5 Questions to Eun Lee (Executive Director and Founder, The Dream Unfinished)

Eun Lee is the Executive Director and Founder of The Dream Unfinished, an activist orchestra based in New York City. Since 2014, their goal has been to “use classical music as a platform to engage audiences in dialogues surrounding social and racial justice.” Their upcoming 2020 season, “Red White and Blues,” will center on using music and performance to facilitate dialogues on voting rights and voter suppression leading up to the November presidential election. Eun has spoken about her work with The Dream Unfinished at Chamber Music America, the Kennedy Center, and Harvard University. Eun also currently serves as Manager of Learning & Engagement Programs at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, which helps to connect orchestras with local elementary schools.

How has The Dream Unfinished responded to being a performing arts organization in the age of Covid?

Like all ensembles, The Dream Unfinished has largely shifted our content to the digital space. Concerts which would have taken place in person have now been produced via Zoom or Facebook Live. We have also been publishing video content, ranging from performances to informational PSAs, which have been released throughout the season. That being said, we are starting to approach safe, in-person performances, following all of the most current and up-to-date guidelines regarding public safety. As an example, on September 22nd, one of our violists, Brian Leslie Thompson, performed at a socially-distant voter registration drive organized by DemocracyNYC, an arm of the New York City Mayor’s office.

Our UNEVEN MEASURES series gives artists the chance to reflect on the 19th Amendment (which gave white women the right to vote). Even 100 years later, voting rights still pose a complex political issue as marginalized people face widespread voter discrimination. How does The Dream Unfinished react to this particular problem?

We appreciate that the UNEVEN MEASURES series notes that the 19th Amendment is a centennial for white women, and that most women of color were barred from the vote until 1965, and in some cases, women who spoke non-English languages continued to face voting discrimination until 1975’s Voting Rights Extension Act. Unfortunately, many arts-based organizations have not been quite so nuanced in acknowledging this complicated anniversary, and The Dream Unfinished has used our platform to highlight this uneven history of women’s suffrage.

We marked the August suffrage centennial by honoring Fannie Lou Hamer, a Black activist who was at the front lines of fighting for voting and civil rights. We celebrated Hamer’s legacy through a live community reading of one of her most famous speeches, “I’m Sick and Tired of being Sick and Tired,” which she delivered with Malcolm X on December 20, 1964. We wanted to highlight figures like Hamer to point to the fact that many Black female activists have been eclipsed or even barred from movement leadership by both white feminist leaders and Black male leaders, and to open a broader conversation of the progress we’ve made and how we must commit to continue platforming women of color. In producing this event, we also discovered that Hamer herself was actually a musician, which was a wonderful way to tie our work to the message that she communicated as both an activist and performer. 

A live community reading is when guests and community readers are invited to take turns reading sections of a speech, while a musician is improvising or performing music. This was a format we discovered earlier this summer in July, when we conducted our first live community reading of Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? as our way of marking the Fourth of July holiday this year. We found that these readings have been surprisingly powerful as a way of connecting people through a live digital experience, and we were also honored to have guest readers include noted artists such as Jennifer Koh and Kelly Hall-Tompkins, composers such as Tania León and Laura Kaminsky, as well as activists such as Ravi Ragbir and Donita Judge. This was all the more powerful with the music, which underscored these gatherings: our Hamer reading featured bassoonist Monica Ellis of Imani Winds, and our Douglass reading included violinist Curtis Stewart of PUBLIQuartet. Both musicians have also performed as members of our orchestra.

The Dream Unfinished--Photo by David Burnett

The Dream Unfinished–Photo by David Burnett

Your “Red White And Blues” season “uses classical music to spark dialogues on voting rights.” In what ways can music and performance inspire a communal dialogue on social and political issues?

The Dream Unfinished began with the mission of using classical music as a platform to engage audiences and dialogues around social justice. Over the last five seasons, we have been able to accomplish this by centering important social issues through artistic programming. Our 2019 season, “Deep River,” which highlighted climate justice, featured composers who all hail from communities impacted by environmental issues. 

At this time, our organization has become much more interested in finding ways where we can go beyond inspiring dialogue. Currently, there are many art organizations, large and small, which are curating music and programming that is in response to trending issues. Instead, we are trying to find ways where our organization can directly support civic engagement and concrete activation. As an example, when our violist Brian was performing at the voter registration drive, we were told that his presence actually resulted in an increase in foot traffic–the music drew more people passing by on foot to actually pause and engage with the voter registration materials. We are much more interested in activities such as these, where we can make a measurable impact in working towards making a concrete difference in these issues.

The Dream Unfinished "Read, White, & Blues" season--Illustration by Raphael Azariah

The Dream Unfinished “Read, White, & Blues” season–Illustration by Raphael Azariah

How can classical musicians use their work to be instruments of change?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted once as calling concert halls “the last bastion of elitism.” Musicians must begin examining their own practice to see if they are supporting or dismantling this bastion. A part of this examination is for classical-music based organizations and artists to move away from euphemisms which mask other intentions. In the last 5-10 years, arts organizations have moved away from terms such as “outreach” to “community engagement,” to indicate a departure away from arts-as-cultural-colonization. And on paper, “community engagement” implies reciprocity and mutuality. But as Lecolian Washington has stated, for many arts organizations, “community is a word that people tend to use to describe places they never visit.” Similarly in training I’ve conducted, we’ve discussed the need to reexamine words and invite participants to compare their own personal communities as an individual or the internal community of an organization to the imagined “community” that they wish to serve, and to examine if there are any gaps between those circles and how to approach any tensions around such disconnects. 

So, with all of the context above, my answer to the original question is for classical musicians to first examine where they themselves are situated, to then interrogate the intentions and outcomes they have in conducting this work, and after asking these questions, to strive towards work that is transformative not only for any perceived audiences or constituents, but also for themselves as individuals or institutions. 

The Dream Unfinished with Helga Davis--Photo by Olivia Latney

The Dream Unfinished with Helga Davis–Photo by Olivia Latney

What upcoming projects are you particularly excited about?

10:09 is a micro concert series where every morning at 10:09 AM EST, a musician from The Dream Unfinished performs a 3-5-minute concert on Facebook Live. This is intended to remind people that in New York state, the deadline to register to vote is 10/09, or October 9th. We’ve been doing this since September 22nd, which was National Voter Registration Day, and we’ll be continuing up until the 10/09 deadline. 

Counterpoint is a conversation series where we pair an activist and an artist around a shared topic in voting rights. On October 5th, we will have a Counterpoint conversation between conductor Tito Munoz and activist Daniel Kwon of Minh Kwon, a Korean-American-based community organization. They will be discussing historically low voter turnout amongst immigrant communities in Queens and elsewhere in New York City. More information is available at our website,

We have released a number of voter PSAs which touch on topics ranging from voting with a felony or misdemeanor charge, the importance of the census, voting by absentee, and much more. 

Lastly, we are partnering with DemocracyNYC, an arm of the NYC Mayor’s office, and Lincoln Center, to produce Music On The March: a live, socially-distant city-wide synchronous concert that empowers New Yorkers to get out the vote in their community and elsewhere. This concert will take place on October 24th, and more information is available at our website,


UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. Editorial decisions are made at the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or