Northampton Community Music Center buoyed by $98K state grant

  • Christa Muller, left, works with Claire Donahue, then 13, in a lesson at the Northampton Community Music Center in 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Students jam during a past summer rock program at Northampton Community Music Center. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The Northampton Community Music Center has received a $98,000 Covid relief grant from the state. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2021 8:12:37 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton Community Music Center, like so many arts and cultural organizations, has struggled with lost revenue during the months of the pandemic. But a recent grant will help the organization negotiate some of that rough ground into spring.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has awarded a $98,000 COVID relief grant to NCMC, which Jason Trotta, the music center’s executive director, calls “a real shot in the arm. I never expected to get this much … we’re really just bowled over by this.”

The grant is part of nearly $10 million in aid that the Cultural Council, in partnership with the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Development, recently awarded to 183 nonprofit cultural organizations (there were 424 applicants) in the commonwealth to help those groups weather pandemic-generated losses.

Trotta says he’s grateful to Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration for including this financing in the state’s budget; he’s especially thankful for the help state Sen. Jo Comerford and state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa gave NCMC in advocating for the center.

“Our local representatives really went to bat for us,” he said.

NCMC had to shut its doors last spring when the pandemic arrived, although about 75% of its students continued taking lessons online. That and a federal PPE loan of about $90,000 helped the music center keep on top of things through the semester and pay its bills, Trotta said.

On the other hand, NCMC had to cancel its biggest annual fundraising event, Springfest, in which students perform in different sites in downturn Northampton. All the center’s summer music camps had to be canceled as well, and student enrollment dropped off in fall, Trotta said.

“I think in some cases (students and families) have said, ‘Maybe we’ll put this aside for a while and come back to it when we can do it in person,’” he noted. “Everyone is already spending so much time in front of computers … sometimes you want to take a break.”

However, other students and families have said they look forward to the online lessons as a way of staying connected to teachers and the organization, Trotta noted, and many have increased their donations to the center.

“People have been very generous,” he said.

NCMC has responded by increasing scholarship aid to families who are themselves struggling, he added. Online events such as concerts have continued as well; the next one, a recital by several pianists, takes place Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.

The new grant will help the music center in a number of ways, Trotta said, including letting NCMC catch up on some of its mortgage payments (the group bought its South Street building in 2019 after renting it from the city for many years).

The funds can also be used for work such as improving the building’s ventilation systems for when students are allowed to come back. In addition, Trotta and the NCMC board of directors are looking at the possibility of staging some outdoor lessons and concerts in spring, such as holding some on their front lawn, or in other places around town, where people can safely distance themselves from one another.

He says he can’t wait, though, for when everyone can return to the building.

“The irony is we’ve done all this work on it, and it’s never been in better shape, but we can’t have people come in,” he said.

On another note, he says he’s grateful the state values its cultural institutions and recognizes their important role in the economy. Massachusetts Cultural Council officials say those groups have reported $484 million in losses since the pandemic arrived, and that the COVID relief grants are aimed at helping them remain a part of the economy.

“I feel very lucky that I live not just in an area that values the arts but in a state that does as well,” Trotta said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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