The University of Michigan EXCEL Lab, in collaboration with the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership and a cohort of seven co-sponsors recently completed the final week of the Virtual Visionaries series.
The guests for this week were Dr. Leah Claiborne and Sydnie L. Mosley. Pianist, scholar, and educator, Dr. Leah Claiborne, promotes diversity in the arts by championing piano music by Black composers in her performances, research, and teaching. Dr. Claiborne received her undergraduate degree from Manhattan School of Music where she received the Josephine C. Whitford graduation award. She received her Masters of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees from the University of Michigan. Dr. Claiborne currently teaches piano and Music of the African Diaspora at the University of the District of Columbia. Sydnie L. Mosley is an artist-activist and educator who works in communities to organize for gender and racial justice through experiential dance performance with her dance-theater collective Sydnie L. Mosley Dances. She is a Bessie Award-winning performer who danced with Christal Brown’s INSPIRIT, improvises with the skeleton architecture collective, and continues to appear as a guest artist with the Brooklyn Ballet. Among her recognitions and funding, she received a special citation from Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray for using her talents in dance to fuel social change. An advocate for the field, she sits on the Dance/NYC Advisory Committee.
The topic for this week was Engaging Communities. A conversation at the end of the Zoom session might best frame the topic for the week: the importance of viewing performance as service or performance as the act of giving back to someone else. Throughout the blog and Zoom session, both guests offered practical insight and best practices for developing community based programs. This service mindset requires Community Accountable Artists to understand the needs and priorities of a community prior to developing a program. In her blog post, Ms. Mosley spoke about the important of developing relationships with community members prior to engaging in community work and involving the community at all points in the process. Her advice: build a relationship or wait for an invitation. Mosley connected being a community accountable artist to how she approaches dance:
When you are a community artist, it is as if you are navigating your collaboration with eye closed. You don’t move until the community moves you; until you feel their touch, nudge, pull, push. You are in total consideration of their needs and concerns. Based on your participatory listening, what do you know they want and need? Sometimes community will move in a way that you hadn’t planned for or in a way you were not interested in going. You can follow the impulse and see where the work takes you. If it’s not for your leadership and skill set, pass the work onto others who are better equipped to follow community needs/requests and be in dialogue about how/when/why your collaboration with the community needs to transition.
During the Zoom session, Dr. Claiborne stressed the importance of asking the questions “What is the community asking of us? What does the community need from us?” She reminded participants that listening is key and that community engaged programming is not possible without the support of the community itself. She echoed Ms. Mosely’s sentiments of investing in communities prior to thinking about project development.
The focus on listening was part of “Five Points for Moving Idea to Action” that Ms. Mosely shared in her blog post:
- Deep Listening
- Asset Mapping and Resource Sharing
- Collaboration in Research Design
These points, along with the resources provided by Ms. Mosley (linked below), feel particularly relevant as many artists consider how they can support and invest in their communities during the challenging times in which we currently live. While Ms. Mosely’s guidance was focused primarily on incubating community engaged work, the advice is timely and helpful in all aspects of our arts ecosystem. For example, her assertion that ‘everyone has a job’ and the importance of understanding our team’s strengths and resources, can serve to propel all aspects of our careers as artists. Her acknowledgement of defining the process for collaborative work as being just as important as the work itself is both important and a step that might often be missed as we engage in project work.
This week marks the close of the Summer 2020 Virtual Visionaries Series. During the ten-week program, participants interacted with twenty visionaries, each offering honest insight and practical guidance for teaching, creating, and leading in our current society. In her blog post, Dr. Claiborne might have best captured the overarching spirit of this summer’s programming:
“A visionary is someone who can see a brighter future and acts in the present as if that future is now.”
Virtual Visionaries is a 10-week series in partnership between UM’s EXCEL program, Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership, and seven other national partners. Starting the week of May 25 through early August, this series brings together professionals across the performing arts for weekly virtual discussions on Zoom. We’ve selected a diverse group of leaders at various stages of their careers to engage in open conversations about topics ranging from personal finance issues, to developing identity-driven work, along with a variety of entrepreneurial approaches relevant to young arts professionals. Each week our guest speakers will also author a blog post, providing a sneak peek of the virtual sessions and providing a basis for our virtual discussion.
The series co-sponsors include:
Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership
Manhattan School of Music’s Center for Music Entrepreneurship
Michigan State University’s Running Start Program
New England Conservatory’s Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department
Roosevelt University’s Center for Arts Leadership, Chicago College of Performing Arts
University of Colorado-Boulder’s Entrepreneurship Center for Music
University of North Texas’ Music Business and Entrepreneurship Program
Wayne State University’s Music Business Program