Celebrating a Giant Step

By Danielle Dreilinger

  Among the many ensembles that performed at A Giant Steps Celebration was the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Ensemble. Pictured above are the ensemble's saxophonist Tom Wilson and bassist Shin Sakaino.
  Photos by Phil Farnsworth

It seemed like a tall order. But thanks to the Berklee community, the college has met - and exceeded - its ambitious $50 million goal for Giant Steps, its first-ever capital campaign. As of May 31, Berklee has raised $54.5 million.

At an official campaign celebration in Boston on June 12, the college thanked major donors and featured performances by many student and alumni musicians. "It feels like we've crossed this amazing threshold," Berklee President Roger H. Brown told the crowd.

When the college began to consider a capital campaign, feasibility consultants recommended a goal of $25 million to $30 million. Judging that number too low, the board of trustees decided in 2006 to raise the goal to $40 million - and then raised it again to $50 million. Despite the plummeting economy, the hardworking committee and staff - and dedicated donors - kept the campaign on target every year.

Campaign success stories included receiving the largest single gift ever in the college's history as well as the largest gifts ever from alumni, faculty, staff, and parents. Giant Steps drew the highest level of alumni giving ever, and 100 percent participation from the board of trustees and the presidential advisory council.

Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement Debbie Bieri, said, "Thanks to the efforts of President Roger Brown; the board of trustees; and a committed team of major gift officers, grant writers, researchers, Berklee Fund staff members, as well as faculty, staff, and students, the college was able to achieve its objectives and immediately put that money to work funding scholarships, facilities, and innovative programs."

"Having been part of this community for several terms as a trustee, I had been impressed with the programs and the students," said Giant Steps Campaign Cochair Mike Dreese. "But I knew there was so much more we could do if we had the resources. We needed new facilities, and funds that would allow us to design creative programs and scholarships to help the most deserving students. Giant Steps helped us move toward our vision of being the world's leading institute of contemporary music."

Giant Steps Campaign cochair John Connaughton and his wife Stephanie  

Thanks to the campaign, improvements are noticable collegewide. Here are a handful areas worth noting. Café 939, the college's newest concert venue, has become a learning lab for music-business students and a state-of-the-art showcase for up-and-coming buzz acts, including bands such as Berklee's own Karmin.

Second is the new building at 7 Haviland Street, which has given the Music Education, Music Therapy, Music Business/Management, and Liberal Arts departments a proper home. The space also features Freddie's Café (a popular new student gathering spot) and showcases items from the Africana Studies archives, including the Pat Patrick Collection.

Third, the college has upheld its role as the premier center for jazz education through the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. This focused area of study has attracted some of the finest young players in the world. The institute offers them unique classes, and opportunities to work in depth with jazz greats. It has also gotten them on the road and playing in festival performances in the United States and abroad. As well, it has taught students that as musicians, they have a responsibility to improve the world in which they live.

Fourth, the American Roots Music Program takes the college's strengths in old-time, bluegrass, blues, and other indigenous genres and puts a Berklee spin on them, allowing students to explore and build on established traditions.

Fifth, Berklee Valencia-the college's first international campus with graduate programs-would be impossible without Giant Steps. This summer our new facility opened its doors to students from across the Mediterranean basin.

  Giant Steps Campaign cochair Mike Dreese and wife Laura

Sixth, the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship promotes outside-the-box growth that brings new ideas and approaches into the classroom. For instance, Professor Neil Leonard used a Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship to explore the role of sound in robotics, video, and architecture. Leonard has since developed an InterArts Ensemble that has brought two student groups to Cuba, with more trips planned.

Seventh, Giant Steps funds are bringing more and more talented students to the Berklee City Music Program, which brings creative and academic opportunities to under-served youth. The funding has expanded the program to benefit youths from other cities across the country.

Finally, since Giant Steps began, the college has increased its annual financial aid support from $11 million to $28 million. Our increased ability to offer scholarships has been crucial to maintaining enrollment in tough economic times. Contributions have also helped Berklee to upgrade studios, lengthen practice room hours, and make a host of other improvements in student life at Berklee.

"The impact of the dollars is totally awe-inspiring," says John Connaughton, the campaign's cochair. "This was more than a Giant Step for Berklee; it was a game changer."

"Joseph Campbell said that money is congealed energy," President Roger Brown notes. "What this campaign shows us, at its heart, is how much energy and power we really do have."

Where will the college leap from here? No matter what the next goal is, thanks to the generosity of many people, Berklee will pursue it on solid footing.