Last August, Jeremy Salken and Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic announced their first major project for the Big Gigantic Difference Foundation — a donation of a computer lab to the Denver music-education nonprofit Youth on Record. After nearly a year of fundraising and planning, the lab was unveiled Wednesday, May 23, just days ahead of the group's annual block party, on Saturday, May 26.
The gear was funded by money raised on Big Gigantic's 2017 tour. It includes five stationary iMac desktops with Ableton 10 and Adobe Creative Cloud, five Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 controllers, three custom desks and five chairs.
Youth on Record Executive Director Jami Duffy says Big Gigantic did something few philanthropists bother to do: The duo actually listened to the organization’s needs.
“They came to us and asked us what we really needed,” Duffy says. “A lot of times when you’re working with funders, that doesn’t happen. There is a little bit of a dictation of, ‘This is what we think you need, and we’re going to give you money specifically for this project.’”
Duffy notes that it’s rare to find someone willing to support the people behind the project itself, which Big Gigantic did by providing one year’s salary for the lab’s instructor.
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“Often in the funding world, it feels good and looks really good to underwrite some sort of big, fancy project but then leave it without funding for the people behind it,” she says.
One of Youth on Record’s goals is to provide students with access to industry-standard equipment and technology in order to adequately prepare young people for a future career in the creative field.
“So often when we’re talking about low-income students — students who would benefit from the services of a nonprofit — they are given hand-me-down equipment,” Duffy says. “I can’t tell you the number of times that we have had people come to us with broken instruments and saying, ‘Hey, could the Youth on Record kids use this?’ I don’t want to take away from people’s generosity, but the truth is: If your kid wouldn’t use it, why should that be the best that [our kids] get?”
Duffy says that in providing top-of-the-line equipment, her group not only prepares students for the future, but for an opportunity to believe in themselves.
“I think that whatever we are providing for young people tells them something about their worth,” she says. “For better or worse, that’s the society that we live in. I have always operated under this idea that our young people have to be on industry-standard equipment. They have to have access to the best, because it tells them that we trust them with this equipment. We believe in them. We believe they’re smart enough to handle it and learn the software.”
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When Big Gigantic announced the computer lab last summer, Salken and Lalli were hoping to create a lasting impact in the community. When asked if their hopes for the lab and its impact changed over the past year, Salken says, “We just hope this lab makes it easier and more accessible for the kids to find their unique voices through music. The passion for that grows more and more every day, and [we] cannot wait to see how it impacts them over the next few years.”
Youth on Record continues to grow and change, and the addition of this computer lab reflects that organic evolution. Duffy notes that in the completion of this project, local funk band the Motet was inspired to be a music ambassador and raise money for the organization with its Red Rocks show. She hopes that same enthusiasm continues among the music community.
“[The computer lab] has ignited this chain reaction of musicians who believe what we have always believed, which is that it really is the music community that can support Youth on Record, because it’s theirs,” Duffy says.
Celebrate Youth on Record at the organization's annual block party, from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Youth on Record, 1301 West Tenth Avenue.