Music for Peace is a music education programme operating from the heart of one of Istanbul’s poorest areas. It promotes the cultural inclusion of disadvantaged young people with various effects on the area, including:
- Regeneration and stronger social bonds in the community
- Citizen pride in the area
- Improved image that encourages young people to stay.
Music for Peace (Barış İçin Müzik) is a free music education programme for school-age children, based in Edirnekapı, one of Istanbul’s most disadvantaged inner-city neighbourhoods. Working with children between 7 and 14 years old, the programme provides facilities, instruments and teachers for music education and performance. It delivers training in schools and runs three ensembles of its own: Music for Peace Orchestra, Music for Peace Chorus and Music for Peace Brass Ensemble.
The organisation’s ultimate goal is to improve social cohesion and peace through music, and it draws on the principle, set down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that every child has a right to participate in the creation of art. By creatively transforming the unused basement of the local state school into a bright and airy space where children spend after-school hours – they play music, learn how to compose, repair instruments, perform and eat together – the initiative fulfils an important social as well as cultural function.
Edirnekapı is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Istanbul and its residents mostly come from socially and economically underprivileged backgrounds. Educational and social opportunities are limited for Edirnekapı’s children. Although children start compulsory education at an early age, extracurricular opportunities tend to be limited. Usually the children’s priority is to leave school as soon as possible and start working to provide for their family.
Music for Peace was founded in 2005 by architect Mehmet Selim Baki, who had been working on the idea for some eight years. The programme was first introduced at the Ulubatlı Hasan Primary School in Edirnekapı, with a workshop for 20 students. Soon after this, it relocated to a more colourful and attractive space that had been transformed from a coal cellar in the school. In 2009, three plots were bought in the immediate vicinity of the school to build special purpose-designed centres, and in 2010 the programme moved to its own venues. In 2011 Baki and his wife established the Music for Peace Foundation.
As the programme has grown, Music for Peace has developed collaborative relationships with two important organisations, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and El Sistema Venezuela.
İKSV supports Music for Peace in its aim to work towards sustainability, it promotes its international reputation and assists in fundraising and marketing. İKSV has also helped broker a relationship with El Sistema, the influential Venezuela music education organisation. In June 2014, as part of an all-day event during İKSV’s Istanbul Music Festival, representatives of El Sistema and Music for Peace Foundation signed a friendship agreement, which has opened the way for new collaborations between the two initiatives.
In August 2014 Music for Peace hosted the Sistema Europe Summer Camp in Istanbul with İKSV’s support. A total of 220 children from 15 European countries participated in workshops and orchestra rehearsals every day. The camp ended with a concert featuring pieces that had been learnt during the camp. Special training was also delivered in the El Sistema education model: 51 music educators from Hungary, Peru, the US, Iran, France, Turkey, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, England, Portugal, Switzerland and Croatia were involved in both teaching the students and simultaneously learning the El Sistema method themselves.
In the nine years since it began, Music for Peace has achieved some remarkable things. Starting with 15 accordion students, the programme now hosts a 90-piece orchestra, a 30-piece brass band and a 25-piece chorus that perform both locally and nationally. Around 4000 children have received music training, and many of these continue to be part of the programme. Some, like double bass student Özmen Genç, have gone on to become assistant teachers in the programme.
By focusing on the children of Edirnekapı, Music for Peace connects people and empowers residents, while raising the quality of life for all in the neighbourhood. In order to include as much of the children’s milieu as possible, parents are encouraged to participate in the programme and they are regularly invited to rehearsals and concerts. Parents also constitute a majority of Music for Peace staff, so the programme contributes to the micro economy of the neighbourhood.
Apart from its undoubted social impact, the project constitutes a commitment to an inner-city area that is suffering from disinvestment and increasing deprivation. The arrival of the new three-story building with music rooms and a performance space, in the tight-knit urban fabric of Edirnekapı, has changed local perceptions about the area, and helped encourage young people to stay rather than move away to pursue their musical talents.
In recognition of its achievements, in 2009 Music for Peace was awarded the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award, given to a social responsibility project in a different city of the world every year. The jury were impressed with the programme as an innovative investment in human and social capital, which uses arts and culture in a highly pragmatic and unsentimental way to promote urban regeneration. The jury commended the vision and generosity of Mehmet Selim Baki, the project’s sponsor, the palpable impact on the children’s musical and social skills, the clear messages that it gives for inner-city living and the potential for the project to act as model for similar initiatives in other urban areas across the globe.