Making an impact – and finding purpose – in the most isolated inhabited place on earth

Nastasia Boulos, 02-26-2021

Frost School alumna Kendall Grady, M.M. ’19, traveled to Easter Island to work with a local arts organization making an impact on the community.
Kendall Grady


Kendall Grady, M.M. ’19, has always looked for a way to impact change through the arts. She found it, recently, in the most isolated inhabited place on earth.

A talented violinist and graduate of the University of Miami Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music, Grady was selected for the 2020 cohort of the Global Leaders Program (GLP), a highly selective program that empowers accomplished music professionals to combine music and business principles in ways that drive social change. “I always wanted to make music more impactful for my students,” she said. “I always needed a purpose other than playing for my own self-esteem.”

As part of GLP, Grady completed months of training in business management, entrepreneurship, community development, and cultural agency, before setting off to her field assignment to work with the Toki Music School on Easter Island, known to its inhabitants as Rapa Nui.

What she found there was a local arts organization not just providing free music classes to children, but also playing a vital role in the community. “When I stepped onto the island,” she says, “it was the first time in my life I felt like I'm in the right place at the right time, and that I had something, if only kindness and understanding, to offer to the people there.”

But Grady was able to offer much more than kindness – she was able to use her skills, developed at the Frost School of Music and through GLP, to make changes. She set to work every day, taking the small van up the hill to where the school was located, collaborating with local business and school leaders to help them find ways to improve various aspects of the Toki organization, which was struggling to sustain itself financially.

In her own private classes with the students there, she incorporated holistic teaching methods, similar to the ones she used as a teacher at the Frost Preparatory Program. She encouraged students to express themselves through music rather than focusing strictly on technique. In return, she saw them open up and feel more confident to make their own musical choices. Eventually, she helped implement new teaching methods across the school.

Her months-long research, as well as countless informal interviews with students, teachers, and administrators resulted in an 80-page case study offering other creative solutions to keep the school sustainable, many of which have since been implemented. She helped develop new marketing techniques and outlined a community-supported agriculture system, which is currently providing much-needed food during the pandemic. Her proposal to make recordings of the students’ performances to promote and sell is also underway.

And though Grady left the island in February 2020, her work didn’t end then. As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified challenges for the school, she led a crowdfunding campaign that featured an orchestral arrangement of Toki's anthem and raised thousands of dollars. Even today, she continues to raise awareness about their work and challenges.

Still, Grady believes the experience gave more than it took from her. In the school atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, she found a sense of peace, creativity, and community that she still carries with her today. But more importantly, the experience solidified her belief – one that was previously strengthened by the optimism in music she saw from her teachers at the University of Miami – that she can make change through the arts.

“I learned so much,” she says. “Being a musician or an artist definitely allows us to open up our minds and find creative solutions. But even so, I never knew the arts could have such impact outside of the concert hall.”

The Toki Music School is one of the few established organizations around the world offering training in both indigenous and Western classical instruments, dedicated to environmental sustainability and to preserving their heritage while adapting to modern times. You can learn more about it here.