CIVIC MISSION: A lens into reimagining professional education in music

Being a musician in contemporary society, affected by constant changes, technological progress and a culture crisis (increased by the Coronavirus pandemic), can be a true challenge for all musicians and higher music education institutions (HMEIs) around the globe. It has become apparent that focusing on musical excellence in higher education curricula is as equally important as developing consciousness about social issues and wellbeing of the community (Polisi, 2016). In many contexts, HMEIs are finding themselves re-envisaging their role in society; this time adding a special focus on a dialogical relationship between the institutional civic mission and artistic, pedagogical and research missions and purposes.

Why do HMEIs need civic engagement?

Developing HMEIs’ vision and mission towards the education of socially responsible and active citizen-artists, as well as community development, wellbeing and audience development, is serving the society both within and outside of the institution. The need to change the pedagogical paradigm of arts education in the direction of connecting formal and non-formal (civic) education sectors, as well as organizing activities addressed to the wider community, is recognized in UNESCO’s Goals for Arts Education (2006 and 2010). Furthermore, UNESCO’s World Declaration of Higher Education (1998) promotes the civic mission of higher education institutions (HEIs), which shall “educate highly qualified graduates and responsible citizens” (article 2) and “educate students to become well-informed and deeply motivated citizens, who can think critically, analyse problems of society, look for solutions to the problems of society, apply them and accept social responsibilities” (article 9).

For these reasons, one of the missions of an HMEI today is to teach and empower young professional musicians to undertake community-driven projects shaped by themselves as a ‘bottom-up’ approach to community engagement. The most effective learning happens in the community itself, so it is crucial to create as many opportunities as possible for experiential learning in various contexts. Teaching students to be flexible in different socio-cultural contexts, interdisciplinarity and collaboration (Gaunt and Westerlund, 2013) demands creating an open space at HMEIs for critical dialogue. In this space, students, teachers and institutional leaders can combine research activities and experiential learning with a special emphasis on service-based learning: integrating the curriculum and encouraging the active involvement of students and their teachers into the local community. This kind of learning has a double aim for them: to better understand the academic discipline, needs and problems in the community, as well as to encourage their civic involvement (Ćulum and Ledić, 2010; 2011).

What is a civic mission?

In order to create a connected curriculum (Fung, 2017), leaders and teachers at HMEIs are invited to work on redefining the meaning of musical excellence, educate future musicians and audiences, foster research activities and connect the curriculum to society in general (Tregear, Johansen, Jørgensen, Sloboda, Tulve, Wistreich, 2016). The institutionalization of theory, research and practice through proactive collaboration between teachers, students, university leaders and the community creates the civic mission which empowers both the institutions and the local community. Involvement in community experiences gives students the opportunity to undertake meaningful social work, provides networking experiences and offers the possible creation of new jobs in the employment market later on. In order to prepare students for various working contexts in the future, HMEIs should consider diversifying their provision and offer: programmes in other musical genres, entrepreneurship classes, community music modules, explore collaborative learning and integrate non-formal pedagogical approaches into the curriculum. In that case, future music industry professionals might develop various identities: as performers, teachers, community musicians, digital entrepreneurs, creative collaborators, etc. In order to support their multiple professional identities in these uncertain times, there must be an open dialogue between the needs and challenges of HMEIs, the market and the society in order to re-create new artistic realities.

Developing an HMEI’s civic mission may include various practices that can be commonly found in other HMEIs. This however, depends on the country and the respective national and societal culture.

These practices are:

(I) developing special courses (e.g. Community Music, Music in the Society, Music for Wellbeing, etc.);

(II) widening education practice from schools to hospitals, prisons, homes for children, refugee camps, etc.;

(III) collaborations with the whole vertical education system in the community (schools and kindergartens);

(IV) research and field work;

(V) audience development: developing education programmes in collaboration with concert halls, museums, galleries and NGOs;

(VI) partnerships and collaborative projects with NGOs related to culture, education, minorities, children with special needs, etc.;

(VII) artistic and scientific projects based on needs of the community;

(VIII) networking with academies in foreign countries (learning from each other’s practices, blended mobilities);

(IX) “opening the doors“ of the academy for citizens (open and free concerts and special organised lectures);

(X) re-examining teaching and learning practices and implementing experiential and collaborative approaches such as service-based learning, peer-to-peer learning, etc.;

(XI) re-examining power relations within the institution and empower students’ voices;

(XII) openness to the diversity in the HMEI itself (pluralism of music genres, accessibility and openness to people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, races, physical abilities, sexual orientations, etc.); and

(XIII) addressing environmental issues and creating eco-friendly working spaces.

Within the AEC-SMS project this working group will synthesise the outcomes and conclusions from the other working groups related to various aspects of an HMEI’s civic mission and build a comprehensive view of the issues raised by the project. Some of the key concepts and examples of institutional practices will be presented in our future posts. If you have an example from your institution and/or an idea to share, please feel free to contact us in the comment section.


Ćulum, B., & Ledić, J. (2010). Učenje zalaganjem u zajednici – integracija viskoškolske nastave i zajednice u procesu obrazovanja društveno odgovornih i aktivnih građana. Revija za socijalnu politiku, 17(1), 71-88.

Ćulum, B., & Ledić, J. (2011). Sveučilišni nastavnici i civilna misija sveučilišta. Rijeka: Filozofski fakultet u Rijeci.

Fung, D. (2017). A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education. London: UCL Press.

Gaunt, H., & Westerlund, H. (Eds.) (2013). Collaborative Learning in Higher Music Education. Surrey, Burlington: Ashgate.

Polisi, J. W. (2016) The Artist as Citizen (Revised Edition). USA: Amadeus Press.

Tregear, P., Johansen, G., Jørgensen, H., Sloboda, J., Tulve, H., & Wistreich, R. (2016). Conservatoires in the society: Institutional challenges and possibilities for change. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 15 (3-4), 276-292.

UNESCO (1998). World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-first Century: Vision and Action. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2006). Road Map for Arts Education: Building Creative Capacities for the 21st Century. Lisbon: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2010). Seoul Agenda: Goals for the Development of Arts Education (2010). Seoul: UNESCO.

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