The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Music as a Tool for Social Change

A MMIAM Journey Interview with Natalia Puerta

Natalia Puerta is a social cultural manager based in Bogotá, Colombia. She graduated from the MMIAM program in 2020 and has been working at the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá in the time since. Natalia and Brittany sat down recently to chat about the orchestra’s work and her role within the organization.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you become interested in the arts?

I was born into a family that appreciates the arts; music was always present in my home. My parents actually met after joining the same choir. I also have an uncle who plays the tiple, a Colombian instrument from the Andes Mountains. When I was a child, my mother promised to provide piano lessons for my sister and me so my grandfather gave us his old piano. So, I began playing music from a very young age.

In school, I studied psychology and received a minor in music. I also joined the university choir and as a member, we were able to travel, for example, we went to China for the choir’s fiftieth anniversary. It was a very special period of my life and many of my best friends are people that I met in the choir. After my undergraduate studies, I found an interesting course, provided by UNESCO, about the potential of culture to contribute to social and development processes. I also completed a specialization course in arts management before joining the seventh MMIAM cohort. It was a great way to develop and learn practical tools for management.

I feel really lucky to now work at the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá (Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra). I’ve been there for two years now and I am able to connect my interests, music has been a passion of mine, with my studies.

Can you tell me about the organization?

The philharmonic is a very cool organization, technically a system of orchestras and music ensembles. There is the main orchestra, one of the best in Latin America, it tours internationally. There is also a female-only orchestra. This orchestra’s goal is to promote women in music and women composers throughout history. This can become a bit complicated, especially as not very long ago, women were not encouraged to pursue music. There are five youth orchestras or music groups, they can’t all be labeled as orchestras. Finally, there is a music education initiative that provides music education to 30,000 children all over Bogotá. We work in public schools, philharmonic local centers in each of Bogota’s  districts, and in hospitals with children who are undergoing various treatments. The hospital model is a bit different, there, it’s about improving the quality of life for very sick children.

Wow! That sounds incredible. So, what do you do at the orchestra?

On a daily basis, I wear many hats and work with many different team members, I never get bored! However, I work most closely with the educational program. One of the projects I’m working on now is very exciting. The educational program will turn 10 next year and many of the students in the program’s first years are beginning to enter university and choosing to study music. So, we’ve been starting to do a bit of evaluation, finding out who these young people are, the universities they’re choosing, the instruments they’ve chosen to play, and most importantly, how much the program has helped them move forward with their music. This is a social initiative, so our objective is not to consistently churn out hundreds of new musicians, but it’s good for us to know that some of these children are choosing music as a way of life, especially if they’ve done so because of our efforts. I’m in charge of this research project; this year I explored the quantitative data and in the new year, I’ll start conducting interviews with alumni.

Delivery of instruments by the Musical Instruments Bank during a Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra children and pre-youth orchestras concert. Photographer: Kike Barona. Courtesy of the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra.

I additionally support the orchestra by acting as a liaison for several local, national, and international entities; through project management, for example, I manage the Music Instrument Bank, a Siemens Foundation program that donates musical instruments to students who cannot afford instruments of their own, and finally, I help guide the team in the formulation of new projects. One example of this is a relatively new choir comprised of the children of former FARC members; allowing these families to participate in society in a different way. This particular project has really motivated me, it demonstrates that music can address timely challenges and be a tool for social change.

(Editor’s note: the FARC signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016; you can learn about the FARC here).

Can you share one of the challenges of your role?

Well, one of my roles is to keep an eye out for grants, partnerships, and other funding opportunities but we have to be very selective about who we work with as we’re a public organization. We have our financial resources covered, for example, no one lost their job during the pandemic, but, we want to do so much more. As an example, our Director and CEO would love to create an organization made up of immigrants. Colombia has many immigrants from Venezuela, many of whom are excellent musicians because Venezuela has an incredible music education system, but we haven’t yet found the funding for this. Our dependence on public funding can be limiting.

The Children of Peace Choir, formed by the children of former FARC members, perform at the Biggest Concert of the World organized by the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra. Photographer: Kike Barona. Courtesy of the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra.

Can you share something you’ve done recently, personally or professionally, that you’re proud of?

Lately, I have been playing guitar and began experimenting with songwriting. I’ve written two songs; I’m very proud of them. Both are based on Latin American folkloric traditions. The first has an Argentine zamba rhythm and the second is inspired by tonadas, a musical genre from the eastern plains of Colombia. Tonadas are very melancholic and poetic; they were traditionally sung while doing herding and milking work. I am very interested in traditional folklore and music from Latin America, this is what moves me the most.

*Natalia’s headshot by José Luis Osorio.