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 eight of the Virtual Visionaries series.
The guest for this week was composer and pianist Gabriele Lena Frank. Ms. Frank currently serves as Composer-in-Residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra and has been named as one of the 35 most significant women composers by the Washington Post. Born in Berkeley, California to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela explores her multicultural American heritage through her compositions. In addition to her work as a composer and pianist, in 2017 she founded the award-winning Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, a non-profit training institution held on her two rural properties n Boonville, CA for emerging composers from a vast array of demographics and aesthetics.
The topic for this week was Art for Social Change. The urgency of the need for societal change has been a common topic during the first seven weeks of the Virtual Visionaries Series. In her blog post, Dr. Frank acknowledged how our current landscape is positioned for significant social change: “The time is now for social activism: planet-wide pandemic, cataclysmic economic decline, and a chilling reckoning with historically embedded racial violence. The climate crisis continues.” Another commonality in the Virtual Visionaries Series has been the acknowledgement that change needs to occur in all aspects of our society, both outside and within our arts ecosystem. Throughout her blog post and Zoom session, Dr. Frank offered pragmatic and detailed insight into what social justice work looks like, for her, in the field of musical composition. This was particularly effective in that it offered participants an example of grass-roots, scalable, and transformative work within one area of our profession, from the initial idea to an international stage.
Dr. Frank was open in sharing how a pair of traumatic experiences—one in a music conservatory and one in a gas station—caused a shift in how she approached social justice work. “I realized that it was no longer enough to just represent demographic change in my work. I couldn’t just use myself as a symbol and just compose. I wasn’t doing enough.” She goes on “widely impactful activism, affecting people beyond my small sphere, meant doing the work on as public a stage as possible, and, crucially, paying it forward to other artist-citizens.” This led to her founding of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, a mentoring program for emerging composers that eschews the structures, formalities, and bureaucracy of large arts organizations and education institutions. In detailing the early development of the Academy, Dr. Frank spoke to the importance of doing high-quality work from the outset of any project, constantly evaluating the impact and effectiveness of one’s programming, and charting one’s own path, free from what ‘the profession’ might expect.
With the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music recently completing its third season, Dr. Frank offered guidance for those seeking to engage in social justice work. She stressed the importance of committing to work that one believes strongly in or has a connection to. This might change over time, but having a personal investment or commitment to the cause is an important factor in navigating the associated challenge and risk. Dr. Frank stressed the importance of matching one’s commitment to a cause with skills to share the message: “be certain you have the musical skillsets to back up your goals.” She also spoke to the importance of being informed in the work we do—research, learning, and listening are key to being able to support and contextualize our work: if you are going to do the work, you need to do your homework. Finally, she stressed the importance of being strategic in our work. Something that resonated in the session was the effectiveness of grass-roots efforts. Dr. Frank implored participants to “create the artist you are, not the artist you are expected to be.” If one believes in a cause, it only takes one person to begin the work. The work might be small at first, but a seed will grow.
UP NEXT: Virtual Visionaries: Portfolio Careers, Then and Now
Blog Post: Monday, July 27
Virtual Session: Wednesday, July 29 from 3:00-4:00PM EDT
PRJC Summary: Saturday, August 1 at 10AM EDT
Zoom Link for the Virtual Session: http://myumi.ch/DEMed
This session features two artists with dynamic professional portfolios, exploring the ways that their work has shifted in light of recent disruptions. This conversation will highlight challenges and opportunities for adaptation, and the possibilities of repurposing transferable skills towards new professional activity. Bill Kalinkos enjoys a diverse musical career as a member of critically acclaimed groups such as Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Signal, Deviant Septet, Eco Ensemble, and Splinter Reeds. Katherine Banks is a Midwest based actor and educator. Last season, she reprised her role as Joanne in Mindhunter (Netflix) directed by David Fincher. She has performed widely across the Midwest in award-winning productions, teaches at Greenhills Middle School in Ann Arbor and works as a freelance corporate spokesperson and communication trainer.
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