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Community Engagement in the Arts: A Case Study Close To My Heart (Part 2)

Part 1: My Badger Band Story

Part 2: Changing Priorities: The Future of University of Wisconsin

As many of you know it’s been an honor and privilege, truly one of the joys of my life, to serve as Producer, Stage Director, and Production Manager of the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert.

As administrations change, so do priorities.

The Director and the Assistant Director of the Mead Witter School of Music have a new vision for the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert that does not include my leadership.

Since Fall 2019, the Badger Band has seen a lot of changes – all reducing opportunities for current band members, reducing capacity to fully support and advocate for the student experience, reducing impact in the community, and reducing relevance of the program to a broader constituency on campus, across the state, and beyond. Statements like “It’s beyond my control” are not sufficient responses to major changes that have had a detrimental impact on the vibrancy of the program.

In just 5 years we have seen the following deeply concerning changes:

  • Demotion of the position of Director for the UW Marching Band from a tenure track professor position (job security, decision-making authority, seat at the table in Faculty governance meetings) to an academic staff position (one year, renewable appointment). It is unconscionable that Corey Pompey, a remarkably qualified and accomplished educator, in such a high profile position on the UW campus, should be expected to operate in this role without long term job security.

  • Dismissal of Alumni Field Assistants has made it more difficult to support the student experience due to the loss of experienced music educators who were once an integral part of the team that onboarded new band members and provided mentorship for music education students.

  • Ending of the decades long Very Special Arts Day means that artists with disabilities are no longer able to perform in Camp Randall with the UW Marching Band and the lack of visibility for their program has had a significant negative impact on Arts for All Wisconsin (formerly Very Special Arts).

  • Diminishment of High School Band Day which once included high school students playing on the field of Camp Randall with the Badger Band and is now just an offer to watch the game from discounted seats in the upper deck.

  • Reduced playing time for student musicians at most athletic events, especially football and men's basketball, and reduced ability for the Band Director to respond in real time to what is happening in the game as live music is replaced by a DJ.

  • Reduction in game day activities at Alumni Band Day has significantly decreased current student and alumni engagement and meaningful interactions, weakening the relationship with Band alumni, the key donor base for the program.

What Can We Do?

Like many members of the Badger Band Family, I am concerned about the future of the University of Wisconsin Band.

A hallmark of bureaucratic institutions is that it can be hard for those on the outside to know how to voice support and share concerns - it’s not always clear who to contact and how to reach them. Supporters are left with a splintered approach of social media comments and random emails to whoever they can find via a Google search.

With so many new people in positions of decision-making authority, it’s understandable that they may not realize the history, impact, and significance of the University of Wisconsin Band. It’s also possible that they are operating independently and may not be aware of the cumulative effects of what has happened over the past five years. The Badger Band is important to, and affected by, many units on campus – Mead Witter School of Music, UW Athletic Department, Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, College of Letters & Science, and, as it is a highly visible ambassador of UW-Madison, the Chancellor’s Office.

Clearly a cross-departmental conversation about the various decisions that have been made, how they have affected the University of Wisconsin Band, and the plans for the future is needed. And, this conversation should include stakeholders on campus, in the community, and beyond.

If you love the Badger Band and understand the importance of these activities in the community, for recruiting members and supporting the student experience, and in maintaining strong alumni and donor support, your advocacy is needed on a campus-wide level.

In closing, I want to thank the Badger Band team – Director Corey Pompey, Assistant Director Alexander Gonzalez, Percussion Coordinator Matthew Endres – for their partnership as we reimagined the future of the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert together – and to wish them all the best in the future. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines for their success and for the hundreds of student musicians for whom the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert is one of the highlights of their undergraduate experience at UW-Madison.

Eat a Rock, and, On, Wisconsin.

2023 UW Varsity Band Spring Concert

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