The Drafting Convention started at an evening meeting on Friday, April 27, over dinner, continued the next day, from 8:30- dinner time on Saturday, and then again from 8:30-2:00 on Sunday, April 29.  There were approximately 30 individuals in attendance representing nucleos from all over the US, nucleo training programs, and orchestras. We were blessed with a rich array of participant skills because attendees were nucleo leaders, board members, and staff, and also students, academics, academic administrators, and orchestra administrators.

Attendees did much of their work in three subcommittees:

  • By-Laws– which worked on draft Mission, Vision and Values statements and also a draft set of by-laws prepared by Louise Lanzillotti;
  • Ratification- which worked on definitions of membership, questions of dues, and also processes by which members would vote to ratify the by-laws, elect board members and board composition;
  • Organization Ramp-up/Implementation-which worked on how the new Association would get itself open, hire staff, raise money, and begin to serve the board and its members.

All these subcommittees worked very hard and brought their recommendations to the full group in attendance for wider input and some of the things they decided, along with approval of the larger group, took the prior work of the Working Group

ahead in quite significant ways. Perhaps some of the most important things that were recommended and generally agreed were:

  1. There appears to be a preference to call the Association something that better reflects the nature of the El Sistema movement, such as a “collective, network, or alliance.”
  2. Membership should be of three categories:  “Active Program Members,”  “Programs in Planning,” and “Friends.”
  3. Active Programs will likely be defined not as much by rigid criteria (such as a set number of hours of programming per week), but more by descriptive criteria (including a new one- teaching excellence), to which Active Programs will self-identify their alignment.
  4. Within the Active Programs, differences in structure, approach, programming, will be shared so that grouping may be made of programs with similar characteristics to facilitate outcomes research, collaboration, and learning.
  5. Active Programs will be allowed to nominate one representative to the Association board, and each active program will be given three votes for purposes of voting on by-laws and board membership.
  6. The board will have 17 members of which 13 will come from Active Programs (as outlined above) and the remaining 4 may come from outside Active Programs and will be elected by the Board itself.
  7. Nucleos, or systems of nucleos, which structurally share the same oversight board or fiduciary parent will be counted as one Active Program for the purposes of voting within the Association.
  8. All five regions of the US (as defined at the San Antonio summit last year) will have at least one representative on the Association Board.
  9. Dues will likely be charged member organizations, although the exact process of deciding dues levels is still being examined.
  10. The organization which will be opened to staff the board and facilitate the work of the Association will likely be incubated in the beginning within a neutral and non-competitive 501(c)3, while it raises funds and grows the organizational structure to spin-off on its own.
  11. The incubating organization will be chosen for its own administrative competence and also its ability to permit/support high visibility on the part of the Association as it begins its work.
  12. The Association will create a search committee of the Board to institute a national search for the new Executive Director of the Association and will conduct preliminary interviews.
  13. The Executive Director will ultimately be selected by vote of the Board as a whole.
  14. The Association will begin fundraising for its work immediately and will solicit donations using a charitable fiscal intermediary to accept such donations.

The ideas generated in the subcommittees extended far beyond the list above, but this will give you a flavor of just how much was done by these groups.

Perhaps what was more important than this was the extensive work done by the group of Drafting Convention participants as a whole.  There were hours of conversation about complex issues such as whether or not an association was truly the best architecture to use to further the movement (in particular, whether it might be too rigid a structure, coming too soon, redundant with existing networks and efforts on behalf of the larger movement and taking much needed time and resources away from the programs on the ground).

There were also extensive discussions grappling with issues of Association identity and branding and how to strike the right balance between having enough shared purpose and identity to give the work of the Association meaning, without it becoming so exclusionary that it did not embody the spirit of inclusion of the movement.  The group grappled with how to meaningfully identify the Association with the spirit and inspiration of El Sistema without giving the perception of claiming to be “The” (one and only) El Sistema organization in the US and clearly supporting our partners in Venezuela as they reach out to multiple organizations across the US to spread their inspiration and teaching.

These discussions required sustained focus, collaboration, and energy on the part of all the participants, but the ultimate conclusions achieved by the Drafting Convention group of the whole were the following:

  1. The entire group overwhelmingly voted to move ahead to work to establish the Association.
  2. They agreed to recommend to the larger Working Group (all those who have been involved for months in the work of building the Association) that the name of the Association should reexamined and possibly changed from the current working name, El Sistema USA (for example, another name popular with Drafting Convention participants was “Music for Social Change Alliance” with perhaps a tag line of something like “Inspired by El Sistema” but this needs to be discussed further).
  3. They agreed to a work plan calling for the three subcommittees (By-laws, Ratification, and Organization Implementation) to continue their workover the next six weeks, to finalize a draft set of by-laws, ratification plan, and business plan, which can then be sent out to be publicly vetted by all interested in the Association and its potential work.  The three leaders who agreed to facilitate the continuing work of the subcommittees were:
    1. By-Laws- Jackie Henning, board member of Youth Orchestras of Salinas (;
    2. Ratification-Louise Ghandhi, board chair of Verdugo Young Musicians Association, which runs the VYMA Pasadena Music Project (;
    3. Organization Implementation– Patrick Slevin, Executive Director, Austin Soundwaves (;
  4. They agreed that leaders from each of five areas of the US would then take all of the documents produced by the subcommittees and actively solicit input on these documents from all the nucleo leaders and other interested parties in their regions.  This input would be sought both through individual and also, to the extent possible, group input.  It was strongly recommended that regions attempt to hold regional convenings to discuss the documents. The leaders who agreed to facilitate gathering regional input and holding regional convenings were:
    1. California- Leni Boorstin ( and Louise Ghandhi (;
    2. West– Stephanie Hsu – ( WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, AK, HI, NV, UT, CO, AZ, NM;
    3. Midwest– Bob Fiedler ( and Mark Sarich ( ND, SD, NE, IA, MN, KS, MO, WI, MI, IL, IN, OH;
    4. Northeast-Rey Ramirez ( with the support/assistance of Kassie Lord (, Delia Raab-Synder (, Jennifer Kessler (, and Marie Montilla ( NY, VT, NH, ME, CT, MA, RI, PA, NJ, DE, MD;
    5. South- Katie Wyatt ( with the support/assistance of Liz Schurgin (, Ben Fuller (, and Patrick Slevin ( VA, WV, KT, TN, NC, SC, GA, FL, MS, AL, AR, LA, OK, TX.
  5. After regional input was obtained and the Working Group had a chance to process and incorporate this feedback into the documents, in approximately 3-4 months from now, and following the ratification process reviewed by the Working Group, member programs would register themselves, votes would be taken first on whether or not to approve the by-laws and move to incorporate the new Association, and then if the by-laws are approved, and according to by-laws specification, to vote on board membership representation.
  6. If the process outlined by the Drafting Convention participants proceeded according to their plan, voting on the by-laws, incorporation, and board membership would be completed in the August/September timeframe.

So, as you can see, there is much work ahead- both in the three subcommittees working on by-laws, ratification, and implementation plans, and also in the five regions of the US- to evolve the planning of and seek input into the new Association.  We hope that if you see a place in this work where you can lend your strengths and ideas, you will actively reach out to committee leaders to engage in the work.  If you don’t have time at this point to reach out to them, you can rest assured that to the best of their ability, committee leaders will be reaching out to you to seek your input.

There will be e-mails coming out to update you on the work and you will also find on-going information on the Association website (

Perhaps the most important thing that can be emphasized at this point is that what is being developed here is not a vehicle to serve all the nucleos in the US, but rather a tool to permit them to leverage their combined resources and strengths, and to mediate their differing perspectives and needs.  It will not be perfect and it will only be as strong as the time, talents, and resources the members commit to it.  But with growing experience on how to use it, it can become the avenue for all the programs across the country to own and shape their collective vision and voice….and through this, create the whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

In Chicago we played and struggled and we became even more convinced that this path was possible.  Please engage in making the effort stronger.  Every idea is needed and appreciated.


Beth Babcock (
Volunteer Facilitator

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