For many local arts and music organizations, this past year has been tough just to keep the lights on given the restrictions COVID-19 has put on performances and group settings.
Add Island Music Guild to that list. It recently started a fundraiser called “Save the Music” in an attempt to stay open for another year. The organization is at about $6,000 of its $10,000 goal. President Terry Marsh said the fundraiser will likely be in effect through the beginning of March. Without the money, the guild could possibly shut down by summer.
“We’re just trying to get the word out,” Marsh said. “Most of our donors have donated like $100; we’ve had a few $1,000 hits. We still have a little ways to go.”
One of the primary reasons for the financial hardships IMG is facing is over half of its staff has been unable to teach music because of COVID. The guild has 17 instructors who teach everything from woodwind and string instruments to drums, piano, composition and voice. Some clients have also left during the pandemic.
“We pay our mortgage from teachers basically paying rent to the guild,” Marsh said. “For a lot of these people, their income is either gone or it’s in half.”
Although IMG is a nonprofit co-op, it doesn’t fit into the 501(c)(3) structure, which has made it difficult to obtain grants. Marsh said IMG is hoping to be back to its normal programming within a year to ensure the organization will be around for the long haul.
The guild is offering a few perks. Those who donate $500 will be eligible for some free lessons while those who donate $1,000 will receive a free backyard concert.
“If we made more than $10,000 that would be even better,” Marsh said. “We could really guarantee that we stay in that building.”
When COVID hit, Marsh said it made the logistics of their teachings “kind of confusing” since some instruments were allowed (drums) and others weren’t due to potential saliva exposure (horns, voice lessons). Many teachers resorted to online Zoom teachings but Marsh, who teaches drums, said that wasn’t effective. “It is really difficult to teach music via Zoom,” he said.
Currently, about half of IMG’s programming has returned. Teachers are wearing masks and keeping their distance and improvements to the HVAC system have been incorporated for improved air quality. Marsh also said about half of the teachers are still waiting to come back for a number of reasons, most being in the older demographic more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“They don’t feel comfortable teaching yet,” he said. “A few of them were getting close to retirement age so when COVID came along, it forced their hand. I’ve been having to go out and recruit new teachers.”
In the end, Marsh is optimistic the community will step up.
“Everybody’s had a friend or student or knows somebody who has gone through the guild,” he said. “My hope is that somebody out there with some deeper pockets will be able to … get this done — Save the Music.”
The guild has been in existence since the late 1990s, starting as a group of private music instructors. It is a teacher-owned and operated co-op, dedicated to providing Bainbridge Island with the finest music lessons, taught by world-class instructors, according to its website.
“The organization started just from a bunch of private teachers who basically needed to pool their resources to rent a building… Then it became a nonprofit and more arts-minded, more community-minded,” Marsh said.
In 2004, the guild moved to Rolling Bay Hall, which they now share with WEAVE, another performing arts organization. Marsh has been president of IMG since 2019.
“Initially, I thought my presidency would be a process of planning cool camps, concerts and updating our marketing, rehearsal rooms, and website,” he said. “Now it is more about keeping the lights on and how to support our guild teachers who have all had a really tough year.”
Saxophone instructor David Carson is regarded as one of the best teachers in the state as his students often win state championships, Marsh said. Voice teacher Jenny Davis just produced an album that has been getting some national attention. The guild is also home to the All-Star Drumline, an award-winning youth drum performance ensemble.
“About 40 percent of my teachers come from Seattle,” Marsh said. “One of the main reasons they come over here is because of the support of this community. They love teaching over here.”