In 1993, Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) together with Werner Schmitt, director of the Bern Conservatory, and Marianne Poncelet launched the MUS-E programme, anchoring active art experiences in education and promoting intercultural dialogue,.
In alignment with The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child , MUS-E gives priority to investment in one of the basic building blocks of society: school education. Art and school education mutually enrich one another while having a strong impact on social dynamics. MUS-E helps schools to open up to the outside world: the neighbourhood, the town, cultural and social life and to involve families in their children’s development. MUS-E focuses on mutual respect and it is intended for all children.
Up to now, the programme has targeted children living in districts where there are significant risks of social exclusion and where schools have to cope with multiculturalism and acute societal problems and high social vulnerability. Participating schools are open to transcultural dialogue and can belong to all types of educational networks, independent of pedagogical approach. MUS-E creates and provides a platform for artists, enabling them to explore more opportunities to fulfil their role in society.
MUS-E is now active in 12 countries in Belgium, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, Cyprus, Israel and Brazil and the MUS-E associations are members of the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation.
While the challenges of creating a more cohesive society are still present Covid19 has add unprecedented difficulties to our work.. Although challenging, MUS-E together with their artists and teachers have proven to be inventive to promote and develop new teaching initiatives and keep on providing access to education through the arts.
Here are some insights from the fields and result of open questionnaires sent to each MUS-E associations.
Thanks to all the organizations for their contributions. Now more then ever we need to start thinking as a community of practitioners to face up to the challenges .
This work is the result of an open questionnaire sent to each of the 13 associations of Mus-e Italia network. The questionnaire was turned from each local location to various people involved in the Mus-e workshops, from artists to pupils, from teachers to school headmasters, and systemized by each local and artistic/educational coordinator. This was done in order to have a choral and polyphonic consideration on the unique and unstable period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep a broad look at the response dynamics of the people involved in the Mus-e project, and make it more effectively in a concise report, Mus-e Italia relied on the work of an external professional figure: this is how I was entrusted with the task of doing a socio-anthropological analysis of the many pages derived from the questionnaire questions to write an article to share with International Mus-e network. I used ethnographic survey techniques to account for the complexity of opinions of children, artists, teachers and coordinators: the text I drew from it comes from the convergence of opinions that focus on the implementation of technological instruments, digital know-how, in the world of teaching and consequently of Mus-e, to continue the educational, artistic and inclusion mission started by Yehudi Menuhin in a world that can suddenly change. The solutions to continue and improve the Mus-e project are there, provided that we are careful to collect and synergy the ideas and needs of those who adhere to it, and can be implemented effectively, telling the fundamental usefulness to potential investors.
The impact of the health emergency on schools and the education system in Italy
The school has been an area that has been greatly affected by the health emergency caused by this wave of SARS-CoV-2. In Italy It’s been one of the first sectors to be physically closed and one of the last that will open. A paradox has been opened up about the school and its educational function: while it is undeniable that it is one of the systems at the base of the whole society, on the other, impacting with this pandemic, it has revealed all its shortcomings due to low investment.
As Mus-e Italia we are a reality present in the school system in twelve cities (plus a pilot project in Lecce) from north to south, and, as a project that combines institutional training with education of various artistic activities, we involve in our work, in addition to the students and pupils, also the teachers of their classes and the school directors. As Mus-e we have an internal and an external look at the school so we have a position that can be privileged in detecting the post-pandemic condition, the reactions to this long and sudden school closure, and therefore the problems of the educational system and the multiple potentials that can be put in place in the period of reform and school reformulation that now opens. For these reasons, we created and circulated a questionnaire (open-ended) on school quarantine and the future of pupils, and we had colorful answers resulting from the thoughts and experiences of the whole set of people involved in the Mus-e projects, from the gaze of girls and children, to the opinions of teachers and school leaders, and from the reflections of the artists, to the observations of the coordinators of the individual Mus-e offices in Italy.
The most obvious highlight of the use of Distance Learning (DL) is an accessibility problem: since we could no longer go to school, and having to attend lessons on digital platforms, social/economic inequality among pupils has been accentuated. That is, in terms of the availability of their families, pupils need a dedicated space, a computer or tablet and a sufficiently fast connection to follow a lesson remotely. So the effect unfortunately is that the school system of children, made to be made available and accessible to all, in the sudden transformation of lessons in DL has increased the distances between less fortunate and luckier girls/boys. The cause of this was first and foremost a lack of investment in technological instruments: there were no funds to equip the pupils, who lacked it, a device and a fast connection. In addition, on the merits of the relationship between school and new technologies, DL has also highlighted how digital skills on the part of the teaching staff are often lacking, as well as paths to mature computer knowledge for pupils. If the school is to be a place to develop and implement a renaissance, without obviously neglecting the fundamental dimension of vis-à-vis learning and physical contact between pupils, there is a need to find more economic investment in order not to be more unprepared for DL. Therefore, in the opinions we have identified, there is a structural dysfunction in the school system, where the solutions for an appropriate and fair functioning are new economic revenues and a wise model of investment.
Issues of artists and the cultural sector during the pandemic
We can assert it, without fear of being denied, that there were systemic problems, even before quarantine, in the cultural sector and in the work of artists: since the artists who work with Mus-e Italia are about two hundred and expressed a certain discomfort with respect to their work very
often anomalous, poorly structured, occasional and precarious; a job position found therefore at all levels, from macro to micro.
During the full pandemic emergency, these problems in the cultural sector were exacerbated because, first of all, every show and artistic event was deleted and, moreover, the world of artistic work remained rather “invisible” in government discussions and of the various technical and scientific committees. Therefore, counting that even at the moment the reopening of the quaternary sector of the economy (the cultural and creative economy) struggles to restart, the suffering of those who do it by trade is acute, having seen the possibilities of work collapsed totally. This, as Mus-e’s work is based on artists engaging in the world of training, can harm us because some of them, if the situation did not improve in Italy and were at the same time more advantageous elsewhere, could move abroad. It is also for this reason that the rethinking of the organizational and communicative modes of artistic and creative work, which has already been inevitably implemented in Mus-e (as in theatres, art galleries, cinemas, etc.), must be conveyed in the future, through a flourishing exchange of ideas and opinions, in a process that leads to continue what were the missions of their pre-emergence work in the new and unstable current horizon.
At the beginning of quarantine, the artists were forced to change their work from a concept based on physical contact to one based on the encounter through video recording or video conferencing platform. This process of transformation and, we might say, translation was neither neutral nor immediate. Entering into the merits of educational-creative work, the problem addressed concerns the communication between the artist and the students: the absence of human contact that identifies “the encounter” as an educational path, where through the decoding and reformulation of reality you create new codes and behaviors, imagine signs, build symbols, acquire functional skills, and therefore learn to “feel good Together”. If it has already been difficult to transpose these objectives into a video-screening, primarily because of the structural problems of the education system we talked about above, all the more so an online art laboratory is going through complex problems, as they involve activities that would require the presence, the body, the space, the voice and the contact with the other: in fact, not all artistic disciplines lend themselves equally to being translated online.
How the Mus-e associations in Italy have dealt with this unprecedented and sudden reality
All these issues, however, did not stop the work of Mus-e artists, who, citing the testimony of a little girl over all, “participated in video-surveys trying to lighten the climate with music and art”. More specifically, the individual Mus-e offices remained in contact with the school principals and teachers and, at first, the artistic-training activity remotely adapted by sending the students proposals to continue with an active participation: these proposals ranged from musical ones, to pictorial, acting, and more; there were different approaches depending on the objectives and the vision that was proposed for the activity; switching to the video there was also a range of aesthetic variations, depending on whether the direction, more mobile or fixed-room, was more or less fundamental to the script. Later, with the help of local coordinators, when and where it was possible, the artists participated live in the lessons by video call. In general, Mus-e’s online activities for classes found in the communicative urgency a key to artistic expression, which looked at the possibilities of remote encounter as social closeness in the moment of inevitable physical
distance. That is, although the approach to the pupils had become necessarily unrelated to the physical presence and mediated by a screen, we continued to carry out our work of cultural training and social inclusion related to the promotion of the expression of the arts, trying to (using the expressions of a pupil after a video school) “to arrive in the hearts of children, because the hearts of children are like music boxes that must be loaded live with the touch of a hand”.
In order to “pop on camera” in the future, in a probable continuation of distance learning, and to train the educational-artistic richness of the pupils, the place of being able to get to all the boys and girls, we must now trace the solutions that make possible a space more suitable for the relationship at a distance, in order to obtain a denser online contact: to be able to take advantage of a video conferencing platform in which to share the screen of their device live and messages; set up a suitable digital training system for Mus-e operators focused on the multiple possibilities of artistic expression remotely.
Directions to be taken in the immediate future
If we are convinced that this health and social emergency is also a great opportunity to restructure the cultural and educational system, implementing its character as an inexhaustible resource to build more sustainable and supportive futures, and if we think that the expression of the arts also filtered by a computer demonstrates its extraordinary cohesive and cathartic strength, it is because we know for sure that with the support of economic investments , on computer instrumentation and technological-digital training, a school can be built in solidarity and just, rich in positive sociality and expressive and tolerant dynamics, which, in this way, leads to a more convivial society, where conflicts are resolved with peaceful confrontations and is therefore greater the psycho-physical well-being of people.
This is because the priority of the Mus-e project remains, even in a form of Distance Learning, to emancipate children and young people towards an artistic reading of the real, positioning itself as a facilitator for each individual, as a social person, to be welcomed in its human and cultural depth, in full respect of the environment of belonging. Every single pupil is read in his socio- cultural complexity and invited, through the acquisition of suitable instruments, to discover new horizons, to a personal reading of the environment near and far, and to create his own spaces on the path to beauty. In addition to the implementation of the technology-digital sector, the need for a closer link between the various arts, as well as close collaboration with the teaching staff, has been highlighted to set up a teaching where the acquisition of skills and abilities is a means, not an objective, functional to socio-cultural growth.
These challenges that we accept for the immediate future, finding the right investment, are more indispensable than ever today to pursue the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as the economic crisis that has already been triggered threatens to result in a social crisis. Our training work with children through the arts is complementary to the curriculum, and we hope to find the means to expand, as our artistic projects in the classroom move concretely to provide quality education that guarantees freedom and fairness to each one, combating poverty, enhancing and promoting the social and economic inclusion of all people (regardless of gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic status or otherwise), and encouraging effective partnerships between public and private in the public sector.
These commitments as an association and our projects are essential today also for a more intimate reason in each of us, all the more so in boys and girls, that is the need to rework this extraordinary and unprecedented experience. We want to emphasize this need with the reflection of a child who participated in our courses, who wrote, with respect to the quarantine period and with respect to the future:
“I think the Covid emergency has confined us to a bubble, that it has affected those who need a presence next to the lesson” and “I think it’s an uncertain future because we don’t know if we’ll go back to school, how we’ll learn, and if what we’ve learned now will serve us tomorrow.” We are sure that artistic expression is an essential practice to share such exceptional and pervasive moments and to reformulate one’s past towards a more serene future.
Domenico Maria Costantini, Social Anthropologist
What impact had the corona crisis on our national education system?
A look on primary schools: From mid of March 2020 all schools were closed all of a sudden. More or less the teachers kept in touch with the pupils. Some pupils/parents did not have the electronic devises, experience or language competence to take part in digital home schooling. In this cases it took some weeks to include also these children. Experienced and engaged teachers did a great job like starting the day together with their pupils online, checking the completed tasks, calling by phone or visiting the children and families. While others just gave homework online.
What happened to artists and the cultural sector in general?
Artists and the complete cultural sector came to a sudden stop. The government was quite quick in establishing funds for freelance artists. Yet the revival of the cultural sector proceeds only with tiny and slow steps. As indoor assemblies with larger groups of people are still very restricted there are no concepts how to make a restart. Small groups start outdoor or with other creative ideas.
MUS-E® projects in times of the Coronavirus?
Also the MUS-E® projects came to a sudden stop. After the schools’ restricted restart MUS-E® projects could not be continued as the school lessons concentrated on basic learning (write, read, count). No lessons in music, art and sport were scheduled and external persons were not allowed to enter the school building.
Only in one school with elder pupils in Berlin the MUS-E® project could be continued.
What did MUS-E® do as a reaction to this crisis?
* MUS-E® Germany did continue to pay the artists for eight more weeks after the shutdown as a sign of support and appreciation.
* We were in close contact with our coordinators.
* We decided to take over the costs of the MUS-E® lessons for the second interrupted school semester 2019/2020 and to provide the schools with the money for another school semester (the first in 2020/2021) that the children will have a chance for a complete uninterrupted MUS-E® project. This was possible with generous gifts to our quickly established „special charity fund“ during the corona crisis.
How did MUS-E® artists deal with the situation?
Some artists produced videos to keep in touch with their classes although the children could only be reached with the help of the class teachers.
In a few cases the artists could be at school for a good bye before the summer break.
What impact the coronavirus crisis had on your national education system?
From March 13 2020 onwards the lockdown in Belgium was a fact. This meant abrupt closure of all schools, lessons and all public services and buildings. The schools were obliged to provide care for children of parents who work for example in the health sector. After the Easter holidays on monday April 20 schools started pre-teaching. This meant teaching online and making lessons-packages for all pupils which could be collected from the schools. Many children and youngsters could not be reached because of the absence of computers/laptops at home.
On Friday May 8 the measures were made less strict and three grades per school could attend school unless there could be a safe distance guaranteed by creating 4 square meters for each pupil and 8 square meters for the teacher in one classroom. From June 5 all classes can restart and each class is considered a ‘contact-bubble’ which can not be in contact with another ‘contact bubble’ to create safety. For schools this is difficult to organize breaks on the playground.
What happened to the artists and cultural sector in your country?
All cultural institutes closed doors and therefore exhibitions, concerts and performances in Belgium and abroad were canceled/postponed. Workshops, lessons and ateliers with students and participants came to a sudden stop. All of this meant an enormous drop of income for artists and many had difficulties to survive. Many online art projects arose, which were mostly artists’ initiatives, i.e. unpaid work.
What did MUS-E as a reaction?
MUS-E Belgium kept on paying the artists who were working on a project the moment the lockdown started. So from March13 until their project would last, they received their wages. In return they created movies, booklets for the children with art works by the same children they worked with at that moment.
The MUS-E team organized weekly video-calls to be updated, organized and informed. There was time to reflect and plan the future. The ministry of education launched several calls for proposals for summer schools- and activities but also for qualitative afterschool daycare sessions for the period September-December 2020. This in order to support children who need extra activities to support and encourage them with language and learning in a playful manner. MUS-E saw this as an opportunity to write the applications with a long-term vision and collaboration with cultural partners in mind.
What impact had corona crisis on our national education system?
In mid-April the Federal Council of Switzerland decided that the compulsory primary schools would be re-opened 11 May 2020. The corresponding protection concepts had been drawn up. Class events, school camps, parent’s meetings at schools are still prohibited. The school rooms should be furnished in such a way as to ensure a certain distance to each other. The teachers should keep a distance of two meters to their students. Using digital teaching and learning tools is a new reality. Questions are raised such as “how should the pupils be assessed at distance?” or “should the school children be allowed to travel in crowded buses without a protection mask?” and many others more. In addition to factual issues, there are big emotional impacts weighing heavily on all concerned. To cope with the new situation is a real challenge.
What happened to the artists and cultural sector in general? MUS-E® Projects in Times of the Coronavirus?
The drastically changed situation brought particular challenges for our MUS-E® artists. Can children be encouraged to engage in creative activities from distance? Would it make any sense at all? A few artists have tried it. It is impressive to see how well some of them used new media to stay in contact with the children. “Corona projects” are currently being implemented in several schools. Short video films are created, one class invents a fantasy story using the class chat, another class is modelling sculptures. Now all schools are opened again and it seems, that many of them installed technologies such as Zoom, Teams etc. as a new tool for teaching and use them on regular terms.
The Corona crises hit the people working in the artistic and cultural sector heavily. The crises effects two sides, one is the economic one, the other is the creative one. The artists income broke in all of a sudden. A lot of them realized, that they aren’t insured for times like this. Looking from the artistic side, who else could better cope with such a situation than artists? They came up with lots of touching projects as you saw them on television: singing on the balcony, giving a solo violin concert in the park, putting a concert on Youtube from home, and many more. Crises are chances, the artists know the tools to handle crises.
What did MUS-E as a reaction to these crises?
Unfortunately, many events and projects had to be cancelled or postponed. Then what about the payments of the artists, who just lost their engagements?
Corona virus – MUS-E® artists in Switzerland
Short-time work and compensation for self-employed artists
Short-time work has been announced for all affected MUS-E® artists in Switzerland during Corona crises. The aim of short-time working is to preserve jobs which would otherwise be at risk. To this end, companies can temporarily reduce the working hours of their employees or even stop working completely. The so-called short-time compensation is paid for the loss of work. This amounts to 80% present of the loss of earnings, i.e. 80% of the lost wages.
Self-employed artists who suffer loss of income due to official measures to combat Corona virus will also be compensated, unless compensation or insurance benefits have already been paid.
Compensation is provided for following cases:
- Closures of schools
- Medically prescribed quarantine
- Closure of an independently managed publicly accessible business
The regulation also applies to freelance artists who suffer an interruption of employment because their engagements are cancelled due to the measures taken against the Corona virus or because they have to cancel an event on their own.
The cultural institutions were also willing to offer support within the scope of their possibilities. In the Canton of Bern, where most MUS-E® projects take place, the Directorate of Education and Culture BKD has been intensively searching for solutions. The following has agreed in combination with short-time working: The lessons that are cancelled could be made up and invoiced.
MUS-E® must go on! We take the crises as an opportunity to show the importance of arts in schools especially in difficult times and we are increasing our fundraising activities.
How do MUS-E® artists deal with the situation?
Due to the changes of COVID-19 students, artists and teachers had quickly to adapt to exchanges at distance by using virtual media, a big challenge for all concerned. Luckily, most school children are equipped with the necessary infrastructure. Some artists used social media and stayed in contact with the school children during the whole lockdown.
We asked the artists to show us their own strategies for dealing with the difficult situation.
Have there been artistic approaches? How have they been in contact with MUS-E® classes? The artists were asked to report back to us about the activities or send us photos of current or previous MUS-E® projects, which we will make available on Facebook and Instagram.
Learning, teaching, working at distance has been a challenging experience. Still, art projects can’t be replaced with virtual contacts. You want to see real faces and actions, hear spontaneous laughing, smell the air in the classroom, feel the energy of the individual and the group. Sooner than later, the artists want to go back to live sessions.
Personal view – Impressions of Ruth Bielmann, coordinator
Art projects can offer diverse experiences and full concentration on creative work. COVID-19 has thrown us in a new reality. Trying out something new, failing, getting up and carry on, overcoming challenging situations together, wondering, asking questions, looking for solutions, losing oneself while creating, enduring frustration, being happy about what has been achieved. Being proud after the completion of a project.
Doesn’t that sound like a school of life? When I visit MUS-E® schools, I always encounter children in their highest concentration, absorbed in their work. But not being in the mood or feeling inner resistance is also part of it. All in all, the children can benefit from these projects and gather experiences, nice and good ones, maybe difficult ones too. The projects contribute to strengthening the community and to developing the potential of the individual.
This is my wish for each child, each class and each school.
Associação Yehudi Menuhin Portugal
Covid-19 forced MUS-E Portugal to rethink their aims and methods. The challenges of the programme have also slightly moved: before covid-19, it was difficult to demonstrate the usefulness and advantage of MUS-E, compared to other art/education/inclusion projects. With covid-19, the main challenge is the technical adaptation to the non-classroom environment and integration into the school structure. Yet, in close collaboration with the schools (teachers and directors), they managed to reach out students with activities and synchronous sessions. They have taken a digital turn with the objective of implementing a program that aims to distribute notebooks and tablets to children who do not have access to the necessary tools.
MUS-E Évora has launched with their local team a 10-episode online theatre play called “Era una vez… o livro” (Once upon a time… the book) which was published afterwards. The action aimed at giving pedagogic and entertainment content for children around the theme of the book and address several aspects of their curricula as well as promote their interest in reading. After the first release, many teachers – not only from their school group but other schools as well ) started to request the links to teach their students. The translation of the episodes in other languages with the support of the MUS-E Network gave an exponential outreach of the materials created, which were used in Europe and abroad. After an evaluation of the approach coordinated by teachers, psychologists, cultural animators and school boards, they created a project “#ça em casa, o artista sou eu” (#at home, I’m the artist”. During 8 “webisodes”, they helped students building their own show. For all students, but particularly those having difficulties accessing the internet, they delivered a paper worksheet at school explaining the on-going process.
The International MUS-E Council managed by IYMF are essential in streamlining the reflection on the themes “Modern MUS-E. The global and digital world” as well as for the exchange of best practices for the sustainability of the project and its stakeholders.
Fundación Yehudi Menuhin España
In Spain, on March 14, the state of Alarm was decreed and face-to-face classes were suspended. Yet, work continued online, with many difficulties, and the great digital battle that existed has been revealed, between centres and students. As far as artists are concerned, the Fundación Yehudi Menuhin España (FYME) has embraced an ERTE, temporary regulation of work where the state pays 70% of salary.
During this period, FYME has launched a series of online workshops and tutorials applying MUS-E Methodology and shedding light on the value of the arts in the construction of the personality and in the personal development. Those activities allowed children to continue learning while having fun and as Yehudi Menuhin said “a happy child is a child who learns”.
It is highly important to promote the value of the Art in the face of this crisis, as highlighted by the FYME President Enrique Barón Crespo.
n the face of the current crisis there are two ways out: the first is to rely on an illusory isolation, a retreat and hostility that leads to unilateral and aggressive policies. The other is to reaffirm as one humanity that we have to face a global challenge with global responses and solidarity in politics, economics, health… and also in culture. That is why, in the face of selfishness – the ‘self first as the motor of profit’ – we must strengthen the world order of which the WHO, the UN World Health Organisation, is an essential element fighting for a universal public good.
For reasons of public health, Art cannot now be done in traditional spaces, from schools to theatres or auditoriums, although human inventiveness is finding other ways. But confinement has a limited time. When we overcome this emergency situation, the world will never be the same again, and in order to reconsider the frenzy of movement and in communication in today’s world, art in all its dimensions must play a decisive role.
That is why we emphasize that in this period of confinement ‘The school is not closed, the buildings are closed’. Within this framework, teachers continue their work with vocation and conviction.
Up until March 2020, the MUS-E school year went on as it used to for 25 years. Our artists visited children on a weekly basis, incorporating activities into their normal schedule. This year 26 artists, in 6 cities, 8 schools, and 18 classes, worked with approximately 400 children, in a year-round and trimester system.
In Hungary (due to the COVID-19 virus), according to the decision of PM Orbán and the Operative Board on the evening of 13th March, schools were closed first for an indefinite period starting on 16th March and then until the end of the school year, 12th June. Teachers had a weekend to prepare and switch to digital education.
On Monday, 16 March, digital education launched across the country. That is, it would have launched, but the first period clearly fell victim to general panic. Then in a couple of weeks, the system was more or less organised and teaching began with varying success and results.
On 17th March the MUS-E Hungary “Operative Board” held its first meeting, one day after the school closures, and from then on nearly every day, until our own new system was set up.
As a first step, we consulted with our teachers, asked how much struggle they had to face, what their difficulties were and what platforms schools work on (different in each case: Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Skype, Facebook, Zoom, e-mail). We also learnt that unfortunately not everyone was able to integrate digital education. By region (on a variable basis), 5-50% of classes were unable to join due to lack of technical equipment, deep poverty or other reasons.
From then on, we held MUS-E Operative Meetings several times a week and full team meetings once a week.
We have identified two paths:
- As immediate, quick help, we created illustrative videos to help interpret and comprehend the curriculum. Video topics were provided by teachers. They sent poems, music, or other content on a weekly basis which we processed with artistic tools. In 2 months, 23 study-aid-videos were created in the form of 5-10-minute sessions.
- As a continuation of MUS-E classes, we launched online MUS-E sessions. Each week, different artist pairs made 2 videos, one for children in Grade 1-2 and another for students in Grade 3-4. Areas of arts included music, dance, fine arts, visual engineering, cinema, theatre, movement, circus, singing and their combinations. In total, we produced a 28 episodes series, entitled “MUS-E – House of Treasures”.
During these two months we learned a lot about ourselves, about each other, from each other, about the digital space, online interfaces and their impact, but most of all we found a new and thus far lesser known path to reach children. We developed the quantity and content of format that most effectively aroused children’s interest. Several of our videos already have thousands of views.
Each of our short films also encourages activity, co-creation or making a singular piece of work. Lots of drawings, photos, and videos were sent to us by students with the help of teachers.
We have embarked on a new journey, which is worth pursuing – in addition to our previous activities. Our team of artists was enthusiastic and curious about the new challenge and contributed to the weekly video series with great pleasure and through an inexhaustible toolbox. Overwhelming positive feedback shows that a new, useful and high-quality tool has been introduced into digital education to alleviate the difficulties of learning at home.
What impact did the corona crisis have on your national education system?
The conona crisis impacted Israel’s national education system in overt and covert manners.
Overtly, the pandemic caused the following problems:
- The national education system closed in-person activities and pivoted to distance learning, which relies on access to technological devices and an internet connection. Typically, students from low-income families have limited, or zero, access to such technologies. In fact, many of the students in our project shared with us that the only device they could use is their parent’s cellphone, which is not conducive for learning. Even those who had access to a laptop often had to rely on internet from a cellphone rather than a more stable WiFi connection. Given this disparity, as well as differing levels of computer literacy, the situation widened the pre-existing academic gaps between students from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds.
- At the tertiary level, over half of Israeli students are concerned about paying their tuition due to coronavirus and 19% have decided to postpone their studies due to financial difficulties.
Covertly, COVID-19 impacted our national education system in the following ways:
- In March, the Israeli government instituted a national “lockdown” designed to curb the spread of the virus. A devastating economic crisis ensued, causing approximately one million Israelis to lose their livelihood. In April, Israel’s unemployment rate soared to over 27% – the highest in the nation’s history – standing in stark comparison to the 4% level prior to the crisis. While some have been able to return to work in recent weeks, many have had to find new, lower-paying jobs, and half of working-age adults report their financial situation has worsened, foreshadowing increasing income inequality.
- Undoubtedly, those who have been, and will continue to be, most negatively impacted during these turbulent economic times are those who were already struggling just to make ends meet. Many of our students’ parents were laid off from their unstable and low-wage positions with no savings to fall back on. Throughout this time, they have been trying their best to feed, care for, and “homeschool”, their children, many of whom experience learning challenges. Unemployed parents find it very difficult to support their children physically or emotionally as they face ongoing problems in and out of school.
- These findings immediately impact the society’s mental health. Thus, according to recent surveys, one-third of Israelis are experiencing increased anxiety and a quarter of parents shared that their children’s emotional wellbeing deteriorated. Ironically, it is at the exact moment when children are most in need of care that society is least able to fund beneficial educational and therapeutic programs.
- These statistics weigh heaviest on the weaker segments of our population, as societal gaps grow wider in times of stress. Israel’s minority groups hurt most by the pandemic include: Arab Israelis, who constitute 21% of the population, however, 44.2% Arabs live in poverty; Ethiopian immigrants (2% of Israel’s population) and Druze populations (120,000 individuals, many of whom don’t have the internet infrastructure for long-distance education).
- Also, many members of the religious communities directed and worked in educational programs designed for overseas students. Due to the lockdown, these students will not choose to study in Israel. The institutions may be forced to close, and all of these educators will lose their jobs.
- In addition, welfare ministries report a dramatic rise in sexual violence amid the corona crisis as victims of abuse find themselves trapped in homes with abusers.
What happened to the artists and cultural sector in general?
With the worldwide concert industry now in flux, the coronavirus disruption has created a volatile environment for artists, musicians, songwriters and producers on every level. Indeed, our artists are among those hit most by the financial ramifications of COVID-19.
Starting in the Wuhan province, concert halls were amongst the first places to restrict their public activities. As the pandemic spread across the world, concert halls, libraries, museums, theaters, zoos, and gardens closed their doors indefinitely (or at least radically curtailed their services), with exhibitions, events, and performances postponed or cancelled. Whether the result of voluntary safety measures, decreased public demand due to fears of the virus, or mandated governmental restrictions, by late March, most cultural institutions ceased in-person activities. In addition, venues halted rehearsals and producers suspended filming.
In response, there were intensive efforts to provide alternative or additional services through digital platforms, and to maintain essential activities with minimal resources. Despite these stop-gap measures, the extended closure of musical venues threatens the long-term survival of these activities. In Israel, and around the world, the gravity of the situation is demonstrated by the following problems:
- The cancellation of shows and concerts by both local and international performers caused many of our artists to temporarily, or permanently, lose contracts or employment.
- Given the widespread unemployment amongst artists and the cultural sector in general, the Israel Association of Musical Performing Arts Promoters recently sent a letter to Finance Committee Chairman, Moshe Gafni, requesting compensation for the economic damage due to the cancellations.
- In addition to musicians, the virus is also negatively impacting cinema as filmmakers are unable to produce new work or even screen their existing films. Israel’s largest film festivals – Docaviv, the Tel Aviv documentary film festival, in May; the Jerusalem Film Festival in July; the Haifa International Film Festival in the fall – have all been postponed. Internationally, Israeli filmmakers are concerned about the cancellation of major global film festivals, such as Cannes, which offers critical exposure.
- In the words of one Tel Aviv music professional, “The virus is creating a huge logistical nightmare for all.” Indeed, some filmmakers are hoping that festivals will continue digitally and that they will sell their movies to online streaming platforms as opposed to theatrical distribution.
- Looking forward, the cultural sector expects that the public’s demand for these types of activities will return, but the timing and format of these events is impossible to foresee. For example, the public is more willing to attend events held in large outdoor spaces, such as outdoor concerts, zoos, or botanical gardens, than indoor concerts, cinemas, or museums. Undoubtedly, not all venues will survive this crisis and those that are able to re-open – including well-regarded institutions – will operate differently than in the past.
- As Israel gradually re-opens, the various methods of reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 include:
- Reducing the number of attendees allowed at one time;
- Staggering entrances, when possible, through reserved timeslots;
- Mandating attendees wear masks;
- Providing hand sanitizer;
- Encouraging social distancing by designing exhibits with a one-way route;
- Installing clear dividers between staff and attendees;
- Offering no-touch bathroom fixtures, such as hand dryers; and
- Checking each attendee’s temperature upon entry.
What did MUS-E do as a reaction to these crises?
Implemented within the framework of the Jaffa Institute’s educational and therapeutic programming, MUS-E reacted to these crises with an immediate and long-term goal in mind: firstly, to ensure that artistic and musical events continue and that the children, especially those at-risk, continue their creative activities; and, secondly, to financially and emotionally sustain the community of artists.
Adapting to operate in a remote capacity, the programs offered online learning and virtual therapy for children, their parents, and elderly individuals. Through WhatsApp groups and video chats (pictured), the staff continued to serve participants while tracking their progress. In addition, the children received nutritional support through food packages delivered to their home along with arts-and-crafts supplies, which provided them with a creative, educational, and therapeutic outlet.
The staff also created videos, such as the link featured below, with music, dances, stories, and artistic activities for parents to engage their children at home. Based on the parents’ needs, the staff also provided one-on-one counseling and translation services.
To sustain the community’s elderly individuals, including Holocaust survivors, the organization continues to provide food, therapy, and stimulation. Artists and children of the MUS-E program participate in visits, engaging these citizens in singing, dancing, and warm social encounters, from a safe distance, as seen in the below picture and video.
The main educational activity sponsored by Mus-E Jaffa, involved a six-week summer camp. As in every year, the Jaffa Institute organizes summer activities for the children that it serves. This framework is especially important for our children because they cannot afford to pay for local camps and we need to prevent them from wandering in the streets during the long summer days of vacation. The camp is held in strict adherence with safety and security procedures, as outlined by the municipality.
This year, we decided to devote the theme of the summer camp to a topic that is relevant to these days – Discovering the World through Technology and Culture. During six weeks, we are focusing on three locations: Japan, Italy and Africa, devoting two weeks to each area. To make this experience feel authentic, the children created their own “passport,” which will be stamped during each visit.
When we focus on the topic of “the environment and music”, the children will build instruments from recycled materials to accompany them as they sing in a choir. The purpose of the activity is to promote creativity, musicality, and intercultural awareness and acceptance through participating in performances of different musical styles.
The contents of the camp are delivered in collaboration with the Jaffa Institute’s scientific laboratories and include:
- A food lab that focuses on the historical aspects of the foods that characterize each country, and the contribution of technology and science to the development of the food industry.
- A science lab that focuses on the technological developments of each country.
- Cultural activities that highlight the culture of each country and its development.
We look forward to an instructive and experiential summer that arouses curiosity, creates challenges and cultivates excellence in an experiential and fun way.
Also, the Jaffa Institute has decided to expand its MUS-E music-education program. Toward implementing this goal, it appointed Alon Stern, an accomplished cellist and music educator, to direct the arts-education program. Alon’s responsibilities include: · Locating and training teachers in group art lessons, which adhere to the principles and values of MUS-E. The programs will take place in all of the Institute’s child-care centers and after-school educational programs. · Building and adapting an annual curriculum for all of the children.· Maintaining on-going follow-up and dialogue with the general staff and other artists. · Purchasing and safeguarding the equipment and instruments needed to secure the smooth running of the programs. · Creating and producing special events that bring together the children from the different child-care centers through singing, playing instruments, and other artistic activities.
This appointment is especially welcome in a time when so many artists have lost their jobs and sources of income. Moreover, it strengthens the Institute’s commitment to providing all of its children with quality arts education programs, in all times, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional activities, sponsored in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, and available for the MUS-E Jaffa Institute, include:
Well-known celebrities sing together with children, via a Zoom meeting, enabling the children to feel close to their admired singers.
Children volunteer to visit residents in senior citizen homes, and raise their spirits by playing music and dancing with them.
Arab children reach out to their brothers and sisters nationwide, encouraging them to find good in every bad situation.
Children’s school choir and orchestra perform for their friends nationwide.
Music teachers nation-wide joined forces via Zoom, and created an exciting musical ride for Israel’s children.