Music in Common hopes to raise funds to replace rescinded federal grant

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The federal government has stepped away, and the local community is stepping up.

"It was devastating to lose the funding," said Todd Mack.

Mack, the founder and director of Music in Common, was referring to the decision by the Department of Homeland Security to rescind some $159,000 in funds from its Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program that were allocated to the Sheffield-based nonprofit in January.

But an event on Thursday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington hopes to drum up support for the program and to close the funding gap left by the federal government. #EmpowerYouthAgainstHate, the fundraising initiative that Music in Common is spearheading to cover costs, will host a screening of two films at the downtown theater.

From Madness to Music and Amplified: Young Voices Rising are short documentaries that highlight youth whose lives were changed by the organization. Mack will lead a discussion after the screening.

"There will also be some students on hand who have participated in the program to talk about the value of our work," said Mack.

Music in Common is a nonprofit that endeavors to help "young people of diverse faiths and cultures to overcome divides and discover common ground through collaborative songwriting and multimedia."

It was founded in the memory of Daniel Pearl, the former Berkshire Eagle reporter who was killed in Pakistan while on assignment in the country for The Wall Street Journal in 2002.

"Danny Pearl always brought a guitar and violin everywhere he went," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

The funding — for which the program was selected on Jan. 13 by the Obama administration — would have covered 45 to 50 percent of the organization's Journalism As Music Multimedia and Songwriting, or JAMMS, program over the next two years.

But on June 23, the new administration decided to revoke the funds.

"The final list of grant awardees has been approved, and unfortunately, the Department will not be funding your application at this time," Program Manager David O'Leary told Mack in an email.

O'Leary's email explained that the funding was given priority for organizations with closer ties to law enforcement and a proven record of combatting extremism

Mack — and his supporters — believe the work that Music in Common is doing has the kind of benefit that deserves to be supported.

"From my view there are fundamentals in transforming conflict," said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. "One of them is ensuring access across communities experiencing tensions and creating that space central to understanding."

Music in Common, Hinds said, effectively bridges that gap with art. Hinds is something of an expert in conflict resolution, having worked for a decade in the Middle East for the United Nations.

"Even in conflicts with a one track formal negotiation, you always need to have the grassroots," said Hinds.

Pignatelli also supports the program.

"We're all different, yet all the same," said Pignatelli. "Music allows us to break down cultural barriers."

Thursday's event is just one of the ways the community is trying to recoup the losses. There's help at the federal level, too — a spokesman for Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said the Congressman's office is "looking into the matter and hopes to get the federal grant for the program restored."

In the meantime, Mack said, the organization will do what it can to raise funds from the community.

"We're just trying to recoup our losses," Mack said.

Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-464-4872 or @EoinHiggins


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