Resources: Workshops/Camps/Schools: Schools: Old Town School of Folk MusicWe have borrowed this text directly from the Old School site because it so comprehensively describes the organization and its activities:
The Old Town School of Folk Music opened in December of 1957 with its first home at 333 North Avenue. The first five years of the School’s history mirrored the boom in folk music at that time. Enrollment grew and programs expanded. Over 150 students attended guitar and banjo classes on a weekly basis. Folk dancing, and family sing-a-longs rounded out the programming. The School also offered concerts by nationally renowned artists. Pete Seeger, Mahalia Jackson, Jimmy Driftwood, Big Bill Broonzy, and Josh White were just some of the many folk music artists who performed at the Old Town School in its early years.
The School continued to grow and benefit from the folk revival movement of the 1960s. Enrollment increased, and the School developed a special atmosphere of community and camaraderie. The School helped launch some of the brightest artists on the folk music scene. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Bob Gibson, John Prine, Bonnie Koloc, and the late Steve Goodman all studied at the Old Town School. In 1968, the School purchased and moved into a 16,000 foot building at 909 West Armitage Avenue.
In the early 1970s the School introduced private instruction in a variety of instruments, a more high-profile concert schedule, and the opening of satellite locations. Enrollment peaked in 1975 with over 650 students attending classes each week. The late 70s marked a decline in enrollment, concert attendance, and the beginning of a severe financial crisis that left the School on the brink of bankruptcy. This trend culminated in 1982 with a change of leadership. The School's staff and Board began a broad series of institutional changes that increased management effectiveness, placed a higher emphasis on fundraising, and expanded the scope of programming to include ethnic and traditional music from around the world. By cutting costs, streamlining management, and organizing development, the School made a quick rebound. In 1987 the School was able to renovate its dilapidated building. That same year the School won the prestigious Beatrice Foundation Award for Excellence.
What set the Old Town School apart from other teaching programs was its philosophy that music is for everyone. The founders wanted the School to be a place, where as Frank Hamilton said, "teacher and student would be partners in learning," a school that would give people the tools to make their own music. This approach created a place where young and old, beginners and advanced players, could come together to create music and learn from each other. This philosophy is still in place.
The 1987 renovation led to a dramatic surge in the School's popularity. In the early 1990s, the School recognized the need for additional space and began to explore available options. Coincidentally, at about the same time the City of Chicago approached the School about a 43,000 square foot building on North Lincoln Avenue in one of the city's most culturally diverse neighborhoods. The Old Town School was one of several cultural organizations selected as a candidate for the former Hild Library, an art deco building which had stood vacant for 12 years. The School was ultimately chosen as the preferred recipient, and in late 1994 began soliciting support to expand operations to the new facility.
After what became a $10 million capital campaign, the School moved its adult programs, concerts, and administrative offices to the new Chicago Folk Center at 4544 North Lincoln. The School's Armitage facility was converted into the Old Town School Children's Center, offering a broad array of children's music, dance, and theater classes, field trips and music residencies for public schools, and a series of family performances. The Chicago Folk Center was dedicated on September 18, 1998 with a special concert by Joni Mitchell and Peter Yarrow. The new facility, the finest in North America for the study and presentation of folk and traditional music forms, has dramatically raised the School's profile and garnered national praise and recognition.
Today enrollment stands at over 5,000 students per week, 2,000 of them children. An additional 50,000 come to concerts annually. The School attracts interest and visitors from throughout the metropolitan area and Midwest and is heralded for its breadth of programming and commitment to presenting music that reflects the cultural traditions of Chicago's diverse communities. Expanded programming has included jazz and blues, global dance, percussion, keyboard studies, traditional arts and crafts, a major summer Folk and Roots Festival, and a growing series of children's classes