A prize worth 1/4 of a year’s budget (or $500,000)

That’s what the Bush Grant for Community Innovation is worth.

This year’s winner is the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.

What for?

We were awarded the Bush Prize because we are shifting the paradigm of what an orchestra can and should be. We think differently about how orchestras can engage in problem-solving by asking ourselves: “How do we use the orchestra to make our community better?”


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  • The South Dakota Symphony has a great model for working with their community, including commissioning works that involve the Native American community, and presenting works by Pulitzer Prize winners – as many of the winning works rarely see future performances. Good for them and this recognition!

  • Is a symphony orchestra there to make the community better? Or get communities better through cultivating concert attendance? Do orchestras have to use their art for social engineering, or is orchestral playing already in itself social engineering? To which extent is ‘community service’ by orchestras a justification of their existence which otherwise would be questioned for being l’art pour l’art and elitist? Is listening to a Mahler symphony in a concert hall with cloakroom, toilets and soft foyer lights and carpets socially divisive, and if so, would listening to the same piece in a cold, acoustically deplorable factory hall diminish social alienation? Is listening to a Mahler symphony alone in my room community building? And if not, is listening to the same piece in a concert hall a community experience because of an experience being shared? And if so, what kind of community: socially, ethnically, financially, politically relevant or just a niche event for a niche audience with an expensive taste? If attending orchestral concerts would be cheaper than a cinema ticket, would it then contribute to better functioning of communities? Just wondering…..

    • I think you have a minute to listen to this radio interview it may answer some of your questions. And perhaps help you understand why this particular symphony orchestra was awarded the prize. It is highly unusual for an orchestra to be given this award but the SDSO has been consistently dedicated to doing some unique things in their community that aren’t about audience building but about relationship building. http://listen.sdpb.org/post/dakota-midday-sdso-bush-award

  • It used to be that members of a particular community would ask the same question, but in a slightly different way: “how can we make our community a better place”? And the answer was “let’s start an orchestra”! So this is obviously turning a logical question right on its head. Ah, cultural Marxism!

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