A unique approach to arts education and community engagement nurtured by the nonprofit iCAN (incredible Children’s Art Network), has influenced 3,000 budding artists and musicians — an incredible story told both visually and with sound and tone.

Performance is a highly valued component of the iCAN Music Program. Students spend up to two hours a day making music as an ensemble or in group lessons that are focused on musical fundamentals to emphasize the experience of shared success.
iCAN offers high-quality arts programs, and today it boasts 43 artists, musicians and advocates for the arts. Among the students served by more than 30 iCAN teaching artists and musicians, 89 percent are Latino and 70 percent are English language learners.

“The music program especially is an after-school program, but it’s five days a week and three hours a day, so the parents make a big commitment to support their kids participation in the program,” said Jeffry Walker​, iCAN’s executive director.

“And over time they’ve generated their own social vibe and connection to it, so they’re not only attending events but they’re bringing food and chaperoning on field trips — and that’s community.”

A child’s growth and learning is part of the community bond as parents are regularly engaged in discussions about their students, who are provided with regular opportunities to teach other students.

“Frequent community performances and concerts serve as a powerful motivating force for excellence, and provide students with a platform to showcase their hard work and practice,” said Yvonne Leal, iCAN’s director of network relations.

Founded in 2011 at Franklin School on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside, the iCAN Music Program each school year serves nearly 100 students in grades second through sixth. iCAN runs the program in partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Every iCAN music student at the Franklin site begins by joining a choir and learning to play the violin before being introduced to the cello and viola. As the program advances, each student then selects an instrument of his or her choice for performances and practice until the fifth grade, when the option of a wind or brass instrument is offered.

This introduction of new and more complex instruments adds to the development of the orchestra that becomes the primary music-making vehicle for all students.

In 2014, the City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department and iCAN began a partnership that brought the Music Program to the Westside.

Currently serving nearly 30 students in grades third through sixth, the Westside Neighborhood Center site provides intensive high-quality musical instruction to students from several elementary schools. The schools all use choir and play woodwinds, string and brass instruments as a method of instruction.

Established by philanthropist Jim Kearns in 2005, iCAN offers high-quality arts programs to those students who are least likely to receive the opportunity.

Highly skilled professionals and some credentialed iCAN music teaching artists offer no-cost music instruction at both Eastside and Westside sites to bring these valuable lessons to a wide range of the community, increasing the likelihood of social change, a key talking point for the organization’s goals.

“Talking about our music program in the context of social change and advocacy, which is very much a part of the El Sistema music instruction model,” Walker explained.

The internationally renowned social model El Sistema teaches students about their own potential through collaboration, hard work and passion in performance-based music activities like choir, orchestra and group lessons.

iCAN’s Music Program has hosted and joined several Seminarios with Sistema-inspired programs throughout Southern California.

“A Seminario is a special, collaborative and musical experience where people come together and contribute to the success of a musically excellent day,” Leal said.

Community members and parents are encouraged to participate and join in creating a larger orchestra through which learning during these Seminarios is accelerated. Students with varying abilities work together toward the common good.

And, in 2014, the iCAN Music Program was selected from a national list as one of nine programs invited to participate in a three-year study on the benefits of El Sistema-inspired programs, in partnership with the Longy School of Music at Bard College and the WolfBrown arts research firm.

Visual arts and music programs are offered across nine sites in Santa Barbara with one full-time iCAN teaching artist and one professional art assistant are assigned to each campus. The sites include Adams School, Adelante Charter School, Cleveland School, Franklin School, Harding University Partnership School, McKinley School, Monroe School, Santa Barbara Community Academy and the Westside Neighborhood Center.

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