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Maintaining Effectiveness During Periods of Funding Crisis: The Case of FUNSINCOPA
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Maintaining Effectiveness During Periods of Funding Crisis: The Case of FUNSINCOPA

Authors: Bradley Powell (Jamaica)


La Red is a music-for-social-inclusion initiative of the Fundación Sinfonia Concertante de Panama (FUNSINCOPA). Aimed at children and young people from 3 to 25 years of age, La Red uses music as a tool for social transformation, seeking to empower children and young people through positive values to achieve their maximum potential in order to positively impact their communities. This case study presents strategies by which a music-for-social-inclusion program such as La Red may maintain effectiveness during challenging financial times. While this study focuses on La Red, it also offers a comparative analysis of one of FUNSINCOPA’s sister organizations, the Fundación de Mario de Obaldía Alvarado (FUNDAMOA), and suggests opportunities for further collaboration between the organizations.


From May 5–20, 2017, I served as a guest teaching artist at the Fundación Sinfonia Concertante de Panama (FUNSINCOPA) in their music-for-social-inclusion initiative, La Red. I also worked with one of FUNSINCOPA’s sister organizations, the Fundación de Mario de Obaldía Alvarado (FUNDAMOA) in the Chiriquí province, on the western border of Panama. (See Annex for more background on FUNDAMOA.)

My time in Panama offered a comprehensive, first-hand view of these two teams’ approaches to music for social innovation, as I was able to participate in day-to-day tasks as a guest clarinet teacher, woodwind section coach, and administrator. At FUNSINCOPA, I taught clarinet to 9 students; observed an orchestra rehearsal; and interviewed program staff, including Dr. Isaac Casal, the program’s founder and artistic director, and administrative director Valeria Perez. I also spent all of my free time eating meals and sightseeing with students, faculty, and administrators from both FUNSINCOPA and FUNDAMOA, which gave me many additional opportunities to pose questions about the programs’ histories and day-to-day operations.


Dr. Casal founded FUNSINCOPA in 2008 and currently runs the organization with a small team.  He is one of three accomplished Casal siblings who, collectively, have worked to make classical music in Panama more meaningful to the community through social initiatives, outreach activities to encourage attendance at concerts, successful lobbying campaigns for long-term government support of different types of music organizations, more frequent visits and performances by high-level foreign musicians, the creation of professional opportunities for Panamanian musicians to work in their own country, and the elevation of artistic standards. Dr. Casal is also Professor of Cello at the University of Panama.

FUNSINCOPA operates two main initiatives in Panama City: 1) the Festival International Alfredo de Saint Malo (ASM), which brings internationally renowned artists to Panama every year and showcases professional and emerging Panamanian musicians; and 2) La Red de Filarmonicas Infantiles y Juveniles de Panama (La Red). La Red, the subject of this case study, is a music education program aimed at children and young people from 3 to 25 years of age who live in high risk districts—such as Chorrillo, Santa Ana, San Felipe, Arraiján, and Calidonia—marked by resource scarcity.

According to its mission statement, La Red uses music as a tool for social transformation, seeking to empower children and young people through positive values ​​to achieve their maximum potential in order to positively impact their communities. Through education and musical practice, La Red strives to promote alternative life paths and a better quality of life for children, youth, families, and communities. For instance, FUNSINCOPA team members explained that, when La Red first started, some students refused to be in the same room with certain other students because their families were part of rival factions in the neighbourhood.

Program participants receive a tuition scholarship, meals, transportation to concerts, and instrument loans (according to availability, attendance, and academic evaluation). In 2012, La Red created Panama City’s first youth orchestra for vulnerable areas, which made its debut on the steps of the National Institute of Culture. As of 2017, the program had awarded 627 scholarships and it currently includes two orchestras: the Initiation Ensemble Narciso Garay and the Gonzalo Brenes Orchestra.

La Red is currently in a rebuilding phase. The program lost almost all of its funding several years ago, as a result of a shift in priorities within the Panamanian government, and FUNSINCOPA could not afford any teachers or staff in 2016. Rather, all funds went towards facilities, equipment, and other operational costs. La Red remained in operation only because Isaac Casal and his wife volunteered full-time. As funders have slowly renewed their commitments to La Red, FUNSINCOPA has been able to hire teachers and staff again, and re-enroll some students. The weekly programming schedule is divided into after-school and weekend activities, and those activities were back on a consistent schedule as of 2017. During my time with La Red, the program served over 30 students from primary school through secondary school.


As noted earlier, FUNSINCOPA experienced severe funding cuts in years prior to my visit and was forced to dramatically downsize human resources. A volunteer administrative staff, consisting of the founder and his wife, was able to carry on operations and weather this funding drought. In the 2016-2017 season, the program regained some government funding. While La Red is currently in the process of rebuilding its administrative and teaching staff, it faces stagnated student growth and development, and difficulty in recruiting new students.

While La Red is currently in the process of rebuilding its administrative and teaching staff, it faces stagnated student growth and development, and difficulty in recruiting new students.

An adequate number of teaching staff is essential to provide the full pedagogical framework, manage behaviour issues, and serve as role models for the students. Additional administrative staff is needed to carry out essential operational tasks. Intensity of programming and effective modeling of values are essential to the core mission of La Red as a music-for-social-inclusion organization. How can FUNSINCOPA maintain some momentum in this current funding limbo while a brighter budget future is on the horizon?


The following SWOT analysis for FUNSINCOPA identifies the program’s internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. This may be productively compared with a SWOT analysis of FUNDAMOA (see Annex). The intensity and discipline FUNDAMOA has been able to maintain with its approach have allowed that program to cultivate affluence of the spirit, one of the tenets of the music-for-social-inclusion movement, and could inform reinvigoration for FUNSINCOPA.

Whereas FUNSINCOPA splits its resources between a major international concert festival and La Red, FUNDAMOA has one goal: music for social inclusion. The single-minded focus of Ms. González and her team allows for teachers and staff to spend more time with the students and cultivate a stronger sense of teamwork. One of FUNDAMOA’s strongest assets is the sense of ownership among students, who support the program through in-kind donations, volunteering, and powerful word-of-mouth advocacy. For example, the program’s beautiful, simple, and effective website ( was designed by one of the young adult violinists, Raúl, who has been with the program for several years and studies violin privately with Ms. González. He pulled me aside to tell me he was creating the site “so that people can find out about us and see how great it is here, and then we can get donations and stuff!”

The following SWOT analysis identifies four significant weaknesses for FUNSINCOPA, all of which are due to a lack of funding but might be overcome with a more present, hands-on approach such as that of Ms. González. A powerful teacher-student connection and investment in relationships can be an effective way to develop consistent teamwork, especially on a volunteer basis.



  • Well established; good brand recognition
  • Leader with vision
  • Instrument/space resources
  • Connections with international artists and organizations
  • Has been creative with funding sources in the past; should be able to replicate these successes with time


  • Intensity of pedagogical programming (frequency, effectiveness, oversight) still lacking during rebuilding process
  • Music resources (sheet music) not always available to students; hinders progress and engagement for all
  • Lack of intensity/leadership on site enables behavioral problems and ineffective sessions
  • Student leadership/peer learning not supported by presence/role modeling of effective mentor; not currently at full level of operation


  • Access to effective, local teachers
  • Large local population = many potential students
  • Has good instruments and can have relatively full complement of orchestra once recruitment and funding applications take off


  • Changes in political climate affect funding
  • Lack of stability weakens ability to take advantage of resources in Opportunities column
  • Current students with disruptive behavior will need effective new mentorship so that their behavior issues do not influence newly recruited students


This section presents two scenarios. The first describes how FUNSINCOPA can maximize available resources and utilize those which may be untapped in order to bring La Red’s effectiveness closer to its full potential. The second describes increased collaboration between FUNSINCOPA and FUNDAMOA. These scenarios offer potential short-term solutions while La Red is at its current level of funding. Ultimately, however, an administrative team should be dedicated specifically to La Red.

The current collaboration between FUNSINCOPA and FUNDAMOA (sharing of resources, joint performances, occasional sharing of faculty members, FUNSINCOPA guest artists sent to FUNDAMOA) is mutually beneficial, and the scenarios outlined below strongly suggest building on that relationship. Modeling Ms. Gonzalez’s current team dynamic and FUNDAMOA’s operations will help La Red build back its former momentum.

Isaac Casal and Valeria Perez’s efforts have saved FUNSINCOPA in the past two years. However, focusing on so many different aspects of both initiatives may not be sustainable in the long term, especially since they each have professional ambitions outside of the foundation. As a musician, educator, and arts administrator myself, I question the sustainability of careers in the social arts sector, especially when I see how tirelessly leaders like Dr. Casal and Ms. Perez must work.

Scenario 1: Maximizing Available Resources at FUNSINCOPA

It is recommended that FUNSINCOPA set up an exchange of services with an advanced cello student at the university who could benefit from additional lessons, or with a student in need from La Red. The student would copy and bind music for La Red in exchange for extra cello lessons with Dr. Casal. Since Dr. Casal is already quite busy with teaching, these extra lessons could also take the form of other kinds of mentorship for the student(s) in question, such as listening critically to music for score study together, or guidance counseling and professional development.

Dr. Casal is currently developing curricula for new degree programs at the University of Panama. As part of these new programs, Dr. Casal should create an internship whereby university students would receive academic credit for teaching at FUNSINCOPA.

Dr. Casal should bring in guests with experience in classroom management to work with the students. These guests could engage FUNSINCOPA staff—the site coordinator, the conductor—as aides and demonstrate techniques that the staff could continue on their own. This may be more beneficial for La Red than simply having artistic guests.

Finally, Dr. Casal should continue to solicit corporate sponsorship from Panamanian businesses, such as Copa Airlines, banks, etc. To win over sponsors, La Red might offer student performances of chamber music arrangements of popular Panamanian songs.

Isaac Casal and Valeria Perez’s efforts have saved FUNSINCOPA in the past two years. However, focusing on so many different aspects of both initiatives may not be sustainable in the long term.

Scenario 2: Increased Collaboration Between FUNSINCOPA and FUNDAMOA

It is recommended that Ms. González help FUNSINCOPA foster a disciplined and focused program culture in exchange for additional guest visits at FUNDAMOA from musicians affiliated with FUNSINCOPA and the Global Leaders Program. Indeed, Dr. Casal has already generously made FUNSINCOPA artistic and personnel resources available to FUNDAMOA. It thus seems reasonable that Ms. González and her team might work with La Red students and train new FUNSINCOPA staff.

If Dr. Casal creates a teaching internship program at the University of Panama, it could incorporate teaching at both FUNSINCOPA and FUNDAMOA. Not only would both foundations benefit from access to additional teachers, but the interns would gain experience and knowledge from both Dr. Casal and Ms. González. Note that the pool of teaching staff for both organizations is essentially the same: both foundations hire students and graduates from the University of Panama and some teachers work at both organizations simultaneously.


FUNSINCOPA has the opportunity to increase the effectiveness of its programming by leveraging existing resources. Through strategic collaborations with FUNDAMOA and the University of Panama, FUNSINCOPA could supplement its current resources until funding is restored fully. Given that political change may threaten the government’s support of FUNSINCOPA again in the future, collaborations such as those outlined above would support the long-term sustainability of La Red. Lessening the liability associated with operating at full program capacity is therefore an essential step for risk management at FUNSINCOPA.



FUNDAMOA director Xiomara González, daughter of the organization’s founder and an accomplished violinist, returned to Panama after a career abroad in order to focus on building the foundation. She presently serves not only as director, but also as a teacher and conductor of the orchestra. She is skilled at classroom management and is an excellent role model for the students. FUNDAMOA is relatively isolated from most of the country’s classical music community and has had limited success gaining national recognition and, therefore, government funding. However, its programming is well supported by a dedicated, close-knit team, some of whom contribute on a volunteer basis. In addition, since the program’s facilities are housed in a single building, mentors, teachers, and staff are all physically present and available to students while educational programming is in session. Several teachers commute by overnight bus every Friday from Panama City and stay in a hotel a few blocks from the teaching facility. I took part in the same commute as a guest teacher while I was based in Panama City, and the year-round teachers told me that they enjoy spending weekends at FUNDAMOA because the program is well-organized, the students are committed and motivated, and the experience is rewarding. Teachers often recruit their friends as substitutes and supplemental guest faculty, and they spend their free time together in David and other parts of Chiriquí.

  • Offering the experience of social inclusion through music to children of all socioeconomic strata, from age 7 through early adulthood;
  • Working to promote the cultural development of the province;
  • Performing didactic concerts to bring orchestral music to the community;
  • Focusing on the intellectual, emotional, and affective development of the enrolled children and youth;
  • Offering free symphonic music education programs with national and international teachers;
  • Offering professional development for music teachers to improve the quality of instrumental education in the province and the country;
  • Creating experiences which provide different potential paths for children from communities and neighborhoods of high social risk;
  • Instilling values ​​such as discipline, commitment, respect, leadership, teamwork, and cooperation.



  • Strong leadership presence; effective role-modeling
  • Committed and sufficiently-sized administrative team
  • Effective peer-learning in place
  • Mandatory supplementary music lessons (i.e., choir) greatly enhance music education for instrumentalists


  • More demands can and should be made of teachers; teachers need more specific curriculum and goals set by leadership to keep orchestra improving


  • More remote location means less competition for region-specific funding/attention
  • Teachers (university students from Panama City) enjoy weekend teaching trips to David and have strong rapport with each other; team dynamic is excellent and should be supported to recruit new teachers


  • Remote location means teaching staff commutes 6+ hours to teach on weekend
  • Lack of access to high-level visiting artists who usually come to FUNSINCOPA activities but do not travel across the country to FUNDAMOA
  • Distance from government ministry offices creates obstacles in demonstrating need and value during funding pursuits

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