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June 17, 2021

Local music education program receives $1 million donation from MacKenzie Scott

Play On Philly said it will use the gift to expand its offerings to serve more students in the area

Donations Music
Play On Philly MacKenzie Scott Sam Fritch/Play On Philly

Play On Philly currently serves 350 students across the city through its various music education programs.

Play On Philly, a local music education initiative, is one of 286 organizations to recently receive a financial gift from philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott.

The youth music program was the recipient of a $1 million donation that the organization said it will put toward expanding opportunities for more Philly students to participate.

"[The gift] comes at a pivotal time as we enter a new decade of providing transformative music education to students this fall," Play On Philly said in a statement. "Ms. Scott and her team’s decision to highlight so many arts and equity organizations speaks to her belief in the power of the arts to change our social and systemic problems. With this gift, our staff and board will make investments in Play On Philly’s students and future growth, empowering us to serve more students in the Philadelphia area."

Play On Philly provides daily tuition-free musical education to K-12 students in underserved communities across the city. Students who are enrolled in the program receive two hours of instrument instruction and ensemble practice every day at no cost.

The program was started in 2011 with 110 children ages 6-13 years old at St. Francis de Sales School in West Philly. Play On Philly established a second site at Freire Charter Middle School in Center City when the initiative expanded to 250 participants. 

The organization now has four sites across the city, having added Independence Charter School West in Southwest Philly and Roman Catholic High School in Center City to the program. Play On Philly currently serves 350 students citywide.

The initiative also seeks to develop life skills, academic achievement and social progress through its musical education. The organization found that participating students score ten points higher than their peers on standardized tests and have improved behavioral and study skills. 

Among the programs offered to students by Play On Philly are the following.

• A six-week, full-day summer music camp for rising students from first to 12th grade at Temple University's Boyer College of Music and Dance
• The Play On Philly Symphony Orchestra for middle and high school students who wish to participate in intensive music training. The ensemble puts on a number of performances across the region every year.
• The Emerging Artist Collective for students who wish to have private lessons and are interested in exploring a career in music. Students must be nominated and audition in order to enter the PEAC.

Scott, who was formerly married to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, wrote this week that she and her husband Dan Jewett donated over $2.7 billion to 286 organizations "in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked."

Jewett was formerly a chemistry teacher at Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr from 2002-2011, according to 6ABC.

Scott said that she, Jewett and a team of researchers, advisors and administrators spent the first quarter of 2021 "identifying and evaluating equity-oriented nonprofit teams working in areas that have been neglected."

The gifts were prioritized for organizations that were working at the local level, had leaders of color and supported community engagement and empowering women and girls.

Arts and cultural institutions like Play On Philly were of special focus to Scott and Jewett in this recent round of funding. 

"Arts and cultural institutions can strengthen communities by transforming spaces, fostering empathy, reflecting community identity, advancing economic mobility, improving academic outcomes, lowering crime rates and improving mental health, so we evaluated smaller arts organizations creating these benefits with artists and audiences from culturally rich regions and identity groups that donors often overlook," Scott wrote.

Scott and Jewett also donated to colleges and universities educating students from underserved communities and organizations that are "bridging divides through interfaith support and collaboration."

Gift recipients have been encouraged to spend the funding however they choose "because we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use," Scott wrote.

"There is nothing new about amplifying gifts by yielding control," she continued. "People have been doing it in living rooms and classrooms and workplaces for thousands of years. It empowers receivers by making them feel valued and by unlocking their best solutions. Generosity is generative. Sharing makes more."

Last December, Scott donated over $4 billion to 384 organizations across the country in an effort to provide support to people suffering from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lincoln University, the Chester County-based HBCU, received a $20 million gift from Scott, the largest single donor in the school's 167-year history.

The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, the Greater Philadelphia YMCA and Easterseals Southeastern Pennsylvania were also recipients of donations from Scott last December.

Organizations that were selected to receive financial gifts at the end of 2020 were identified as those working in communities that were facing high levels of food insecurity, racial inequality and poverty rates, as well as limited access to donations.

Food banks, emergency relief funds, civil rights advocacy groups and educational institutions were among the many organizations to receive a donation at the time from Scott.

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