Paola's deep belief in healing a system lies in mentorship and structural reform. Here are some of the programs she has initiated.

Active Hope Podcast

Active Hope explores how the country’s vanguard artists and arts leaders can shape this transformational, historical, and polarizing moment in history. After emerging from a global quarantine while still figuring out what the new normal is, the second season of our podcast orbits the theme of “Organizing Hope”. Our hosts and their guests of wide-ranging backgrounds investigate the uncertainty of the post-pandemic world from the unique perch of executive leadership at some of our country’s foremost arts institutions. Join an engaging conversation with Director and Executive Producer at the Apollo Theater Kamilah Forbes; poet, TED Global Fellow, and Kennedy Center Vice President/Artistic Director of Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph; and composer and Artistic Director/Co-Founder of National Sawdust Paola Prestini.


Student CoLab

At the core of National Sawdust’s mission is the belief in artistic expression to empower us all to create a more inclusive world. Our flagship education program, Student CoLab, aims to engage young people in this idea by using the power of music discovery to inspire interdisciplinary art making which reflects their own experience of the world, impacting both their lives and the lives of people within their community.  

Our partners, El Puente Beacon Leadership Program’s mission is to promote youth leadership through arts and activism to empower student voice, providing opportunities to engage in inquiry-based and project-based learning. Each year, Student CoLab engages up to twenty young people from the school to participate in a three-month program of workshops and performances.

Blueprint Fellowship

The BluePrint Fellowship program is designed to further inspire compositional and music students to dream about building their lives as artists.  It is National Sawdust’s belief that by interacting with real-world mentors and applying lessons and ideas in real-world settings with the actual application of their craft, students will be better equipped for building a livelihood as an artist outside of the traditional classroom. This program is thereby designed to help students think about, plan and execute a “blueprint” to achieve their dreams.

Hildegard Competition

The Hildegard Commission is our mentorship initiative highlighting outstanding trans, female, and nonbinary composers in the early stages of their careers, supporting them with a commission, visionary mentorship, and access to a network of leading working collaborators.

In addition to a $7,000 cash prize, a commission for Pierrot-plus ensemble, a professional performance, and a live recording, the three winning composers will receive one-on-one mentorship with established figures in the field who also serve as judges for the competition, led by Paola Prestini, Composer, Co-Founder and Artistic Director at National Sawdust, and including composer and vocalist Joan La Barbara, composer and sound artist Gavin Rayna Russom, and composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón. Following this period of mentorship, the commissioned works will be performed at National Sawdust in by conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya and the National Sawdust Ensemble, led by Jeffrey Zeigler, cellist and former Kronos Quartet member, and recorded live in our state-of-the-art hall for an album that will be released on National Sawdust Tracks.

NYU Center for Ballet Arts Lab

The Toulmin Fellowships in Music and Dance is a partnership with The Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) at NYU which provides opportunities for women composers and choreographers to collaborate, a rare opportunity in the field. In 2022, six Fellows (3 composers and 3 choreographers) will receive $5,000 each for a performance of the work they develop at the CBA studio with customized mentorship from NS.