Art Answers: The Lewis Prize for Music


This year, the world has pivoted off its axis, and a new normal is being created. I can think of no field within the nonprofit sector more suited to lead the way than the arts. The spirit of this blog series is to harness the creative, generative power of artists and the arts community to adapt to society’s most pressing challenges.

One music nonprofit that exemplifies adaptation is The Lewis Prize for Music. The organization was established in 2017 to amplify and support efforts at the nexus of systems change and music. As The Lewis Prize has developed over the past few years, it has recognized the  importance of and pivoted to centering its work around supporting creative youth development (CYD), as this area holds great promise to transform inequitable systems for the better. CYD organizations combine artistic training with access to mentorship, tutoring, meals, transportation, mental health services, workforce training, and so much more, to ensure young people of all backgrounds are able to develop the creativity, skills, and self-confidence needed to thrive in life. Many of the leading nonprofits in this field — like The Lewis Prize — are meeting the immediate and unique needs of young people, which have become more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future of The Lewis Prize is geared toward helping organizations realize their visions for the future through grant funding. Increasingly, these nonprofits have also been forced to pivot their strategies and realign resources to weather the pandemic and to ensure that every young person in America has greater access and opportunities to holistically-based music educational activities.

The granting process for The Lewis Prize for Music is unique in the funding world, as it includes youth leaders between the ages of 18-25 to be a part of its grant selection process. The Lewis Prize for Music Team reached out to its current grant selection panelist cohort to tell us what organizations are inspiring them in this turbulent moment and the vision of the future they are helping to create.

Thank you to The Lewis Prize for Music and in particular Ariel Davis for their contributions toward the field and in this piece. I hope the wisdom from the following emerging leaders provides you with inspiration, hope, and restorative energy for what lies ahead.

Amber Scales, Fair Fight Action

Age: 23

Location: Johns Creek, GA

Passionate. Expectant. Inspired.

Name an organization that is inspiring you during this time.

Literary Vibes – Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Literary Vibes deeply understands the connection between music and literacy. Watching young, southern, BIPOC musicians and poets find their voices within the sanctuary that we call the stage is powerful beyond hope — it is sustaining.

What do the next 10-15 years of CYD music programs in America look like to you?

The next iteration of  CYD programs must decenter white and Eurocentric standards of music. We are in the midst of a national reckoning which requires everyone to give value to that which has been discarded not because it was ever unworthy but because white supremacy deemed it so. CYD is no exception to this. The rich musical traditions of BIPOC people have been deserving of a space, and the youth that organizations serve are more in need than ever of work that reflects their culture, their community, and their world.

Sharniece Adams, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids

Age: 24

Location: Baltimore, MD

Dreamer. Determined. Able.

Name an organization that is inspiring you during this time.

Any organization that is still finding time to connect with their students and support the community through the COVID crisis! This shows resilience and commitment! This time has been difficult for all of us, but organizations that are still pushing inspire others and give us all hope.

What do the next 10-15 years of CYD music programs in America look like to you?

CYD alumni becoming directors, board members, and leaders. Those same students return and lead their community and inspire the next group of students to do the same!

Daphine Henderson, University of Maryland College Park

Age: 22

Location: Frederick, MD

Powerful. Challenged. Excited.

Name an organization that is inspiring you during this time. 

Project 440 – They have never given up on their big idea to assist young musicians with following their passion and pursuing their dreams; especially during this time of need.

What do the next 10-15 years of CYD music programs in America look like to you?

Hopefully they will be more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming to every musician who wishes to pursue music and change in the future. I hope to greatly contribute to, change, inspire, and impact the world of music and how it is and will be viewed in the next ten years.

Camille Jones, Voices Unheard

Age: 23

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Determined. Reckoning. Resilience.

Name an organization that is inspiring you during this time.

This prompt is tough because I truly believe everyone is trying their best during this time, and there are so many inspiring organizations. However, if I had to pick one, I have been most inspired by Black Lives Matter and their various locations, specifically BLM LA and BLM DC. I love following their protests and powerful speeches on social media (and in person if I’m able). They are always organizing rallies, fundraising events, live performances, and creating real change within their communities and across the U.S.

What do the next 10-15 years of CYD music programs in America look like to you?

I believe there will be a surge (an abundance even) of CYD music programs in the next 10-15 years in response to this cultural and systemic awakening the world is experiencing. We have all seen how crucial it is to be educated about the systemic issues within a society this year. Dismantling these issues (racism, white supremacy, etc.) starts with educating and uplifting our youth to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Bisagna Suh, 4421 Productions

Location: Laurel, MD

Age: 23

Passionate. Excited. Hopeful.

Name an organization that is inspiring you during this time.

Youth on Record – A lot of their work is focusing on connecting young people to professionals in the industry, and they’re teaching them how to use programs like Pro Tools that are actually applicable in today’s current music climate.

What do the next 10-15 years of CYD music programs in America look like to you?

There are so many more opportunities and pathways for people interested in having careers in music. I hope programs start to merge traditional music education with new and emerging practices.


What does the future look like for your nonprofit or field? Drop in a comment below. 

Comment section

1 thought on “Art Answers: The Lewis Prize for Music

  1. Love this article! Sending my sincerest thanks to these talented emerging leaders for sharing their wisdom. And thanks to Stacie for writing and sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *