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 five of the Virtual Visionaries series.
The guests for this week were Sarah Whitney and Todd Buonopane. A violinist, musicians’ coach, productivity expert, and founding member of the SYBARITE5 string quintet, Whitney has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, and the Aspen, Grand Teton, and Ravinia Festivals. Winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition, Whitney’s quintet has presented workshops at the Curtis Institute, The Juilliard School, New England Conservatory, and Rice University. Todd Buonopane has appeared regularly on Broadway, including performances as Jean-Michel in Cinderella, Roger in Grease, Amos in Chicago, and many characters in …Spelling Bee. In addition, he has performed at the Alliance, The Old Globe, Asolo Rep, MUNY, Signature, Pasadena Playhouse, 5th Avenue, Ordway, Papermill Playhouse, Goodspeed, Maine State and Barrington. He has also performed TV roles on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Braindead, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order: CI, and 30 Rock.
The topic for week five was Managing The Artist Lifestyle. Much of the blog and Zoom session focused in on how we, as artists, respond to failure. While a week focused on failure might present as depressing at best, Sarah’s blog title, Why I Love Failure, captures the true spirit of the week’s topic.
Both guests candidly shared professional and personal failures they experienced during their lives. From physical injuries that jeopardized one’s career to rejection and lost work, both guests offered a window into the significant personal adversity they have faced as performing artists. The aftermath of this adversity is where both the blog and zoom session focused this past week. Todd stressed the importance of multiple failures as part of the learning and growth process: “you have to find wrong before you can find right.” He connected the writing process to the creative process, stressing the important of multiple ‘rough drafts’ in the creation of art and highlighting the ‘process’ and ‘struggle’ that many of history’s most compelling artists experience prior to completing a masterwork. The ‘rough draft’ is as valuable as the finished product.
Whitney discussed at length the importance of reframing failures—or challenges—into growth opportunities. In her blog post, she detailed the shift in mindset she experienced in response to three distinct failures in her career:
When I learned how to reframe them, a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Failure was not something that I needed to be afraid of. With this perspective, I gained newfound courage to move forward and take new risks which opened doors for me in my career. . . Learning how to relate to your failures – because we all have them – is one of the most important skills when it comes to refining your craft, building courage, taking bold action, and being resilient.
In the Zoom session, both Whitney and Buonopane delved further into the concept of re-framing or re-positioning our failures as growth opportunities. While acknowledging it can sometimes be difficult to do so, Whitney stressed the importance of actively spending time with our failures and coming to understand them. The first step is recognizing and acknowledging that there are always two sides to any challenging situation—finding the silver lining. Whitney encourages us to reflect and ask questions as a way to work through the adversity we’ve experienced:
- What did I learn from this situation?
- How has this failure helped to get me where I am today?
- How does this closed door open other doors?
- How can I stay curious and learn from this experience?
Whitney framed the importance of self-reflection through a quote by Jon Demartini: “The quality of our life depends on the quality of the questions we ask.” As part of the process, Whitney encourages us to make a list of benefits that might come out of any single failure.
Todd acknowledged the time it takes to heal and work-through trauma. Reflecting on his return to performing after a hiatus, he remarked “I forgot I could do it and I learned to believe in myself again.” Todd related this experience to both authenticity and originality, in the importance of knowing oneself as performing artist.
Both guests also reflected on how what they shared about failure related to the current pandemic and the challenges it presents. Despite the great loss and adversity many have experienced, Whitney asked “What has the pandemic brought us?” From a personal standpoint, she acknowledged the benefit of having more time to explore projects that had been on the back-burner for many years. She also acknowledged that the pandemic has forced us to both think outside of the box and be proactive in how we react to the adversity. Todd echoed this sentiment in artists ability to pivot their work to respond to and survive the crisis.
How has failure helped to shape who you are as an artist? As a human being? How has a failure you’ve experienced got you to where you are today? What doors has it opened? Despite the challenges of the current pandemic, how is your arts organization learning and creating new opportunities for itself?
UP NEXT: Virtual Visionaries: Art Inspired by Identity
Blog Post: Monday, July 6
Virtual Session: Thursday, July 9 from 4:00-5:00PM EDT
PRJC Summary: Saturday, July 11 at 10am
Zoom Link for the Virtual Session: http://myumi.ch/O42Oq
This session probes strategies for crafting work around your personal identity, avoiding pitfalls around sensitive topics, and framing your artistic voice in ways that resonate with others. Dr. Donia Jarrar is an Arab and Muslim-American composer, pianist, and interdisciplinary artist, recently awarded the 2019 Discovery Grant for Female Composers from the National Opera Center of America for her work Seamstress, a documentary multimedia opera based on oral history interviews conducted with Palestinian women and girls from her community. Rosy Simas is a dance artist, administrator, and advocate. Director of Rosy Simas Danse, her work is centered around Native cultural and political persistence, informed by her roots as part of an intertribal urban Native community.
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