Grandmaster Flash

Environmental attorney Leila Monroe was tired of the concept of benefit concerts. Hiring a music act to sell tickets and support the singular vision of one organization wasn’t enough of a conversation starter to come up with solutions to complicated problems that affect people in different ways.

That’s what led the ocean conservation attorney to start Project AMPLIFI. The relatively new San Francisco nonprofit serves as a platform for multiple community voices on topics that affect Bay Area residents. Yes, it markets the events by bringing on musicians to perform. The difference for the organization for which Monroe serves as executive director is that the musicians must also identify with and care about the issues, and participate in the dialogue.

“We saw a lot of people speaking in silos. What we try to do is to … bring different perspectives together, so that you get more information and an enlightened view on aspects of the problem and the different ways we can make a difference,” Monroe said.

Project AMPLIFI’s next event, on December 4, is a community forum on how San Francisco can maintain its music and arts community during a period when affordable housing for musicians is disappearing, and many artists are moving away. It will include a panel conversation with San Francisco venue owners and bookers, journalists and government representatives. Local band Owl Paws and singer-songwriter Carolyn Malachi will perform. Over the past year, the organization has planned about 15 events for various causes, with musicians ranging from favorite local artists like Future Twin, to up-and-comers like the Kin, and world-renowned artists like Grandmaster Flash.

The latter event was a benefit for At The Crossroads, a local organization that reaches out to homeless youths at their point of need.

“When Grandmaster Flash participated…he did so because he was once a foster kid,” Monroe said. “The cause really resonated with him. By focusing on where there is a real mutual interest, we’re able to create more interesting exposition.”

The organization aims to match artists with a cause that they already support.

“We don’t like this standard idea of artists being asked to play benefit shows without knowing much about it,” she said. “We try to work with artists who have a demonstrated interest in the issue we’re covering.”

Project AMPLIFI has also partnered with Global Glimpse, which works to inspire young people to become global citizens; Bay Localize, which tackles climate instability, rising energy costs and recession; GirlVentures, which empowers young girls to develop and express their strengths through outdoor adventure and leadership courses; the Golden Gate Audubon Society, which works to protect native bird populations; Hopalong Animal Rescue, a companion animal rescue and placement service; and Horizons Unlimited of San Francisco, Inc., a youth development and empowerment organization.

Each event presents a problem, and the goal is to discuss possible solutions. Project AMPLIFI’s focus is to bring groups with numerous opinions together into a forum.

“We’re trying to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts,” Monroe said. “In the past, we…created a platform for one organization to present their work off of our platform. We’re really moving away from that because we found it’s not as interesting as presenting multiple different perspectives. Going forward, there will be a range of different issues we’ll be covering.”

The funding for the organization, originally called Party Corps, comes primarily from private donors at this point. While a few grants have been awarded, the organization does not even have the revenue to pay Monroe. Only three employees receive a partial salary. She has continued to practice environmental law while leading the nonprofit. Still, this is no side project.

“I had a real desire to help inspire people to find issues that are meaningful to them; to build more community activism around a whole range of social and environmental issues,” she said. “Music, to me, is one of the most inspiring. It brings people together and creates community. I really respect the way musicians can deliver a message and be leaders.”

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Concert and Conversation (C2): “Can San Francisco Maintain and Foster a Robust Music & Arts Community In the Midst of the Affordable Housing Crisis?”
Code & Canvas, 151 Potrero Ave.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
6:15pm: Panel discussion; 7pm: Visual art displays; 7:30pm: Performances by Owl Paws and Carolyn Malachi
Tickets are $10 advance, $15 at door.
Donate to Project AMPLIFI, or register for a paid membership, at