LiveConnections was founded in 2008 by a team of artists, educators and entrepreneurs. Building on a strong partnership with music venue World Cafe Live, LiveConnections’ co-founders Hal Real, David Bradley, Lori Landew and Tamar Lelkes Oded envisioned providing opportunities for public school students to experience great music in a world-class setting, to stimulate new collaborations among artists and to build deeper relationships between artists and audiences.

Their first step was a gathering of 30 musicians spanning jazz, hip-hop, classical, world, rock and singer-songwriter genres, a diversity that epitomized the spirit and approach the founders were after. This round-table discussion gave birth to Bridge Sessions interactive performances for urban youth and special needs populations that explore diverse musical styles and cultures. These sessions, with artists and audience together on floor-level at World Cafe Live in an intimate exchange, became the hallmark of LiveConnections’ community engagement.

From three pilot Bridge Sessions in 2008, the program has grown over the past eight years to present more than 300 Bridge Sessions, reaching 30,000 participants from more than 100 schools and organizations in Philadelphia and Wilmington—most attending for free, many with little or no music programming at their schools. Nine Philadelphia schools have joined LiveConnections as partner schools, bringing the same group of 60-150 students to a sequence of Bridge Sessions three times a year. In recent years, LiveConnections has created in-depth residency programs with several of our partner schools to deepen the impact of Bridge Sessions, including percussion-themed summer camps, a weekly after-school percussion workshop and an in-school song-writing residency.

Over the years we have collaborated with leading arts organizations across the region on our educational programs, including Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, Drexel University's ExCITe Center, Mendelssohn Club, Settlement Music School and radio station WXPN. An annual partnership with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s School Partnership Program commissions Orchestra members and teaching artists to collaborate with LiveConnections artists in creating new sessions that explore connections between classical music and other genres.

In 2010, the partnership with the Orchestra gave birth to our LiveConnections Presents concert series (formerly ClassicAlive), featuring collaborative concerts designed for adventurous music lovers. Curated by double bassist Mary Wheelock Javian, the concerts highlight LiveConnections’ distinctive cross-genre music-making and have featured Grammy winners, local talent and rising stars. Our "New Sound of Philadelphia" commissioning project, begun in 2014, engages Philadelphia-based composers to write new, genre-crossing music for local ensembles. We frequently engage concert artists in presenting educational Bridge Sessions, so that youth hear the same music as ticket-buying adults.

LiveConnections is strongly committed to accessibility for underserved audiences and presents several programs each year targeted for adults with cognitive and physical disabilities. In the fall of 2013, LiveConnections launched a video streaming initiative, using a state-of-the-art digital video system to produce live webcasts of select Bridge Sessions and concerts. Through a partnership with Art-Reach, a nonprofit organization that connects underserved audiences with cultural experiences, LiveConnections brings participants to the venue for programs and also live streams those same programs back to residential facilities for people who would otherwise be unable to travel to the venue.

In 2015, LiveConnections completed its first strategic planning process, which prioritizes educational, accessibility and collaboration goals, with an emphasis on increasing visibility for the organization. [Download a summary of the plan.]

LiveConnections is led by executive director Melinda Steffy, board president Hal Real and founding director David Bradley, along with 3 additional staff and a 20-person board of directors.



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