Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast

Carol Scafuro’s dream of starting her own animal sanctuary never came true, but that’s okay. If it had, her dream of launching the Animal Media Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting animal welfare on local and national levels through the arts, might never have seen the light of day.

Carol and her partner, Dexter Brown, officially launched AMF and its partnership with Best Friends in January, although it had been in the making and planning stages for more than two years.

AMF is a group of entertainment industry performers, composers, producers and engineers who have agreed to lend their talents to the organization through several outlets, including live concerts and recordings. Profits made from these endeavors will benefit several animal welfare organizations in AMF’s home base of Vermont as well as Best Friends.

"Once we began sharing what we envisioned, the project took on a life of its own," Carol says. "The enthusiasm and encouragement of associates both in the animal welfare and music circles kept us moving forward. We were lucky to be in a position to realize our dream."

Actually, luck had very little to do with it. The AMF project came together through Carol and Dex’s desire to give of themselves, combined with Carol’s love of animals and Dex’s extensive contacts in the music field.

One of those contacts – and an AMF member – is Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records. Another is Big Al Anderson, former member of the band NRBQ. How did such giants of the industry come together to support such a project? It was a natural fit.

Carol’s story

Carol wanted to change the world through helping animals, a desire that stemmed from more than 35 years of proactively supporting the animal welfare causes in the communities where she lived.

Her desire grew stronger after a couple of trips to the Best Friends sanctuary. In 2006, Carol attended Best Friends’ "How to Start an Animal Sanctuary" workshop. She gleaned several good ideas to move forward with building her own animal sanctuary. She already had one key component: a 200-acre farm where her own animal companions, including two from Best Friends, enjoyed free rein and romping privileges.

But after the workshop, Carol realized she could make a much greater impact in the animal welfare community by combining her strengths and experiences in animal welfare with Dex’s strengths and experiences in the music community.

"I opened my mind to ways we could help – what we as individuals had to offer could be more far reaching if we pooled our efforts," she says. "And after listening to others at the sanctuary workshop, I kept hearing the same thing. So much of the precious time individuals were giving in their communities was devoted to raising the money to cover the costs of the needs of abandoned, surrendered and abused animals."

Carol realized she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel by starting another sanctuary. Rather, animal welfare would be better served by bringing something new and innovative to the movement.

"I truly felt I could be of better service by helping those already doing such a great job with sanctuaries. Dexter and I were always very clear in our desire to be an active part in making this world a kinder place for animals. There were many individuals and organizations doing everything we had ever imagined to effect change. We had a strong desire to create our unique avenue of support to expand upon these already existing works."

Dex’s story

With 35 years of experience as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and engineer, it made perfect sense that Dex would want to help animals through music. He built Kadie’s Room, a state-of-the-art recording studio, on their farm, not too far away from Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road studio. Often, artists recording at Will’s place would finish their projects at Dex’s studio. Over a period of two years, Will and Dex developed a strong working relationship and friendship.

Dex talked to Will about how much he and Carol loved animals, how they wanted to do something that would really make a difference.

"Will is at a point in his life where he can pay attention to good deeds and he’s all about helping out with those good deeds when he can," Dex says. "He supported our idea from the beginning. And we knew we could count on him to join us in our mission."

Getting it to work

In creating AMF, sustainability is a key concept. Carol and Dex want to create a fundraising model that will eventually build up enough steam to run on its own. They figure the best way to do that is to work with what’s readily available to them: a recording studio and several musical contacts and friends within the local animal community.

"At first we thought we’d simply record a compilation CD to sell as a fundraiser," Dex says. "We have the tools to do it here and we know enough artists who said they’d be willing to donate their music. But we kept taking things one step further. We thought of concerts. We thought of adding new contacts. And in doing so, this has blossomed into something really big and important. It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Carol and I are literally betting the farm on it."

Maiden voyage

Last July, AMF produced its first concert, Project Music Rescue at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, with performances by Will Ackerman, guitarist; Eugene Friesen, cellist and member of the Grammy award-winning band the Paul Winter Consort; Dana Cunningham, pianist; Diane Zeigler, singer/songwriter; Jeff Oster, trumpet player; Lars Hidde, composer and programmer; and Patrick Gorman, drummer. Profits from the show benefited one of AMF’s local partners, Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals.

Sue Skaskiw is the founder and executive director of VVSA, which is dedicated to abolishing cruelty to animals through legislation. It conducts investigations and works closely with all levels of law enforcement. In addition, VVSA promotes humane education, offers foster services and care for feral cats and wildlife. It also serves as the administrator for the Vermont Spay/Neuter Incentive Program. That initiative offers individuals on state and federal assistance low-cost spay/neuter services for their companion animals.

Sue says last summer’s concert was nothing short of awe-inspiring, not just because of the check VVSA received, but also because of the show itself.

"What Carol and Dex gave us and other groups like us is nothing short of amazing," she says. "Their genuine compassion for animals is well-known throughout the state. Their goal of finding ways to use music to effect change in animal welfare is visionary. It’s really incredible that these two had the ability to bring such extraordinary talent together to help us realize our goals."

And that’s the idea.

Best Friends cause marketing manager, Vicki Kilmer-Rinker, said of the partnership with Animal Media Foundation: "It’s a terrific concept for engaging the music community in our cause and giving animals a voice. We are grateful to Dex and Carol for having the vision and selecting Best Friends as their partner. We look forward to the exciting collaborations planned for the coming year."

Coming up

In March, Dex will begin recording AMF’s first compilation CD. He will include one of his own compositions, "Just One Love." The CD will be produced on Animal Records under the Animal Media Group, the for-profit arm of the Animal Media Foundation.

In August, AMF will produce another concert at the Southern Vermont Arts Center featuring country blues guitarist Rory Block, five-time winner of the W.C. Handy Blues Music Award.

Written by Amy Abern

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