Inspired by the philosophy of Venezuela's "El Sistema," husband and wife team Liza Austria and Richard Miller established UpBeat NYC in 2009. UpBeat began its work in Central Brooklyn working in partnership with the BedStuy Campaign Against Hunger and in the South Bronx at the Promised Land Church. Initially the staff included just four instructors: Richard, Liza, her mother Chris and younger brother John. As the volunteer staff grew, so did the program, yet UpBeat retained its original family feel.
In fact it was family experiences and concerns that led to the genesis of UpBeat. As a New York City public school teacher, Liza’s mother was frustrated by the rise of testing and decline of arts education. Liza’s older brother and juvenile justice activist, Ruben, spoke passionately about the lack of positive alternatives for NYC’s at-risk youth. He shared stories of children as young as 11 years old being locked up, isolated and left with no discernable path toward a normal life. Above all was the influence of Liza's father, Jaime Austria, one of New York City's finest bass players. His brilliant and tenacious advocacy for El Sistema, the groundbreaking musical movement in Venezuela, inspired and sustained the family's resolve to take action.
From our very first days in Mott Haven when children discovered the program by walking in from the street and signing up for a piano lesson or by tagging along with a friend or family member to get a chance to bow a violin, UpBeat has embraced the community’s children with open arms. Through the years, the program has become known among local families as a trusted place right in the neighborhood where their children can safely study and explore music.
As more and more children became consistent participants we were able to form an ensemble that began performing in the neighborhood and around the city. The ensemble has performed in Make Music New York, Paul Dunkel's Soundscapes Concert Series, the Free Radio exhibit at the Cue Art Foundation in Chelsea, the First Annual NY/NJ El Sistema Showcase at El Museo del Barrio, the 2012 NYC Seminario with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, the Betances Community Center and regularly at our program sites, Tercera Iglesia Bautista and the St. Jerome School in Mott Haven, South Bronx.
In 2011 UpBeat was chosen as a Union Square Arts Award recipient. The Arts Award supports arts organizations working with youth and families in low-income communities across New York City that provide educational opportunities for young people, build collaborations and promote social change. This came at a pivotal time in our development as an organization and provided the momentum and resources to push our effort to the next level.
UpBeat is currently working to expand its impact in the South Bronx by increasing its weekly days of programming and growing its participant capacity. We are also developing relationships with Sistema projects locally and abroad to inform and strengthen our operations as well as broaden the scope of opportunities for South Bronx children. UpBeat is excited to be a part of this movement as it continues to expand throughout the U.S. and around the globe.