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date: 29 March 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In recent years, Venezuela’s anti-poverty El Sistema program (officially named the Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar) has roared onto the international music scene, offering a rare, large-scale example of the participation of music education in social policy. Yet El Sistema’s socioeconomic effects are neither assured nor fully understood, much less easily adaptable abroad. Reading El Sistema’s complex engagements with an eye to how it works as a social program, the author examines in particular its decentralization and capacity to function as a space of care, its discourse and structures around creating a space of “rescue” for youth, and its curricular focus of Western classical music. While these areas raise several cautions, including charges of deficit thinking and cultural colonialism, the program’s own tensions and negotiations also suggest paths for strategic implementation. In this, El Sistema offers music educators and policymakers some possibilities for entering critically into oftentimes familiar practices.

Keywords: colonialism, culture, El Sistema, Venezuela, music education, poverty

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