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 week three of the Virtual Visionaries series.
The guests for week three were Julie Nakagawa, Kari Landry, and Matt Landry. Nakagawa is Artistic Director of DanceWorks Chicago, an organization she co-founded in 2007. She has also held leadership roles in both the Lou Conte Dance Studio and Hubbard Street 2. As a performer, she has danced with Off Center Ballet, the Cleveland Ballet, and Twyla Tharp Dance. Kari and Matt Landry are both founding members of the Akropolis Reed Quintet. Kari currently serves as Marketing and Development Manager for the organization and serves on the faculty of the University of Michigan. Named a 2018-19 Rising Leader by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Matt Landry currently serves as Executive Director of Akropolis Reed Quintet and is on faculty at Michigan State University. As members of the Akropolis Reed Quintet, Matt and Kari have received international recognition, including being named Fischoff Gold Medal winners and receiving multiple Art Works grants by the National Endowment for the Arts.
This week’s topic was Running an Arts Organization. Through their blog post and video session, all three guests provided valuable guidance in developing and launching an arts organization. What was particularly compelling was the connections that all three were able to draw between their artistic and administrative work.
One of the common threads between the advice offered by Julie, Matt, and Kari was the focus on the human element of running an arts organization. In co-founding DanceWorks Chicago, Julie stressed that ‘people,’ not ‘performances,’ are their product. She went on to highlight that “DWC invests in relationships rather than transactions, focusing on dancers who join the family rather than dances which join the repertoire.” Recently celebrating its 13thanniversary, Julie described DanceWorks Chicago as a ‘rambunctious teenager’ and stressed both the value of developing strong relationships and networks and also the time and care it takes to do so.
Along the same lines, Matt and Kari stressed how an “arts organization can be an artist’s tool for building the shed that protects and nurtures their creativity.” They advocated for an artist-centered approach to arts leadership: “arts organizations which are run (or heavily influenced by their artists or primary program deliverers are a great example to all arts organizations of how to spend the most time on what matters most.” They go further: “An arts organization should always be a tool wielded by the art itself.”
The ‘shed’ analogy offered by Matt and Kari is particularly relevant given the challenges faced by artists and arts organizations in the age of COVID-19. Julie shared how it is important for arts organizations to take an active vs. reactive approach to the current challenges all artists face. She shared how DanceWorks Chicago is currently in “R&D” mode, “using the time for experimentation, relationship building and reflection fueled by the resources of innovation, openness, grit and gratitude.” Kari and Matt reflected on how “building or remodeling your arts organization ‘shed’ can be just as wonderful as the art inside of it.”
Something that resonated in both the blog and video session was the optimistic mindset all three guests took on running an arts organization. When asked about roadblocks they faced in their careers, all three chose to re-frame adversity as opportunity. The process of ‘working through’ challenges enables us to grow and develop as both artists and leaders. Further, a common thread was approaching arts administration and leadership as an art-form. Kari suggested that there is an inherent art in developing and running an arts organization. Julie captured this mindset when she reflected, “There is an art to everything you are doing outside of performing—unearth the Joy of doing all those other things. Dig deep and understand your identify as an artist—not only in how you perform but in everything else you have to do.” While sometimes the administrative work of running an arts organization can be seen as in opposition to the creativity and artistry of performing, all three guests highlighted the importance of embracing the ‘art’ of arts-leadership work. This mindset seems particularly important as artists react to and evolve in response to the challenges currently posed by COVID-19. As what it means to be an ‘artist’ or ‘arts organization’ in the age of COVID-19 evolves, how will you approach the
challenges opportunities we face in an artistic way?
UP NEXT: Virtual Visionaries: Freelancing Musicians
Blog Post: Monday, June 15
Virtual Session: Thursday, June 18 from 6:30-7:30PM EDT
PRJC Summary: Saturday, 20th at 10am
Zoom Link for the Virtual Session: http://myumi.ch/O42Oq
Three dynamic freelance jazz musicians will share how they are navigating the realities facing freelancers, and how they stay inspired to develop new work in creative ways. Amy K. Bormet is an in-demand pianist, vocalist, and composer based in Washington, DC. An advocate for women in music, Amy created the Washington Women in Jazz Festival. Balance Duo is a collaboration between saxophonist Marcus Elliot and pianist Michael Malis, who have been called “two of Detroit’s most important young jazz musicians” by the Detroit Free Press.
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