( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Nurit Siegel Smith, Executive Director, House of Blues Music Forward Foundation
Nurit Siegel Smith is the Executive Director of the nonprofit House of Blues Music Forward Foundation. As part of the House of Blues and Live Nation Entertainment family, Music Forward is focused on providing youth from under-resourced communities who are interested in music industry careers, with free industry development programs. Music Forward removes barriers to entry for underrepresented young people, ages 12-22, so they can follow their dreams into the music business. It has impacted over 1 million young lives and invested $25 million in transformational music programs during the last 25 years.
Smith’s background uniquely positions her to lead the organization. Before joining Music Forward she served as Deputy Director at Grand Performances, a nationally recognized cultural and performing arts organization in Los Angeles. She has extensive experience in arts and entertainment social sectors and has held positions within organizations including Blue Man Group and Highways Performance Space. Smith also spent over a decade at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, where she served as Director of Education and Director of Institutional Advancement and Strategic Partnerships.
I had the opportunity to find out more about Nurit and what she does at the Music Forward Foundation.
You have a background in dance and theater, so you are familiar with the obstacles (and successes) for anyone pursuing a career in the creative arts. Can you talk about your role as Executive Director of Music Forward and how it meshes with your past experience and your creative passion?
The arts are increasingly acknowledged as a key force in developing the capacity for human connection. A desire to connect with people and the world around us drives much of my work. Rolling up my sleeves, creating something from nothing with an ensemble, and ensuring that everyone’s voice is included in the process is linked to my belief in shared leadership and my understanding of the generative nature of progress. Coming from an artistic background makes me uniquely positioned to ensure that the work we are doing with the next generation of artists is relevant and meaningful.
How does it feel to know that your years of experience have landed you to do what you are doing now? Did you know that combination would lead you to utilize them both for a greater cause?
When I look back through my past two decades in the arts and social sectors, the choices I have made and the networks I have built, there is a clear, natural development to where I am today. Always pulled to opportunities and organizations at the intersection of performance, education, and philanthropy, I find myself now at the helm of Music Forward, a marvelous amalgamation of these three passion points.
What is it about the HOB Music Forward Foundation mission that drives you?
Music is a powerful force in people’s lives – a universal language that influences everyone. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all viewpoints are represented in its creation and dissemination. Understanding this well, Music Forward invites and empowers young people from around the country to follow their dreams into the music industry, enrich it with their diverse voices and perspectives, and ultimately change it for the better. Music Forward is dedicated to providing both educational and experiential programs to support young people from all backgrounds interested in both artist and career development.
Since you have been Executive Director, what impact do you feel you have made within the organization?
We have been building a lot, enriching our programs, identifying key partners, and enhancing revenue streams. Last year we launched our first-ever Ambassadors Council comprised of a group of driven performers and inspirational artists who are passionate about empowering the next generation of music industry leaders, including Carlos Santana, Khalid, Martina McBride, Julia Michaels, Sofia Carson and more.
Each Music Forward Ambassador will contribute in a variety of ways including mentoring aspiring artists, speaking at educational youth workshops, donating funds from ticket sales and providing exclusive music memorabilia for auction. The council, boasting artists that have sold over 100 million albums, will be using their various platforms to call attention to the Foundation’s vital work. I am immensely proud of launching Music Forward’s first Ambassadors Council and excited about exploring future opportunities to further our mission.
What are the age groups of youth that Music Forward’s programs reach and why were these groups chosen?
We use our resources to target middle-school through college-aged young people from underrepresented communities. In America today 4.5 million young people (16-to-24-year-olds) are disconnected, meaning they are not in school or working. As a result, these young people face a variety of challenges. Music Forward is doing its part to address these sobering statistics by helping youth turn their passion for music into professions, both on-stage and behind the scenes, and in turn, more promising futures. Music Forward also works hard to ensure the conspicuously absent voices of diverse individuals (including women) in the present will be amplified within music industry spaces in the future. 79% of our program participants in 2019 identified as youth of color and 55% were young women.
Can you talk about the type of programs and events HOB Music Forward Foundation creates and how others can get involved? How can industry professionals get involved with Music Forward?
Music Forward connects young people to the industry through educational panel discussions, professional networking and mentorship, and live performance showcases. We transform young lives, inspire careers, and champion a more inclusive music industry. We are one of the most competitive national providers of positive youth development services contextualized to the music industry thanks to a nearly three-decades-long history of serving youth and families, and our deeply rooted ties to the professional music community. Programs are designed to help youth hone their interests and artistry while instilling a strong foundation of knowledge and skills that will enable them to excel in the professional world of music.
Industry professionals can join us on panel discussions, at workshops and events to guide and mentor the next generation. And folks can join the Music Forward Alliance! Alliance members help us envision and create a brighter future for thousands of young people while at the same time evolving an industry. I encourage ENSPIRE readers to join the movement; get involved and donate at www.hobmusicforward.org.
Where do you see this Foundation in 5 years?
There is so much more to be done. Music Forward plans to expand our impact and exponentially increase the number of young people we serve. We want to create measurable improvement in gender parity and workforce diversity within the music industry. We are exceptionally well-positioned to help catalyze this kind of systemic transformation with meaningful partnerships and significant support.
What can we expect in 2020?
Music Forward will continue to expand our artist development and music industry career programs for youth in underserved communities. You’ll see us driving more panels and workshops focused on relevant industry topics, music monetization, as well as maintaining physical, emotional and financial wellness in the music industry. We are strengthening our mentorship opportunities, activating more performance opportunities that include scaled performances from small stages to mainstage showcases and concerts. Overall, offering programming that allows for engagement with broader groups of young people.
Was there a moment when you spoke to one of the students involved in a Music Forward program and they expressed how they felt being a part of it? Can you talk about that?
There are many moments in which this happens. Also, moments when music industry professionals mention that they wished they had a place like Music Forward when they were growing up to help them pursue music careers. Last year, Music Forward embarked on a series of roundtable discussions, seeking firsthand insight into the experiences of the local music industry eco-systems in which we operate and the youth we serve. The purpose of the discussions was to better understand the trends, challenges, and opportunities that currently exist in the music industry and align organizational programs with real-world opportunities for youth within the industry. We provide an important service and there aren’t many organizations doing what we do with the same breadth and depth. We know the youth we serve are proud of their connection to us and we are very proud of them. We feel a profound responsibility to use the access and the resources we have, to make the greatest impact on their lives and on our collective future.