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Special Reports

MA 30 The Innovators: Helen Eaton

December 6, 2016 | By Bruce Hodges

Chief Executive Officer, Settlement Music School

Founded in 1908, the Settlement Music School has grown into one of the largest community schools for the arts in the United States, with six branches in the Philadelphia/Camden, N.J. area. Its 200 faculty and staff provide over 10,000 weekly individual lessons, classes, and activities, including the Children’s Music Playshop, for ages six months to three years, the Adult Orchestra, pre- and after-school enrichment programs, teacher training, chamber music coaching, and more.

CEO Helen Eaton arrived at SMS in 2010 after serving as president of the Chicago Children’s Choir from 2007 and dean of programs at the Merit School of Music from 2000. A violist by training, with degrees from The Juilliard School, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago, Eaton made community engagement a priority from the start, introducing extensive programming in local schools as part of the SMS Education Pathways initiative, and Sounds of Young Philadelphia, which serves low-income music students. In July 2014, Settlement opened the Kardon Center for Arts Therapy, offering services to individuals with special needs at each of the school’s branches, as well as other locations in the Philadelphia area.

Eaton also closed out a $25 million Centennial Campaign and increased earned revenue by over 40 percent while maintaining the school’s financial aid programs, valued at $2 million annually.

A 2014 article in The Harvard Business Review described how she helped transform SMS’s facilities into neighborhood meeting places that could provide adults with a sense of community. After conducting a series of interviews, Settlement staffers discovered that what people in the area wanted most from the School was the opportunity to make music. The result is the Adult Rock Band, a 10-week program that culminates in a public concert. After a partial success, the school did some fine-tuning and the improved program was given additional funding by the Pew Charitable Trusts.


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