Peoples’ Orchestra ‘Vittorio Baldoni” (PO) is an orchestra made up by children and teens from a minority background and Conservatory students. It started from a Memorandum of Understanding between The Charity House Foundation and the Conservatory of Milan, which instituted two courses of violin and accordion dedicated to Roma children. From then on, the initiative grew, becoming a proper Orchestra that involves 60 children from Eastern Europe, Near East, Central and South-Eastern Asia, South America, Oceania, as well as Italy too).
Nowadays, four partners are involved in the project: The Charity House Foundation, the Conservatory of Milan, the Foundation House of Arts and Spirit, and a confessional charity. The initiative is also sponsored by the Municipality of Milan and co-funded by Cariplo Foundation. Also this initiative is a city-based one, involving minority youngsters from all over Milan, though affecting also the case-study Northern districts, where one of the promoters (The Charity House) and some Roma encampments are located.
This project explicitly aims to foster social cohesion and social mobility through the means of music and training. The performance of the Orchestra, indeed, is just the last step of an articulated process with different related actions. This is the case of the ‘Vivaio dei popoli’ (Peoples’ Nursery), the section of PO targeting children aged 7 to 12 that never received a music education: they are taught with classes in the Conservatory on Saturdays, and at school during the week. This initiative aims to improve social participation through the appraisal of talents and the support to individual skills and stories. In their words, promoting partners aim at overcoming marginality and exclusion, though without generating dependency nor stigmatizing children and their families, but enlightening excellence and merit. As the President of the Charity House Foundation says:
“[…]another criterion that has driven us and that still drives the CHF in a lot of situations is the theme of excellence […] used in order to overcome assistentialism, emergency-related actions or chronicization of the need for aid and of dependency.”
As mentioned above, the PO starts its activity involving Roma children only. The CHF had already had experience of activities with Roma minority, as they created, in collaboration with Milan Center of Solidarity and the Solidarity Village, a project aimed to answer Roma housing demand in the area of Milan.
The concept grounding the project is ‘active participation’. Interviewees called the efforts made both by minority’ families involved in the project via their children, and by partners of the project, “active citizenship path”. The former have to try becoming “active members of the Italian society”, the latter have to provide the means to support the empowerment of these families.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The project mainly focuses on diversity of origin, but also take other kinds of stigmatized and disadvantaged diversities (likely related to it) into account, e.g. socio-economic disadvantage and urban ghettoization. The Roma, indeed, are highly stigmatized, and physically separated: encampment and settlement practices play a huge role in the construction of Roma marginality. In this sense, the experiences that CHF had in the field of housing demand of Roma people made their members particularly aware of problems related to these factors. Given this, PO seems to take into account stigmatized diversity in quite a multiple way – even though considering it mostly a disadvantage. Promoters seek to invert this vision underlining talents and skills of the involved children, as an empowerment action. The risk is that, being able to reverse the stigma, they maintain a stereotyped (even if positive) vision of the other.
Main factors influencing success or failure
According to CHF president, the main weakness of the project is its insecure economic sustainability. Today it is funded directly by CHF, whose deed is charity actions, and indirectly by the members of the Conservatory, that teach classes upon a mere refund (if any).
Recently, the promoting partners have been looking for other funding sources (e.g. EU calls), in order to continue this experience and spread it to other municipalities: indeed, there is a request from other towns close to Milan to bring this initiative to their schools.
One of the strengths of the project is the great success that the final concert of the Orchestra met, generating large and positive attention on the Orchestra and its members. Their gig has been attended also by some VIPs (e.g. the Italian singer-writer Franco Battiato) and the promoters consider this as a factor positively impacting on public opinion. Thus, this may help in achieving better social cohesion by cooling down harshest negative stereotypes.
Though, as a risk of failure, we can see that the talent is usually considered exceptional: as shown by researches on minority stars in sports, this may not affect ‘normal’ members of minority groups, that continue to be stigmatized. Attention on talent may divert attention from structural factors of disadvantage toward individual ones, that may turn into a blaming of individual (un)willingness to integrate. This may apply also to a group so heavily stigmatized in Italy as the Roma. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that at least PO constructed one of the few positive discourses on Roma in Italy. The project lays in a contested and difficult ground between assimilation and ghettoization: keeping the proper balance to build interaction on the one side, and promoting minorities and their specificity on the other is a complex endeavour.
This project seeks to create social cohesion and social mobility, empowering disadvantaged groups. sic education is considered a good option, that helpfostering talented children and youngsters from minority backgrounds. Promoters are aware that these actions are of a mainly symbolic nature; at the same time, they maintain that this kind of measures has anyway an actual outcome on the society at large, and on the community where children live. The involvement of families (children have to be accompanied by a parent to music classes) creates a space of encounter, a mutual recognition and a chance for new interactions.
Innovative elements can come from the collaboration between institutions operating in different fields (welfare and charity, culture), and in the effort to include members of excluded minorities into one of the most important and reputed institutions in the city, i.e. the Conservatory. On the other hand, such an innovative path can be undermined by the limited chance of overturning structural conditions of disadvantage of the Roma minority.
Website: Peoples’ Orchestra ‘Vittorio Baldoni”
Image: Daniel Sigua