Established in 2000 by Noel Paul Stookey (of the folk trio, Peter, Paul & Mary) and his daughter, Liz Sunde, Music to Life (MTL) is a national nonprofit that builds activism through music. By offering financial, technical and logistical assistance, MTL helps social justice troubadours integrate their vision with nonprofit and advocacy groups to create highly visible, music-driven programming that supports social justice projects, increases awareness and empowers vulnerable populations. We build bridges between the stage and activism.
Music to Life has collaborated with a broad network of artists, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and music industry leaders to explore how music might make positive, measurable social change. Our educational panels have traveled to schools and conferences around the country (including the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth); we have been commissioned to deliver multimedia presentations on music’s historical impact on the issues of our time (Bloomberg Media, Future Work); and we have created and delivered high engagement, music-driven productions on behalf of human rights, environmental and immigrant advocacy groups (including a collaboration with South by Southwest). We’ve reached tens of thousands of people through the power of music.
In 2017, having developed a national network of hundreds of stakeholders and a diverse, juried roster of more than 300 social change artists, we shifted our focus. We began to explore how we might best support those social change musicians who were stepping off the stage and into activism. We conducted surveys to determine their needs and interests and national searches for “best practice” examples of music-driven impact among activist musicians, in collaboration with nonprofits (like the Rubicon Theatre in California and the Cincinnati Blues Society), and via artist advocacy groups like Artivism and Sankofa. Meeting with these artists around the country, we uncovered many insights into musicians and their often untapped potential as community change agents; they were working on issues of tremendous value to their communities but they were struggling to sustain their efforts and create the impact they wanted. We could then envision the expanded spheres of influence and impact these artists might have if they were more effectively connected with the mentors, partners, and resources they need to build effective programs.
Thus Music to Life’s Activist Musician Accelerator (AMA) was born: the AMA is the first incubator of its kind in this country for social change musicians and their communities. The AMA offers a new, accessible and vibrant tool to reinvigorate our neighborhoods by identifying talented activist artists and helping them design, facilitate and sustain music-driven social change projects, in collaboration with front line communities, for creative and measurable impact. Offered as a hands-on, immersive, educational process, selected artists are paid to become part of a learning network – connecting with each other in person and online through workshops and mentoring sessions. The goal is for each artist to develop a pilot project, in collaboration with an area nonprofit and other allies. As part of their graduation from the program, Music to Life helps them produce a Tedx-style showcase of their work in a ticketed event that raises awareness for the issue and funds for the pilot.