The Billingsley School of Music & Arts is a nonprofit organization that provides access to people of all ages interested in dance, drama, music and visual art. David Billingsley, the founder and executive director, is dedicated to providing quality affordable arts education for Minneapolis residents. Billingsley spoke with rolling out about his passion and desire to serve his community.
What was the driving force for starting the Billingsley School of Music & Arts?
It started when I was about 14 years old. At that time, I had been studying music since I was six and I never saw any other Black kids. I knew at that age I wanted to start a school so that people like me could have the benefits of arts education. That was my life’s mission at that age. I slowly but surely started giving people free lessons or whatever they could pay. In 2012, I officially started the Billingsley School of Music & Arts as an official nonprofit 501c3. It took us some years to develop it. In 2016, we had a summer camp that went well. We had about 75 students. In October 2017, we got our own space. We have 3,000 square feet here in our studio. Now, we are [here] every day, running [the] school.
What is your daily schedule like?
It is getting up at 8 am, getting in here, getting ready for the day. If there are meetings on the docket, getting them out of the way. We have private lessons where students come in for instruction. Students have different interests. So, every lesson is individualized. There is always something to do whether it’s cleaning, drilling holes, hanging lights, finding grants, creating proposals, trying to reach out to parents and staff, teaching lessons and cleaning up at the end of the night to do it all over again. It’s a lot of fun; lives are being changed. The kids I work with go through a lot. One of the kids I teach, his dad was recently fatally shot. I hate to say it, but it’s a very normal thing and we deal with it. We heal through the arts and help them. That’s what makes us different. We are diverse, teachers of color, urban, creative and innovative. We’re doing the music of today and tomorrow. We’re trying to create the future, not regurgitate that past.
What inspires you to show up to work every day?
The parents tell me “You’re doing a great job”; “My kids enjoy music differently now”; “They practice without me telling them”; “They are happy”; and “They enjoy it and look forward to coming every week.” That’s the kind of feedback we ’re getting from our clients so that’s where we want to be. They just need a place to come weekly with dedicated instructors who look like them and can relate to their stories.
Community success based on the work you do in your community means what does that mean to you?
Success is us creating an access hub where artists from all genres come together to work together to learn from each other to teach and create new music to become a super team. Our slogan is “Access changes lives.” If we all ever come together, a lot of progress can be made. We are successful when our community is ignited [and] united with a specific goal in mind to change lives and to make our city better. We want to be an education hub as far as arts access for kids of color who can’t afford it. The goal is to create access that and when we’re doing that was succeeding.
What role does technology play in your life and the lives of your students?
It’s critical; if I don’t have it, I crumble. There is so much to do and take in. All these apps I have — web designs, Facebook Ads, campaigns — work in your favor if you use it the right way. I have a new app that’s critical for my bookings and I have 30 appointments set up right now within just a few days. That’s what I needed because there were people who needed to get in contact [with me]. Those kinds of simple things make my life easier for me. Anything I don’t know how to do I outsource and give those to other people.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would say all the division and strife. It’s too many small groups. We need to put all our differences aside Black, White, blue, purple. We’re missing that humanity piece. We need to eliminate racism and inequality and we have a long way to go.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything, because I feel like the journey I’ve been on is one uniquely for me and fate is fate. I am who I am. I know that change is good, but it takes time and it’s a messy process. I am just going to keep loving myself and working to be better every day.