From the get–go, Kessler Cuffman exudes an air of passion and motivation. Kessler teaches world history at the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, is also a guitarist, a music producer, and Executive Director of a 501(c)3 called Dynamo Studios. If his resume isn’t impressive enough, his passion for providing students equal opportunities to pursue music should be. He is currently enrolled in SoundCorps’ Craft Masters series and hopes that the course will help him focus Dynamo’s vision and equip him to better help students at his workplace.
What is Dynamo Studios?
Kessler: Dynamo Studios is a platform to empower the local community through arts education.
Why did you see a need for your project in Chattanooga?
Kessler: Nobody has really done what we’re doing. Programs similar to ours tend to be run by a for-profit or an academic non-profit organization that charges a lot of money. We don’t think it needs to cost a lot of money to learn these skills. We want to provide resources, expertise, and guidance that will create opportunities and scenarios where we can empower participants in a real–world fashion. The music industry does not demand a degree or certificate for success. While all of that is nice, at the end of the day students need basic training/experience and doors will open for them.
When is your program scheduled to launch?
Kessler: We’re planning on launching early this fall with some small versions of our programs. We want to get these music resources and recording tools into the hands of kids in our community through community partners like the STEM School. We plan on hosting production and recording workshops where students learn under music professionals, documenting the sounds of the Chattanooga music scene. This gives students the opportunity to connect with what’s happening here locally, which is pretty exciting.
It also gives them the real–world skills that we were talking about with internships in the community. This empowers local musicians because they receive recorded products that they can put their name on because they helped out with it. It’s a two–sided coin; professionals get to provide kids with opportunities to grow while creating professionally finished products for later use. A musician is a single-entity small business and with our project we’re providing them with a product that they can market themselves with. We’re trying to empower both musicians and students while providing musicians with the ability to educate others in their art. We’re trying to help grow the arts community holistically.
What made you want to join the Craft Masters class?
Kessler: This class seemed interesting because its philosophy of empowering our current music base falls in line with Dynamo’s; we just focus more on doing that with children. I believe that for growth in a long-sustainable music economy, you have to focus on the kids. The best way to do that is to give kids accessible opportunities to learn. However, that’s difficult to do because schools are underfunded and understaffed and they don’t have the resources they need. They don’t have a way to bridge that gap, and we are trying to do that for them.
Where SoundCorps provides career training and professional development, we are trying to provide the resources and hitting another facet of the music industry’s needs that currently isn’t being met. Chattanooga doesn’t really have many local options for studio recording, and what we’re able to do is train kids and promote musicians using our resources at a free or reduced cost. I like what Craft Masters is doing because I am a teacher by profession. During my studies here, I’ve seen where we can grow as an organization, me personally as a teacher, and I’ve discovered new ways to help students and musicians in the art department.
What is your goal for the upcoming year?
Kessler: My goal with Dynamo Studios is to start something that is effectively empowering our kids and creating real world opportunities for them. That’s really the driving force behind everything. They are capable of far more than what people realize when we support and motivate them. Being in the classroom and growing up in a family of teachers, I’ve been able to see the power of education and the doors that we can open up for our students as a city. Our community in Chattanooga is very unique in that it jumps on board with anything that supports Chattanooga. It can open the doors for a lot of opportunities that aren’t as available in other cities. Between education and my expertise in music production and that side of things, we can hopefully make a difference in our student’s lives. This is something that will truly open doors for them, especially as we partner with local studios and musicians who will hopefully facilitate personal learning experiences for these kids one-on-one. It’s one of those things that doesn’t take much; it takes someone giving them an opportunity to learn how to use the equipment and then give them the experience needed to apply their skills in a real world scenario. What’s cool about our city is that they will give these kids that opportunity and actually welcome them into it.
I’m a teacher and I recognize that our education system is broken in many ways. Our teaching model is similar to what the STEM School is trying to do with kids in giving them real–world experience in their desired fields. They happen to be one of our partners. This kind of experience gives kids the ability to realize what they are/aren’t capable of and then gives them the opportunity to be in the real–world outside of a school setting - applying what they’ve learned. We’re hoping to get our material and equipment into schools this fall so that the kids can start learning and start capitalizing on their untapped potential.