educational outreach efforts of foundations, shows that blockbuster productions can serve aims that transcend box office sales or increased viewership.

Jane Mell Balek, chief operating officer of the Give a Note Foundation, sums it up nicely, noting, "Glee has inspired us all to fight for what we believe in and has been truly influential in driving support for music and the arts in schools."

Related: 21st Century Fox Enters the Journalism Innovation Fray. What's it Mean?