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Americana Project: Connecting Creativity and Learning

Brad Tisdel is a co-founder of the Americana Project music and arts education program, in which Sisters Middle School and High School students learn to play music, write songs, record and engineer a final product. The professional singer-songwriter also is consulting with Bend LaPine Schools to bring the program there.


Brad-Tisdel_RFWhat is the Americana Project to you? 

It is a broad-brush stroke of infusing music and art education into academia. We prove that art integration will create stronger ties to the value of learning. Artistic opportunity allows for us to connect to the creative, and then focus on the practical manifest of work. It’s turning on the light bulb and realizing you need inspiration, creativity and education to connect the wires.

What was the inspiration for the Americana Project?

It was a beautiful trifecta of endearing moments. I was a musician and songwriter who had a degree in sociology and had traveled the world. When I came to the Sisters Folk Festival, I was first a performer and then a consultant. In 2000, I saw a community which would benefit by having more music opportunities in their lives. It was hard times–cutbacks in art education and a recession. I went into the school with my guitar and poetry and the Sisters community kept saying, “Let’s do more!” The folk festival generated funds, and we have grown to year-round venues, an art auction, awards and mentors–returning alumni. Before we knew it, we had a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation and are bringing sixteen keyboards into the classrooms.

Can you detail all of the events and entities surrounding the Americana Project?

The Sisters Folk Festival is the non-profit organization umbrella. We like to say ‘all the town’s a stage,’ but it is no longer just a three-day festival of performances with old-school, laid-back intimacy. It has given birth to many rivers and tributaries of creative expression. First, we have the outreach of the Americana Project. To help fund it, we have My Own Two Hands, a community art auction and celebration of artists and their work.

Before each folk festival, we have the Americana Song Academy, where artists performing in the folk festival arrive early to teach aspects of music, performance, songwriting and singing. There is also our commitment to the Americana Luthier Program, which teaches kids how to build their own guitars and ukuleles, and in the spring we offer the Americana Song Academy for Youth. Oh and now we don’t hibernate, we have a winter concert series

Do children who have participated in the Americana Project stay engaged with the organization?

We have a revolving group of great young adults who always come out and help for the festival, and alumni who return to teach. But it’s better than that; for those age 18 to 32, we have built a focus on mentoring, talent sharing and support. We are open to progressive social change that is encouraging a new hub of diversity.  We have people coming back to create sustainable agriculture when they are not on tour. We see people like Slater Smith of the Weather Machine keeping his commitment and focusing on our youth even as his own journey around the world grows.

For a creative guy in charge of many things, this is quite a clean office. What does your day look like?

Ha! It’s clean because I’m never here. I generally work from a home office, consult in schools, book the talent for the festival, and am always scheduling and looking at who has great energy to bring into the classroom and into our community to share their insight and talents.  I’m also asking myself how best to utilize the amazing opportunity we have to make a lasting impact.  And now, I have to go and coach my son’s basketball team. – Andes Hruby

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