Ben Folds Keys for Kids

Ben Folds Awards Grants To Seven North Carolina Music Education Outreach Programs

Author: North Carolina Arts Council

Keys For Kids is a charitable initiative created by North Carolina native Ben Folds to support existing nonprofit arts organizations in North Carolina by providing school-age young people with access to keyboards and proper music lessons at little or no cost. In collaboration with the North Carolina Arts Council and the North Carolina Arts Foundation, Folds—a singer-songwriter, musician, composer, and record producer—selected seven such organizations to partner with “Keys For Kids.”

According to Wayne Martin, executive director of the North Carolina Arts Foundation, “Keys for Kids enables talented young people to grow as musicians and, just as important, develop the confidence to be successful in life.” He said, “We salute Ben Folds for creating an arts education project that helps meet our aspirational goal of arts for all people.”

All seven partners will receive funding, keyboard donations, and access to branding materials to raise the visibility of their program. The grant recipients are Arts+, Authoring Action, the Community Council for the Arts, Kidznotes, the McDowell Arts Council Association, Musical Empowerment, and the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge Gallery.

Over the coming months, these organizations will work closely with Folds, the Arts Council, and the Arts Foundation to build the most sustainable and effective model to reach their goals. “I see my role as an advocate for these existing organizations, raising awareness for what they do, and providing them with additional resources to support their mission,” Folds says. 


An image of Art+ Charlotte students of different ages singing at a choir, and another image of a young boy seated in front of a piano




Arts+ provides arts programs to students of all ages, skill levels, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The organization strives to help them unlock their full potential through the power of arts education.

Arts+ serves children, adults, and families throughout Mecklenburg County. Many of them face economic, geographic, and cultural barriers that limit their participation in high-quality arts education programs. The mission to provide piano lessons to underprivileged youth in the Charlotte area began more than 50 years ago, when a local church organist and choir director found 15 pianos collecting dust in the church basement. Since then, Arts+ has grown into a thriving organization that today provides high-quality and accessible music and visual arts instruction to more than 4,500 students. From summer camps and private lessons to outreach programming and community events, Arts+ says it seeks to foster creative and collaborative environments that help students unlock their full potential, inside and outside of the classrooms.

Funding from Keys for Kids will enable Arts+ to increase the number of students who have access to keyboards and offer competitive fees for teaching artists.

Groups of kids performing onstage at Authoring Action! events




Authoring Action’s mission is to transform the lives of young people through the power of creative writing, spoken word, visual and media arts, filmmaking, and leadership education that promotes positive, systemic change.

Founded in 2002, Authoring Action was established to encourage teenagers to create original written work for stage and film. Using performance and media art, professional artists and musicians collaborate with the students to develop their voices in spoken word, music, and movement. Foundational to this work is literacy, which the organization defines as the ability to use language to negotiate one's life and dreams.

Authoring Action primarily works with at-risk youth ages 12–18 from low-income families. Since its inception, more than 700 young people have gained self-confidence, increased academic skills, and decreased criminal activity by improving their writing, reading, and communication skills in the organization’s arts education-based program.

Funding from Keys for Kids will allow the organization to provide year-round music development and keyboard instruction in collaboration with local musicians and schools. Additionally, teens will be taught the “Authoring Action Creative Writing Process” to help them develop their songwriting skills.

Groups of kids at the Community Council for the Arts space in Kinston, NC




Kinston’s Community Council for the Arts offers arts programming and education to Lenoir County and its surrounding region.

A local arts agency, it seeks to be an arts and cultural hub that enriches the lives of Lenoir County residents of all ages through the power of the arts. Centrally located in a community well-known for its contributions to America’s musical heritage, the organization ensures access to affordable music education through its after-school programs.

Support from Keys for Kids will allow the agency to develop a music education program for elementary-age children. The donation of keyboards will allow the program to be flexible in its choice of sites for music instruction.

Groups of kids playing the keyboard at Kidsnotes




Kidznotes engages students in an in-depth after-school music program that includes instrumental instruction and music theory. Practicing musicians who are committed to teaching young students teach the classes.

The organization serves historically under-resourced neighborhoods of North Carolina’s Triangle area: East Durham, Southeast Raleigh, and eastern Wake County. It directly invests in the youth of these communities by partnering almost exclusively with Title I schools, which have a federal poverty level rate of 75 percent or more.

For the past 12 years, Kidznotes has provided students in kindergarten through twelfth grade with intensive music education and a program to develop creative leadership skills. It equips each student with a high-quality orchestral instrument and at least 10 hours of free group music instruction and ensemble coaching each week. Kidznotes says it has graduated many students who not only are benefiting from the music education they received from the program, but who also are able to use the transferable skills of collaboration, leadership, and rigor to succeed in college, prepare for creative and nonmusical careers, and navigate the world confidently as empowered citizens and artists.

Support from Keys for Kids will allow Kidznotes to cover the teaching artist fees for a piano course, securing its place in the curriculum. The donation of keyboards will give two cohorts of students access to keyboard stations at Kidznotes teaching sites and a keyboard that they can practice on at home. Teaching artists at Kidznotes who teach general music will also have access to keyboards that they can use to aid students with their visual and auditory learning.

Groups of kids at the McDowell Arts Council Association




The McDowell Arts Council Association (MACA) says it supports and provides arts experiences “to promote growth in the educational, economic, community, cultural, visual, and performance art sectors of McDowell County.”

MACA has conducted arts programming in the county for 50 years. Students participating (cost-free) in the McDowell Children's Theatre learn musical theater, drama, and technical design and write and direct their own shows. In addition, MACA organizes artist residencies and performances in music, poetry, theater, puppetry, and more for students of all ages through its partnership with McDowell County Schools.

With support from Keys for Kids, MACA says it will work with principals and music teachers in the school system to develop a music program that will most benefit the school communities.

Kids playing the keyboard and other instruments from the Musical Empowerment program




Musical Empowerment says it combines the life-changing benefits of music and mentorship to impact the lives of students and their collegiate mentors. It serves students from elementary school through high school regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, academic standing, or musical ability.

Since 2002, volunteers—students drawn from the seven colleges and universities (five in North Carolina) that are the organization’s partners—have been providing free one-on-one music lessons and weekly mentorship to deserving children. The mentorship model empowers students and volunteers to grow together socially, emotionally, and academically through music education. Musical Empowerment provides equitable access to music lessons and helps to build confidence and resilience both in the student and the mentor.

Keys for Kids funding will allow the organization to expand its piano program by offering eligible piano students an instrument upgrade and a year of paid private lessons from a certified music instructor rather than a volunteer mentor.

Kids playing keyboards at Emerge Gallery & Art Cetner




The Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge Gallery serves the county and its region through arts programs, workshops for young people and adults, and gallery exhibitions.

Emerge grew from a student-run gallery to a full community arts center and local arts council for the county. By promoting artists and arts organizations, providing education through the arts, and engaging people in the arts, Emerge says it strives to enhance the quality of life in the community. In 2005, Emerge started the Youth Public Arts Project, which offers free Saturday arts and music instruction to children referred by schools, social work agencies, the courts, or other professional sources because they are experiencing difficulties. The project is grounded in the belief that teamwork, self-expression, interpersonal skills, and self-esteem are all developed through the arts. Keys for Kids will support expansion of the project’s music education component.