Catalyst Grantee Profile: Symphony for a Broken Orchestra

Temple Contemporary: Symphony for a Broken Orchestra

Organization Mission: To creatively re-imagine the social function of art
Population Served: students, greater Philadelphia community, Temple University community
Founding Year: 2011 (Temple Contemporary)
Organization Website:;

Please provide a brief overview of the organization’s work. Temple Contemporary’s mission is to creatively re-imagine the social function of art. We believe in democratic leadership as the most appropriate way to produce an artistic program that inclusively responds to pressing issues of local and national significance. Embodying this democratic ethos, our program development is guided by a forty-member advisory council representing a broad spectrum of Philadelphia stakeholders, including neighboring high-school students of color, Temple University students and faculty, as well as civic/cultural leaders representing a range of skills (nurses, farmers, philosophers, artists, community activists, historians, etc.). To each annual meeting every adviser brings one question of local relevance and international significance to which they do not know the answer. After all of the questions are discussed, the council votes for the questions/issues deemed to reflect Philadelphia’s greatest cultural needs.
This process puts Temple Contemporary into a position of public service to address contemporary questions of urgency and simultaneously necessitates a fundamental philosophical shift for the organization: from a single curatorial/authorial voice to one that recognizes social engagement and debate as the determining factor of our programming. This re-ordering of conventional gallery values foregrounds curatorial accountability, reciprocity, and exchange, as the basis of TC’s social life, and by extension, our social values.
In a few sentences, please describe the problem you are working to solve and your approach to solving this problem. Symphony for a Broken Orchestra came about as we realized how marginalized arts education, specifically music education, has become within the School District of Philadelphia.  To give you an idea of how dire things have become, in 2007 the budget for arts programs was $1.3 million; in 2015 it was $50,000. Symphony for a Broken Orchestra was not an attempt to fix this problem, but rather an attempt to highlight this issue by raising awareness.  We worked with the Philadelphia School District who agreed to allow us to borrow many of their broken instruments (over 900), which were up until this point, being stored in closets and storerooms hoping the budget would someday allow these instruments to be fixed.  Composer David Lang created a composition based on the sounds that these instruments made in their broken state.  Over 350 musicians from all over Philadelphia played this piece using the same instruments for two live performances.  The next day, three instrument repair companies came and took the instruments away, where they are now being fixed and will be retuned to the School District in the fall of 2018.
Another part of this project is the website, where each of the instruments had their own portrait, coupled with the sound it made in its broken state.  Individuals could “adopt” these instruments for a fee, insuring repairs could be made in perpetuity. We recognize the instruments will need repairs again, so the additional funds raised will go towards those future repairs.  To date, we have raised over $200,000 in addition to the original money raised for the project.
How and why did you end up starting/working for this organization? As the Assistant Director, I was excited to come to Temple Contemporary to be a part of the newly formed model that Rob Blackson was initiating for our programming
What kind of trends do you see in your area of work? I see many more projects that are looking for ways to work collaboratively with other creative disciplines as well as under-served communities
What do you think will change most about your work over the next 5 years? I think we will continue to think creatively about questions that are relevant within our society.
What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in the population you serve? Why? Making connections, giving a view into a wider context, highlighting issues
How has technology influenced the way your organization works? Not a whole lot has changed.  We use social media about the same, but we are still most interested in human connections.
If we talk one year from now, reflecting on what a great year it’s been, what did you/the organization achieve? We successfully completed the first phase of the Symphony for a Broken Orchestra and are in the process of the second phase to fix/replace these instruments and return them back to the School District
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