Charles Lewis founded Ethos Music Center in 1998 when he was a graduate student at Harvard University. Charles’ Master’s thesis, written for the historic Club Passim in Cambridge, helped hone the innovative ideas Charles used to create Ethos. While writing his thesis, Charles was shocked to hear about how budget cuts all across the country destroyed music and arts programs in the schools. Without music in the schools, the benefits of a music-based education became only something the most affluent students could afford. As someone who grew up in poverty, Charles knew that music in the schools was a critical part of his academic success and something that all children should have regardless of their parents’ socio-economic backgrounds.
When it came time to graduate from Harvard, Charles flew back home to Portland, slept on a friend’s couch, went without any salary whatsoever for a year and a half, and started Ethos on his credit card. When he left Ethos over thirteen years later, Ethos was the largest music school in Oregon with a budget of about $1,500,000 a year, 78 staff members and instructors, 4 buildings, and a statewide presence with Ethos’ 10 member strong AmeriCorps program (the first federal music-based AmeriCorps program in the country). Ethos has been selected 6 times as one of the top afterschool arts programs in the nation by the President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities and has established collaborative partnerships with schools, government agencies, and other nonprofits. Most importantly, however, Ethos brings music education back to several thousand students all around Oregon every year.
As the Founder and Executive Director at Ethos, Charles was responsible for creating the infrastructure required for this important cultural institution. At graduate school, Charles completed all of the paperwork required for forming Ethos including incorporating Ethos as a nonprofit and writing Ethos’ application for 501(c)(3) exemption. Over the years, Charles established systems required for cash control, student registration, instrument rentals, instructor background checks, class evaluations, annual audit, etc.
At Ethos, Charles led the $1.5 million cutting edge green renovation of Ethos’ headquarters. With support from the prestigious and ultra competitive Kresge Foundation’s Green Building Grant Program, Charles renovated a once boarded up and abandoned property into one of the most eco-friendly music schools in the country. A few of the numerous green components included an 8.39 KW solar panel system, an ecoroof, rainwater cisterns for flushing all of the toilets, and 5 wind turbines that power the entire top floor of the building.
Charles’ work at Ethos was always characterized by innovation and public service. For example, when Charles realized the tremendous lack of music exposure opportunities in Oregon schools, Charles and his team created a new program called the “Music Mobile” that took music education directly back to Oregon schools. After securing funding from the Ford Family Foundation, Charles researched various vehicles and ended up finding a 1977 Bristol double decker bus for sale in Ottowa, Canada near upstate New York. Charles and a small team of volunteers flew across country, picked up the double decker bus, and drove it all the way back to Oregon in the middle of winter (with no heat and no seat belts). Back in Oregon, Charles and his team turned the vehicle into a mobile music classroom complete with a fold-out aluminum stage on the side. Once properly equipped, Charles drove the double decker bus all around Oregon, bringing music education opportunities (and smiles) to kids in every corner of the state.
Exercising his artistic side, Charles helped design and implement the fourteen foot tall treble clef copper sculpture on the front of Ethos’ headquarters. Wanting to develop a showcase piece for Ethos’ rainwater collection system, Charles approached the Art of Rain about creating a custom built treble clef down spout that would play music when it rained. The artist and Charles collaborated back and forth and came up with what has become the world’s first rain powered musical downspout. The downspout’s melodies are interchangeable and include such songs as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Singing in the Rain,” and “Canon in D Major.” Once complete, not only did this collaboration provide Ethos with an amazing showcase piece, but it also opened up new income generating opportunities for an area artist by taking his art a step further.
Wanting to seek new challenges and new opportunities, Charles decided to leave Ethos in November of 2011. The day after Charles told Ethos’ board of his decision to move on, the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation advertised a position to help them create a new program for them in West Linn, Oregon. With job duties crossing over between Executive Director and Program Officer, this new position was the perfect match for Charles’ interests and abilities. Charles wrapped up his projects at Ethos over the next few months and then began working for the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation on January 23, 2012.
Notable Achievements at Ethos Music Center
• Founded Ethos in 1998 – applied for 501(c)(3) status and filed corporate documents
• Managed up to 78 employees and 10 full time AmeriCorps Members annually
• Raised over $9,000,000 through grants, donations, fees-for-service and investments
• Established over 150 afterschool programs in schools and community centers throughout Oregon
• Negotiated the purchase of 4 buildings and the sale of 2 for substantial profit
• Converted two boarded up and abandoned buildings into a thriving community center
• Coordinated the cutting edge green renovation of Ethos’ buildings including an 8.39 KW solar
panel system, an ecoroof, rainwater cisterns for flushing toilets, and 5 wind turbines
• Represented Ethos to funders, government agencies, and the media
• Collected over $1,000,000 worth of donated instruments
• Implemented systems for cash control, student registration, instrument rentals, instructor
background checks, class evaluations, annual audit, etc.
• Created on-site “Ethos Café” for earned income and community outreach
• Produced “Ethos Live,” a weekly TV concert series on cable access
• Established a community garden, public wifi, and public computer access
• Installed telecommunications infrastructure (VOIP telephones, wifi, LAN, security system)
• Coordinated videotaping & stage management of Waterfront Blues Festival’s Workshop Stage
• Designed and maintained Ethos’ secure web site and online registration / ticket portal
• Protected intellectual property rights by filing 5 successful trademark applications
• Litigated trademark disputes “pro se” in front of U.S. Patent and Trademark Board resulting in
substantial cash settlement from defendants
Letters of Support for Ethos Music Center from elected officials
Select articles about Ethos Music Center and Charles Lewis