Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Opening the Book to Free Online Resources

Opening the Book to Free Online Resources

A book cover with a woman standing while her shadow looks like a super hero. The title of the book is "The Path to Funding"

Peabody’s publication of its first-ever free online textbook in October represents both a joy-filled collaboration and a confluence of dreams. The Path to Funding: The Artist’s Guide to Building Your Audience, Generating Income, and Realizing Career Sustainability is the institute’s inaugural venture into the world of open educational resources (OER). The text is based on a class created by Zane Forshee (MM ’01, GPD ’03, DMA ’11, Guitar), Marc C. von May Distinguished Chair of Professional Studies, director of the institute’s LAUNCHPad career office, and guitar faculty member, in collaboration with Peabody’s Learning Innovation department, the Arthur Friedheim Library, and the LAUNCHPad team.

Forshee and his colleagues had painstakingly refined a step-by-step process for that class, called Pitching Your Creative Idea, to help artists identify, flesh out, and realize their inspirations. Forshee’s dream was to make that process more widely available, not just to the broader Peabody community, but to artists everywhere. In the fall of 2021, he saw a note about OER from library director Kathleen DeLaurenti in the faculty newsletter. “I loved the idea of creating something every artist could readily access, for free, to help them bring their ideas to fruition,” Forshee says.

“I loved the idea of creating something every artist could readily access, for free, to help them bring their ideas to fruition.”

Zane Forshee (MM ’01, GPD ’03, DMA ’11, Guitar)

The production of free and open online educational materials, including notoriously expensive textbooks, has become a global movement since the late 1990s, supported by numerous colleges, universities, and funders such as the Gates Foundation. But OER are more widely available for basic STEM courses than for the arts. “My grand idea is to find a way to fund OER for every basic required music course for an undergraduate degree,” DeLaurenti says. And she believes Peabody is uniquely positioned to fill that niche. 

It’s a dream she shares with her colleagues in Learning Innovation, Director Joseph Montcalmo and Senior Instructional Designer Valerie Hartman. “We’d been talking about OER for a while, but we all agreed we weren’t going to do it until we could do it right,” Montcalmo says. When Forshee approached them, the trio knew it was the opportunity they’d been waiting for. Learning Innovation helps faculty build online courses, and they’d worked closely with Forshee on two, so knew the material and the LAUNCHPad team well.

Montcalmo and his team decided one of the six slots they reserve annually to develop online courses would in 2022 be devoted to the OER. It was an ambitious timeline. They would produce a polished textbook within six months. “We had to make some tough editorial decisions,” says Hartman, who served as production manager and gatekeeper. “We couldn’t use all of the multimedia bells and whistles from the course, for instance, because readers might want to print it out or read it on an e-reader. And it’s been a balancing act, making it accessible to artists in every genre worldwide, yet specific enough to be really useful.”

The book walks readers through the process of applying for grants and other funding, but its unique emphasis is on empowering artists to first “articulate who they are and what they are doing, to build clear project descriptions,” Hartman says. It is rich with thoughtful exercises, and with artists’ “success stories, relationship-building stories, a kind of in-the-trenches approach with lessons learned,” she says.

One artist featured in the book obtained funding for a series of performances in unconventional venues exploring the link between music and storytelling. Another young pianist and composer with mobility issues secured funding to research the possible use of computer technology to convey music straight from the brain to an instrument. More than a book about how to finance a performance, it’s a chance to imbibe the Peabody culture. “Peabody is all about encouraging artists to think about how to connect with and serve their communities, how to expand both their audiences and the scope of their art,” Hartman says. 

That original shared dream of creating OER has given rise to new dreams—future iterations of the book, including a possible workbook, related online classes, even ways to connect with artists, worldwide, who might read the book and want to engage more deeply with Peabody. “We’ve learned a lot from the process, and it’s given us a template for doing more of these in the future,” Montcalmo says.

But what the co-creators talk about most is the joy of working as a team with colleagues they admire. “This is the first time we’ve done this at Peabody and it’s been incredibly collaborative throughout the school,” Forshee says. “I love that there are many voices in this book besides my own.” 

Those voices include Dean Fred Bronstein, who invites artists “to read this book and develop these broader skills with the same joy and determination with which you practice your instrument, write your music, or pursue your dance” in his foreword, as well as the alumni on the LAUNCHPad team who spent countless hours editing and supplementing the content. “Zane is the primary author, but we all built secondary content,” says baritone and LAUNCHPad career professional Robin McGinness (MM ’17, Voice). Violinist and LAUNCHPad project assistant Sarah Thomas (BM ’17,MM ’19, Violin) says it’s been time-consuming, but “incrediblysatisfying to work on a book that gives artists real agency.”

And Christina Manceor (MM ’17,Percussion), percussionist and LAUNCHPad’s assistant director,says the process has been delightful in a way that reminds her of making music. “Everyone brings different experiences, different expertise, and you end up making something so much better together than if you were doing it alone.” 

– Joan Cramer