Saving the music

In an era of budget reductions and cuts to music programs, students in a Portland State urban studies community-development course are working to help the Portland-based company Ethos in providing affordable music lessons to Portland children.

The students worked with Ethos on a three-term project that helps the nonprofit organization with the opening of a new for-profit coffee shop. Ethos will run the coffee shop, whose profits will go to Ethos.

Ethos came out of founder Charles Lewis’s concern about the effect of Oregon’s widespread budget problems on music education. Its mission is to counter the trend of shrinking music classes in Portland schools by making music education affordable to everyone. Kids who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch tickets can access the company’s sliding-scale lessons, often using free instruments.

The idea to work with Ethos came from a proposal one of the PSU students, Andrew Clark, wrote for the class. After the class picked Clark’s proposal, they started working on the project, which proposed to help Ethos utilize the storefront space of an abandoned Masonic temple the company acquired last July.

The group of students, who named themselves “Bluenote,” prepared a business plan for Ethos and began working with the nonprofit on the project. Tofer Towe, Ethos admissions director and percussion and drums instructor, said the students facilitated the pace at which the project was completed.

“It’s a huge space,” Towe said. “Without [Bluenote] we would have built everything in an organic fashion.”

Bluenote member Courtney Woods said the group was a bit unfocused at first because of how excited they were about the project. The group was able to settle down, divide up tasks among members and figure out what investors in the company might be looking for.

“In the winter we were all really excited,” Woods said. “We began filming a documentary of the process, and had all these grandiose plans. Ethos said we needed to slow down and make some decisions.”

In the spring, the group was able to do actual hands-on work. Clarke, whose daughter is enrolled in Ethos’ program, said he “boiled down the business plan” after researching how to run a coffee shop and studying tax information with Woods. The two deciphered the legalities of continuing Ethos’ nonprofit status, while opening up a for-profit coffee shop.

“The key was that the coffee shop’s profits will be funneled back into Ethos,” Woods said.

When first searching for a company to start in the empty store space, Bluenote members Megan Pollock and Andrew Jenkins investigated various bakeries, but ended up focusing on coffee vendors. They checked out 10 vendors and finally chose Portland Roasting, which Ethos agreed to.

“Ethos wanted the choice to be based on the company’s commitment to community involvement,” Pollock said.

Member Bora Lee contacted architecture students, who planned the layout of the coffee shop and constructed a physical model. Roudi Boroumand, another member of the group, worked to connect volunteers to Ethos.

“Our goal was to connect PSU as a community of knowledge to Ethos,” she said. “PSU’s motto is ‘let knowledge serve the city,’ so we wanted to use what skills we have to serve the community.”

Ethos has said that they will include plans Bluenote developed for the coffee shop. The company plans to have most of the construction finished by June 11 so it can open for students’ year-end recital.

“We’re on a great corner, we have the built-in clientele of parents waiting an hour for their kids, and opening a for-profit business shows ingenuity in bringing in additional resources, so it helps us with grant writing,” Towe said.