York University and the Regent Park School of Music (RPSM) announced on Nov. 16 a $2-million gift from York Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation to support research and programming to help children succeed through music and the arts.
“It is an honour to thank the Carswell Family Foundation for this incredible gift, which will strengthen evidence-based research in music education and programming, and transform the lives of children for years to come,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York University president and vice-chancellor.
The gift will establish the Helen Carswell Chair in Community Engaged Research in the Arts, an endowed position within the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University. The Chair will facilitate and direct interdisciplinary projects to enhance community music and art programs locally and globally. The position is named in honour of Helen Carswell, wife of Professor Carswell, a lifelong music lover and an advocate for music education.
“The Helen Carswell Chair will amplify the scope and impact of the research being done by artists and scholars at York in collaboration with community partners, and the outstanding work being done by the Regent Park School of Music,” said Shawn Brixey, dean of AMPD. “It establishes a crucible in which scholarly research, creative practice, and community art-making come together to generate even more powerful, influential and lasting outcomes to benefit our local community and society at large.”
The funding will also develop a new partnership between York and RPSM to increase the school’s reach to children in the Jane-Finch community and enable practical, interdisciplinary research on music teaching to create best practices and strengthen RPSM’s programming.
“This remarkable gift from the Carswell Family Foundation will be a game-changer for Regent Park School of Music and the 1,300-plus kids we are currently reaching in Jane-Finch and across the city,” said Richard Marsella, executive director of RPSM. “The partnership with York University will give us access to academic researchers, who will inform and improve what we do to help kids succeed through music. We are delighted to be part of this truly unique community and academic initiative.”
A worldwide expert in laser-imaging technology, Carswell is a renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist. For 30 years, he served as a full-time professor of physics at York University. He pioneered a new remote sensing laser technology known as Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). Carswell founded the company Optech Incorporated, which commercialized the technology. In 2014, Carswell received an honorary doctorate in science from York University.
“I was aware of the many interests that York University and the Regent Park School of Music have in common, and I saw the potential for fruitful collaborations,” said Carswell. “I am excited to be here to celebrate this partnership that will enhance a broad spectrum of activities brought about by young people’s special attraction to music.”
More than 100 people gathered in the Joseph G. Green Theatre on York University’s Keele campus to celebrate the gift. The event featured musical performances by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Liberty Silver, who is also a two-time Juno Award recipient. Silver sang “Be the Best You Can Be,” and in the spirit of collaboration, the Regent Park School of Music Choir and the York University Gospel Choir sang “Grateful,” composed by Karen Burke, associate professor in AMPD. The event closed with a performance of “Music Speaks Louder than Words” by the York Harmony Chorus (the chorus is an a cappella ensemble based in Newmarket, Ont.)
“Music is a universal language that transcends borders, and I’ve always felt that it’s part of a well-rounded education,” said Sylvena Solomon, whose daughter, Eryka Walters, 15, has been a student at RPSM for 10 years and sang at the Carswell gift celebration. “RPSM has made my daughter who she is, and without funding, these children would not be exposed to the same programs and opportunities. Performing at York gives them exposure to an academic environment, and plants a seed of hope and self-confidence that they belong here and can accomplish their goals.”
Operating in several regions of the city, RPSM is one of Toronto’s most diverse music schools and provides extracurricular music education to youth that might not otherwise have access.
“RPSM taught me how to conduct myself in front of an audience and gain confidence, which definitely helped me in my adult life,” said Portia-Marie Siegel, a fourth-year communications student at York and 2012 graduate of RPSM, who attended the event. “I had the best experience. This funding and partnership will help ensure that these children have a wonderful outlet for their creativity.”
Prof. Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation focus on community philanthropy that has a direct impact. The foundation has previously supported York University with funding for new scientific research labs, awards and scholarships. Earlier this year, the foundation made a $1-million gift to the University to fund graduate scholarships in the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering.