Helen Eaton receives Americans for the Arts’ Annual Leadership Award

Americans for the Arts today announced that Helen Eaton, Chief Executive Officer of Settlement Music School, has received one of the highest honors in her field with the 2020 Arts Education Award at the Americans for the Arts digital Annual Convention and Public Art & Civic Design Conference. This award recognizes transformational leadership in arts education through strategic planning, strong programming, and the engagement of partners to achieve community goals. Eaton is the first person from a Philadelphia organization to receive this award and joins the ranks of past Arts Education Awardees including Sarah Johnson, Director of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, and New Victory, New York City’s nonprofit performing arts theater devoted to kids and families.

Eaton has served as Settlement Music School’s CEO since 2010. In her 10-year tenure, she has grown programming, diversified funding sources, strengthened the balance sheet, and cultivated partnerships, both locally and nationally.

Among the partnerships that Eaton has championed and acted as lead partner is the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY) Artists’ Initiative, which is a collaborative that supports 5th through 12th grade students from underrepresented communities in becoming professional classical musicians. The Initiative is part of the larger PMAY collaborative of music education providers focused on expanded collaborations with music students across Philadelphia and shared professional development for in-school and out-of-school time teachers. The PMAY Artists’ Initiative has won six years of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Eaton’s work at Settlement has been featured in Harvard Business Review and will be featured as a case study in Scott Anthony’s upcoming book published by Harvard Business Review Press, Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization. In 2016 Eaton was named one of the Top 30 Innovators by Musical America Worldwide.

Eaton’s and her colleagues’ swift and thoughtful response to COVID-19 ensured that Settlement Music School‘s 170+ faculty converted to online teaching immediately following the closure of the School’s branches on March 13. Community partnerships and arts therapy programming also continued virtually. Under Eaton’s leadership, faculty and staff quickly pivoted and embraced this new way of teaching, and new programming was launched to welcome new students.

Ellen Friedell, the Chair of Settlement’s Board, says Helen’s collaborative spirit and financial acumen have played a critical role in helping to shape the School into what it is today. “It is rare to have a leader who is as visionary as Helen. She pays attention to the details but doesn’t lose sight of the big picture. She is very determined. She will move a ship where she wants it to but without tipping it over and she will navigate in choppy waters. She brings out the best in people so that each person can contribute fully to the success of the School. I have known some very talented leaders in government and private industry, and Helen is right up there with them!”

Settlement Guitar faculty member Alan Ens echoes the same positive perspective on Helen’s leadership. “Helen has preserved important parts of the school’s history like financial aid for those who need it and a curriculum that includes certifications and acknowledgement of progress for every student, while pushing forward with workshops for teachers, accreditations, defining our set of core values with faculty input, and expanding programs that help families and the community, such as the PMAY initiative. I think Helen understands what makes music education work for learners as well as the teachers. The variety of students and opportunity to teach here has made me a much better communicator and teacher than I would have been without Settlement under Helen’s direction.”

This Arts Education Award is part of a suite of Americans for the Arts leadership awards that recognize the achievements of individuals and organizations committed to enriching their communities through the arts.

“These tremendous leaders have distinguished themselves as passionate advocates for the arts and arts education,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “They have implemented innovative and transformative programs to strengthen the communities they serve and build recognition for the important work of the arts. Their unwavering commitment to local, state, and national support for the arts is deserving of this recognition.”