Music Fund, winner 2021 of the Prize for Democracy and Human Rights

Music Fund, winner 2021 of the Prize for Democracy and Human Rights of the Parliament of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels

“Music allows us to bring together people, so different and diverse, around the same instrument, sharing the same values.
Music then becomes an actor of dialogue, of uniting people, and thus an instrument of peace.”
Rudy Demotte, President of the Parliament of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation

On Wednesday 10 March 2021, Music Fund had the honour of receiving the prestigious Prize for Democracy and Human Rights from the Parliament of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels.

This prize, worth 10,000 euros, rewards the association for its action in favour of music schools and social-artistic projects in conflict areas and developing countries, as well as in Belgium.

Since 2015, the Parliament of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels has awarded an annual prize for Democracy and Human Rights. The main objective is to draw attention to a specific achievement within the framework of the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the values it defends with regard to the promotion of peace, democracy and human rights. For the Parliament of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, it is also a question of increasing its openness towards the civil society and citizens.

We would like to thank all those who, from near and far, help us accomplish our mission: volunteers, partners, donators, funders … With a special thanks to the schools and projects that we support in the South who, through their work, commitment and energy, continuously work towards the democratisation of access to quality music education.

“With Music Fund, the history of the instrument continues. […]
The association creates imaginary bridges between people from very different worlds.”
Lukas Pairon, founder of Music Fund

As a founder, I am very proud that the Parliament of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels has decided to award this year’s Prize for Democracy and Human Rights to Music Fund, our association which, since 2005, has supported music schools and social-artistic projects in Belgium, in conflict areas and in developing countries.

We are doing this by donating musical instruments and training technicians.

We are also very happy to find ourselves in such good company, as previous winners of the prize have included the great doctor Denis Mukwege and the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

For us, it all started with an initiative of the Belgian contemporary music ensemble Ictus (of which I was co-founder and director) and whose musicians were already very active in the West Bank and Israel. In Oxfam Solidarity, Ictus found an efficient partner to launch a first collection of musical instruments in Belgium for the music schools in this region. The collection took place over a weekend in April 2005 in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. It was a great success. That weekend and in the following weeks around 500 musical instruments were collected at 90 collection points: all kinds of instruments, even grand pianos!

Our main concern was to ensure that these instruments would be in perfect condition before they started their new life in the schools there.

We were able to persuade Belgian violin makers and technicians to check and repair the collected instruments on a voluntary basis.

At the end of 2005, a truck full of instruments left the Grand Place in Brussels for Haifa and we handed over more than 300 instruments to music schools in the West Bank, Gaza and Nazareth.

By the way, Music Fund has many friends in Israel. That we are not very active there, is due to the simple fact that the need for musical instruments and technicians is much greater in the West Bank and Gaza.

This was the beginning of Music Fund’s extraordinary adventure, which was soon joined by all those who, like us, believe that music can also be a tool for development.

A few months later, Music Fund offered its first training course in instrument maintenance and repair in Ramallah. This activity – training young people connected to our partner music schools – has since become one of the main activities of our association. In addition, we continue to collect musical instruments throughout Europe, with the support of major concert halls.

Even more than the donations of musical instruments, the training of repairers confirms that the maintenance of musical instruments can be assured on site.

It is for this activity in particular that the European Commission awarded Music Fund the title of “best practice in culture and development” in 2010.

During the following years, we developed very similar partnerships, by donating instruments and training technicians, with music schools and projects in the DRC (in Kinshasa, Bukavu and Goma), Mozambique (in Maputo), Morocco (in Tetouan) and Haiti (in Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince).  More recently, Music Fund has been called upon for socio-artistic projects in Belgium and in some other European countries.

We notice that more and more artists, musicians and also technicians (such as instrument repairers or sound technicians for example) want to commit to the society, hoping to have a social impact through their art, their craft, their knowledge or their know-how.

Together with some friends, we wrote a note about the place art and culture can have in development work, which was to Alexander Decroo, when he was Minister of Cooperation in the previous federal government.

Several fascinating projects were highlighted in this note: not only Music Fund, but also the beautiful project Connexion Kin of Belgian artists who, over a long period, develop artistic projects of theatre, music and dance with artists from Kinshasa,… or the Theatre Day Productions project in Gaza, which for more than 20 years has been offering workshops and theatrical productions performed with Palestinian teenagers that enable them to express themselves on themes that are important to them.

I do not believe that music can solve conflicts, either in the Middle East or here, even if music projects do succeed in bringing certain people or institutions together.

In 2017, the Ministers of Culture Alda Gréoli & Sven Gatz chose Music Fund as an exemplary project within the framework of the Cultural Agreement between the 2 communities, Flanders and the Federation Wallonia-Brussels. Music Fund exists largely thanks to the structural support of the two communities, which we have enjoyed since our first year of activity. And the Federation’s successive Ministers of Culture – Fadila Laanan, Alda Grioli and now Bénédicte Linard – have been enthusiastic Music Fund supporters. They have shared with us the idea that music can build bridges.

I am the founder of Music Fund. It’s easy to have the idea for such a project, but to carry it out you need the input of many people and active partners.

It is also thanks to them that Music Fund has been able to develop over these 16 years: the small team of staff, the large team of volunteers, the partner schools and music projects in the South and in Europe, the private and governmental partners who support us financially, and so many other friends. They are too many to thank them all.

However, I would particularly like to thank the parliamentarians of my province (Luxembourg) who nominated Music Fund for this prize. And thank the Parliament for choosing Music Fund.

I would also like to thank one person in particular: the Mayor of the city of Marche-en-Famenne, André Bouchat. Mr Bouchat wanted Music Fund to establish in his city.  Thanks to this invitation, we dispose since 6 years of our own workshop for the repair of musical instruments and a training centre for young instrumental technicians from our partner countries. Mr Mayor, thank you as well as all the members of Marche-en-Famenne Municipal Council!

I hope I have made you curious to learn more about Music Fund. I invite you to visit our Ali Baba cave in Jemelle-Rochefort, a two-storey building made available to us by the Lhoist company. This Music Fund warehouse is full of musical instruments! I organise face-to-face visits, but virtual visits are also possible.

If you want to know more, come and see me after this session, or talk to our President Bernard de Launoit, our Vice-President Simone Susskind, or the Music Fund coordinator Alexandra Gelhay, who are all with us today.

Music Fund in figures

9,905 instruments collected
4,993 instruments repaired and donated
16 partner projects in Palestine, Israel, DR Congo, Haiti, as well as Morocco and Mozambique
19 instrument repairers trained in partner schools in the South
9 repair
workshops set up in partner projects
20 permanent collection points in
6 European countries