Karen D'Agostino, Music Resource Center Cincinnati

The Music Resource Center—Cincinnati is a valuable resource in the city for junior high and high school students. For only $2  a month, students have access to professional music gear, a committed staff and a positive environment. Founded by Karen D'Agostino, the Music Resource Center—Cincinnati is an affordable option for aspiring musicians who want to join a diverse and growing community.

Explain what MRC Cinci offers.
The Music Resource Center—Cincinnati is a nonprofit music and recording studio for teens in grades seven through 12 with the mission "to educate and inspire young people and, through music, equip them with life skills for the future." Our membership is open to any student in seventh through 12th grade who is currently enrolled in school and costs $24 per year. Members can attend the 7,700-square-foot MRC studio as often as they like (Monday-Thursday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.). They can choose to take music lessons (i.e., guitar, drums, bass, piano, voice), record their band’s songs, learn sound engineering, practice, make beats, take hip hop dance lessons, have an after school snack or get help with their homework. MRC—Cinci also offers outreach programs in the community to extend our services to youth who may not currently be able to attend our studio (e.g., incarcerated and hospitalized youth). MRC is a place for all teens, regardless of how much money they have, the color of their skin, what religion they are, whether they go to public or private high school, or where they live, to come together for their pure love of music. Once they're here, they learn to appreciate their differing talents and stories and quickly become friends with people outside their comfort zone. Music is the reason they come, and once they're here we teach them valuable life skills, without them even knowing!
How would you describe your role in the organization's daily operation?  
I am the founder and executive director of MRC-Cinci. I am responsible for keeping the doors open and lights on (as I have no musical talent myself). I basically do it all, except teach the kids music. My main focus is to be responsible for development, including writing all our grant applications, but I'm also responsible for making the studio what it is. I led the renovations for the opening and expansion and also for ongoing maintenance. I have painted some part of every wall and ceiling in the studio, removed and laid tile flooring, carpeted, drywalled, replaced a broken window from when someone broke in, repaired a large hole in a studio wall, fixed plumbing, etc. The list goes on and on. Basically, I do it all—except electric!  I also consider myself the "mom" of the studio with a personal mission to positively impact all of my MRC kids and make sure they know that I care about them. I want them all to always try their best, and make responsible choices!

Where do you secure funding?  
We rely heavily on foundation grants and are focusing our efforts on increasing our donor base and earned income. We are currently working on our annual FUNdraiser, Party Like a Rock Star Mardi Gras, which is being held on February 28 at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. This event is a ton of work, but is a really fun event because it's casual and the purpose is to just come out and "party like a rock star!" The local band, Swampthang, is going to keep the party rocking!

What is your organization's biggest obstacle?
Like most small nonprofits, funding our operations is our biggest obstacle. Our members pay only $2 per month for their membership, which includes all studio and lesson time. The money we receive for membership fees every month doesn't even cover what we spend on after-school snacks for our teens, which means that we need to raise the majority of our budget elsewhere. We are currently open four days a week, and I would love to expand to five or six days, but we just don't have the funding to do so. Our board and staff have decided that it is more important to give our members the best experience possible while they are at the studio than to expand our hours and not have as many resources for them. We are expanding our paid outreach programming and summer camps to increase our earned income, but we will always need to rely heavily on the generosity of the community to help us continue to make music accessible to all Cincinnati teens. Another hurdle is getting the public to know that MRC exists, and that it really does cost only $2 per month.  

What kind of reception has MRC—Cinci received?
Since the time when MRC was just an idea, the community has been hugely supportive of this program. It's easy for people to see that music crosses all boundarie— economic, social, political and racial—and is a means to bring people together. The program just makes sense. I always love telling someone about MRC for the first time; I often hear "I wish this was around when I was a kid!"  When I first starting doing research and networking, I was amazed at how kind and supportive people were. Even those that offer similar services to MRC wanted to do what they could to help, because their ultimate goal is to help youth in our community.

What advice would you offer somebody looking to start a similar group?
I think the most important advice I could give someone wanting to start a nonprofit would be to be realistic in what they want to achieve. I would make sure they know how much time, energy, money, contacts, sweat and tears it will take to make it real, not for just for the person, but for their entire family, as well. One person can have the vision, but it really takes a village to turn that vision into reality. The next piece of advice would be to do substantial research on the need for the program, what programs are all ready in existence, where they are located and where there is a "pocket" of need that they could fill, and if there is already an organization doing the same thing that could help them get started.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I'm extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do, something I love. MRC is really an amazing place that I am so proud to be a part of. I would like to invite your readers to come check us out. They can learn more by visiting our website at or by calling our studio at 513-834-8304.  We always have a need for volunteers to teach music lessons and help out around the studio.  

Interview by Sean M. Peters