By Eric Gorton, senior contributor
The people have spoken and the Levitt Foundation is ready to make it happen.
Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance learned Tuesday that the city was one of 15 localities chosen around the country for a $90,000 grant to fund a three-year free outdoor music series. There’s more hard work to come to make it all actually happen, however.
“It’s going to take a lot of people to do this,” said Andrea Dono, executive director of HDR, in a telephone interview with The Citizen.
The first concert could occur in July, but much needs to be done between now and then to make it happen, including scheduling artists and preparing the venue—the grassy field adjacent to Turner Pavilion. HDR has already asked City Council for permission to build a semi-permanent stage, something that can remain in place during the duration of the 10-show series each year.
Dono said she hopes the series will feature a variety of musicians from various backgrounds and genres.
“During the downtown master planning process, so many people were saying they wanted to have more programming, more things to do with their families and that they really appreciate, in particular, cultural and multicultural programming,” Dono said.
The $90,000 grant from the Levitt Foundation will be spread out over three years and HDR must match the $30,000 amount each year, so in addition to volunteers, HDR is seeking sponsors.
Dono said some early support has her feeling optimistic.
Overseeing much of the work will be a committee of volunteers co-led by Jeremiah Jenkins, an organizer of the Red Wing Roots Festival, held annually at Natural Chimneys in Mount Solon, and Quillon Hall, a local entrepreneur and artist who helped start the Living Room Concert Series this year at Court Square theater.
“We have two really talented people to step up and help lead the volunteer effort,” Dono said, adding that Jenkins encouraged HDR to apply for the grant.
Hall, in a telephone interview with The Citizen, said he is not a musician but has always had an interest in creating community through music and food. He and his wife have been hosting house concerts for 20 years before he helped bring the concept to Court Square Theater, he said.
When he found out HDR applied for the Levitt grant, he helped promote HDR’s efforts to publicize the effort in the community and Dono invited him to co-lead the committee.
Dono said she will be meeting with Jenkins and Hall this week to start making plans.
They will get some help from the Levitt Foundation, which will hold a series of webinars and meetings to train new localities the ropes of putting on the events.
The Levitt AMP Grant Awards began in 2015. This year, the foundation invited nonprofits to submit proposals in April that would reflect the three goals of the Levitt AMP awards: Amplify community pride and the city’s unique character; enrich lives through the power of free, live music; and illustrate the importance of vibrant public places.
The grant process involved several rounds, including one where residents were asked to vote on their locality’s proposal to demonstrate their interest. Harrisonburg received the most votes, Dono said, but she was not told how many.
“HDR does a lot of things that people enjoy and it is very popular in the community but we have never seen the number of shares and people talking about this and sharing on social media on their own,” she said. “The community just rallied and they rallied hard.”
In addition to the 15 new grant recipients, the Levitt Foundation awarded money to 18 returning grantees.
“It’s nice to know that if this goes well there might be funding for us in the future,” Dono said. “We’re just going to try to knock it out of the park for the next three years and see what happens.”
Information about volunteering and/or sponsoring the series can be found on the HDR website.
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