After losing federal grant, Music in Common gets funding lift from community — including James Taylor

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SHEFFIELD — After the devastating loss of a federal grant this year, a music nonprofit inspired by slain journalist Daniel Pearl has seen steady help, and found some of it in high musical places.

"James Taylor donated a signed guitar," said Todd Mack, the music nonprofit's founder and executive director. "It's a Yamaha FG800 acoustic."

While it's a brand new guitar that Taylor hasn't ever played, Mack cautioned, Taylor said that he would personalize it for whoever wins the raffle at the group's winter fundraising concert on Dec. 2.

This is good news, Mack said. As is the roughly $50,000 the group has raised in its "empower youth against hate campaign" since a critical $159,000 grant got pulled by the Trump administration sometime after he was elected, leaving the group to scramble for money to hold its programs.

Music in Common's mission is to bring young people together with music-making activities that aim to sow peace between religions and cultures.

A lifelong musician who runs a recording studio, Mack started the organization in the years after Pearl, his friend and fellow musician, was killed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan while he was reporting for The Wall Street Journal. Pearl was a former North Adams Transcript and Berkshire Eagle reporter as well.

Mack learned in early January that the group would receive the grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Countering Violent Extremism program. By February, something wasn't right. And by late June, Mack learned that the money had been pulled from his and other groups, and redistributed.

For an organization with a $100,000 annual budget, and programming already mapped out, this cut a lifeline.

But a crowdfunding campaign on Pure Charity has so far raised about $50,000.

"It could be going worse," Mack said. "We're not there yet, but it has traction."

And it also has an anonymous donor who is promising a good match for money from new donors.

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And a lineup of fundraising and awareness events starting with a concert by Universal Set at Dewey Hall here on Oct. 21 will also help, Mack said.

These will be followed by the annual backyard jam at his recording studio, Off the Beat-n-Track, the screening of two documentary shorts about Music in Common, and a benefit concert featuring Mack on Dec. 2, when the James Taylor guitar raffle winner will be announced.

The group is also planning fundraising events in California and Georgia, where it runs programs.

Mack said the goal is to raise the entire grant amount by the end of the year. He said he thinks this is possible.

"We know that there are some large gifts, by our standards, coming our way. And all our board giving happens at the end of the year," he said.

Mack said the events — and the backyard event especially — are a tonic after suffering this loss, to remind the group of its mission and simpler times of just jamming together to remember and honor Pearl.

He said the group will go back to doing more concert events like this both to raise money and meet its mission.

"We've become so driven by programs we do with the kids that we haven't had the capacity to maintain the mobilization of all the musicians," he said.

And Mack said all that reeling from the tangle with Homeland Security ended on a cathartic note. The agency accidentally included Mack, and others who were stripped of their grants, in a group email with disbursement instructions.

"I couldn't resist," he said. "I hit reply all. And I said something like, `We would love to join you but you took our money.'"

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.


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