Thoughts on Why Music Schools Must Embed Context into the Curriculum

Yesterday, I wrote this post, which discusses the role of arts entrepreneurship in higher education. After the post, I started thinking more deeply about the role that context plays in the process of educating our arts students.

Higher education helps students go deep in a few subject areas, but mostly, the courses students take provide a big picture overview of many subjects. The odd thing is that the professors teaching the big picture overview courses most likely got their teaching positions because they went incredibly deep in a very specific subject area. Teaching a big picture class is antithetical to the depth of work and research most professors conducted in their studies in order to get the position they have teaching their general studies courses.

Instead of big picture classes, our current college students need depth classes with less content so they can take the information learned and connect it to the broader context of our 21st century world.

Here are a few additional thoughts on the value of context:

We now have unlimited access to knowledge.
Smart phones allow us to have every imaginable fact and figure in the palm of our hands. Instead of memorizing dates and facts about moments in history, work in higher education must turn towards helping students develop a way to organize, categorize and easily find the information in order to use it in our hyper-connected world.

Instead of broad strokes, context allows us to focus.
Imagine an assignment in which a student is asked to research a work by Palestrina and connect it, composer by composer over the years, to Morten Lauridsen’s latest work. Would you get 45 different papers? Absolutely, and there’s a good chance they’d all be correct. Context is about connecting the dots. Assignments such as the one described here would allow students to understand deeply, how to utilize the endless amount of information available to them.

Note: An amazing byproduct to this way of thinking is that it would allow us to hire professors to teach the subject area in which they are most passionate and then connect the dots to other relevant touch points.

Context allows us to embed arts entrepreneurship into the course of study.
One of the biggest challenges with arts entrepreneurship is that it is often an extra curricular endeavor. Creating a school-wide expectation that courses embed an element of context into the course of study, deepens their understanding of the content, and helps students think about how they might apply the information after graduation.

What role does context play at your institution? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below and, as always, if this post was enjoyable to you, I would greatly appreciate it if you shared it with your network.


(Photo Credit: TH)


What is the point of Arts Entrepreneurship?

Over the past decade, I think Schools of Music have answered that question in this way: Arts Entrepreneurship helps our students find success in the field.

Academia has long placed an emphasis on outcomes based learning that prepares students for success. But what if those proposed outcomes aren’t preparing students for the field, or worse, they’re preparing students for a field that doesn’t exist?

Since the economic downturn in the mid-2000’s (and probably longer), defining student success has been plaguing institutions of higher education because the degrees offered don’t necessarily accommodate the available jobs in the field. This is particularly true in the arts, where over-saturation is rampant and even those who manage to find work find themselves underpaid, and often undervalued.

In an effort to counterbalance this trend, a large number of institutions have adopted arts entrepreneurship programming, rooted in the idea that if students can use their talents as a force to generate wealth on an individualized basis, they will dramatically improve their chances of landing a job when they graduate.

I believe embedding Arts Entrepreneurship into a curriculum within a school of music is a challenge for the following reasons:

  • Like a degree in Music Performance, Arts Entrepreneurship is too focused. My guess is that, if you look at the student body of any given school of music, you might find that 5% of students are deeply interested in Arts Entrepreneurship as a career path. A few students will be inspired by this work and some will take this path, however, entrepreneurship training is not a one-size-fits all discipline. Advice: Encourage a pathways program in which one potential path is entrepreneurship, along with a multitude of other options that have the potential to inspire your students and allow them to be in control of their career.
  • Arts Entrepreneurship folds the discipline back into over-saturated models that aren’t necessarily working. When artists explore Arts Entrepreneurship in the company of other artists, they potentially miss out on developing a strategy for addressing one of the biggest challenges artists face in entrepreneurship: They don’t develop the business vernacular necessary to cross sectors, so necessary in entrepreneurial endeavors. Advice: Instead of creating a unit within your college of music, partner with the business school and encourage interested students to take straight up entrepreneurship courses. I love the diversity of thought that comes when you smash students with different career pursuits together through cross-campus collaborations. 
  • Students need context. I think what the Arts Entrepreneurship movement is really trying to do is provide context to the bigger world for our students. In pursuit of perfection on an instrument, what students often miss is that they are one of the most important pieces of the 21st century economy. This is especially true because we’ve moved away from a manufacturing economy to a service economy where creativity and context rule the workforce. Advice: Infuse context with the deep work students do in their degree in order to help them define their career after graduation.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset as an artist in the 21st century is incredibly important. This mindset should introduced to all, and nurtured in a few who show interest and proclivity. The rest of our time should be spent helping our students find a path to success on an individualized basis. That is the only way they will truly find the path that is right for them.

How does this resonate with you? What programs or advice to you give your students as they embark upon their career.  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.


(Photo Credit: Imagen’s Portal)


Strategies to help Artists take some time for themselves.

As many of you know, I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately in an attempt to help all of you find balance between work and being able to take a breath and enjoy life. Yesterday, I read this amazing post by Eric Perry. The post, titled “How to have healthy alone time,” discusses the value and strategies for taking time to be by yourself, which really resonated with me.

I’m a pretty outgoing person and enjoy the company of others. Until recently, I assumed that meant I was an extrovert. Then, I took the Myers Briggs Test, and one of the questions went something like this: “Are you energized by large groups of people, or do you get your energy by being alone.” It took me less than a second to determine that I get my energy by being alone.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I spent decades of my life alone in a practice room pursuing an unattainable art form, but likely it’s built into my DNA. Since this realization, I’ve been working to find a bit of time for myself each day in the midst of work and family.

Many individuals I work with assume that alone time can only occur if they have a a multi-day experience by themselves in a place like the photo above. Although a retreat on the Tuscan countryside would be nice, I recommend trying to find alone times during small chunks of your day. Here are some suggestions and resources that may be helpful for you as you search for time by yourself.

  1. Schedule alone time–If you don’t set aside some time for yourself each day, you likely won’t get to it. Each person is different, but I get a lot of energy when I have a large block of time (usually at least 2 hours) to work on my own big ideas. No email, no meetings with others, simply time to think and get my ideas out. In our over-connected world, I don’t believe we are taking enough time to tackle big ideas.
  2. Quarantine meetings–This may be outright impossible for some of you, but, if possible, set a specific block of time to have meetings each week and stick to the time you’ve allotted. I generally will set one afternoon and an entire day aside for meetings. That allows me to give others a lot of options while also giving more time for me to think about big ideas.
  3. Take up a hobby–During my masters degree (I majored in bassoon performance), I remember getting to the end of my practice day and having the feeling like I hadn’t accomplished anything. When I would get back to my apartment, watching TV didn’t allow me to decompress.  So, I took up cooking.What I love about cooking is that it takes intense concentration but it doesn’t involve my art or and of the pressures of the day. I am able to take a project from start to finish in a short amount of time, which gives me energy to get back to work the next day. I’ve found cooking and woodworking to be two areas for gaining some alone time.

Here are two resources that may be of help:

  • Acuity Scheduling—This online scheduler that has been a game changer for me. Simply set your availability and place a link to your schedule in your signature. It has already saved me hours in back and forth emails with others trying to find a time to meet. Plus, it syncs with my work calendar! Click here to give it a try.
  • StayFocused—I’ve used this for years and find it to be an incredible tool to help me stay focused when I’m working online. I often to start with the intent of doing a “quick search,” only to end up going down a rabbit hole for 30 minutes, effectively wasting the time I set aside to do the work. StayFocused allows you to block the sites that typically take your time for a set amount of time. It takes a little bit of time to set up but is incredibly helpful. Click here to add it to your Chrome browser.


What strategies do you use to find alone time? Let me know in the comments below.



Climbing the Ladder: Majoring in Music As A Pathway To College and Upward Mobility.

A couple of weeks ago, I published this post, which encourages applied university teachers to broaden the definition of success for their students. It is our responsibility to redefine success for all of our students at the earliest age.

If you are part of a middle or high school based music program, an El Sistema inspired program or have a private studio, you have likely been approached by students or their parents about whether or not majoring in music is a good idea. I believe we should encourage any student who is interested in dedicating themselves deeply to the art form to major in music. The value of their degree is not necessarily in earning a specific major, it’s in earning a degree itself.  My argument is that ANY degree helps a student become upwardly mobile in our society.

Here’s a quick video that discusses upward mobility in this country. The entire video is mind-blowing but in particular check out the 2:52 mark.

Who goes to college:
I did some quick (Google) research on our population and found the following statistics. In 2011, there were 311,718,857 people living in the United states. Of the total population, 237,801,767 of all Americans were adults (18 and older). That is equal to (76%) of the population. Of the adult population, 54,339,215 people had baccalaureate degrees.  That means 17.6% of the population in this country has a baccalaureate degree. I found this number to be shockingly low.

College bound is the goal.
In light of the information above, it is clear that a college degree is the ticket to upward mobility, regardless of major, and that includes music. I routinely have discussions with students and parents about the fact that many believe studying music encourages whole-minded thinking and that deep study in the art form in college will have a positive effect on their ability to find work after graduation. The key is to be supportive while also offering a dose of reality about our field.

It’s not the destination, It’s the journey!

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote by Emerson is always sitting in the back of my head as I advise students about a degree in music. The earlier you can mention that there are multiple pathways music majors can take after graduation, the easier it will be for a student to accept a different path than the prescribed professional musician track. I encourage students and their parents to consider the fact that a music degree is about the journey and exploration of deeply pursuing the art form, and not necessarily about becoming a professional artist after graduation. The skills that students develop by exploring an art form deeply will enable them to thrive in any job upon graduation.

Our job is to guide students and their parents towards this broadened way of thinking, rather than encouraging a very limited definition of success, which is what is traditionally suggested.

How does this post resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

(Photo Credit: Georgios Karamanis)


Are you an artist looking for a way to find balance? Stop letting EMAIL run your life!

Often, I find myself buried in email with no end in site. I set aside time to dig out, only to be inundated by more emails. Email has been one of the biggest challenges to finding balance in my life. Here are some suggestions about how to handle your email:

  1. Tackle email after you get your big thing out of the way–Practicing, having time to think, or planning a new project are WAY more important and energizing. If you start with the black hole of email, chances are, you could spend your entire allotted time for big picture things responding to email.
    Action: Look at your calendar and block off a two hour block each day before you open your email in order to tackle big things you’d like to accomplish. 
  2. Schedule a time to check email–Check your email only AFTER you tackle your big thing for the day and keep yourself to a tight schedule for reading and responding. Generally, I check my email in late morning and mid-afternoon. Otherwise, I try to stay away.
    Action: Block in two separate hours a day to check email and do not go beyond that time. Ideally, you’re only responding to email for one hour a day. 
  3. Don’t focus on getting your inbox to zero–One of the challenges we all face in limiting ourselves to a set amount of time for checking email is that we strive to see an inbox sitting at zero.
    Action: Instead of working to get your inbox to zero, which is short-lived, tackle the most important emails with the amount of time you have. Your priority should be in responding to the notes that have an immediate, direct impact on your work. 
  4. Stop with the formalities–I tend to be a perfectionist with my emails, often taking time to write a nice opening sentence and wishing others well at the end. Important, but not necessary if you’re on the fly. I remember one time agonizing over every word I wrote when I sent an email to a person who was in a position of helping me get a job. I spent hours revising, cutting, pasting and getting the note just right, only to get a response in two minutes with a one sentence reply that had typos and grammatical errors. When I received that email, a light bulb went off….The flawed email actually didn’t bother me. What was more important for me was simply that the person replied.
    Action: Use the 80-20 rule to create more efficiency in your email process. Can you compose an email in 20% of the time and get 80% functionality? The best way I’ve figured out to do this is to get rid of the formalities and just get down to business with every note. 
  5. Turn off push notifications–Getting pinged when you receive an email is the worst. It takes you away from your train of thought and is a constant reminder that you are a slave to your email.
    Action: Turn off your email notifications on your phone right now and don’t look back. 
  6. Don’t check email before bed–Want to ruin a good night of sleep? Check your email before bed. I remember I once had a co-worker who was a night owl that loved to drop prickly emails right as I was about to go to sleep, effectively shooting adrenaline through my veins and keeping me up for several more hours.  Nothing good can come from checking your email at night. Stop doing it.
    Action: Charge your phone in the kitchen and stop looking at your screen before you go to bed.

Developing strategies for email to find balance can be difficult. Be persistent and treat this as something that needs to be worked on every day in order to find balance.

What strategies do you use to tackle your email? Let me know in the comments below.

(Photo Credit: Minio73)


Long Tail Sessions, Vol. II–September 20, 2017

For some reason, this week’s playlist is decidedly American with a dash of protest tossed in. Ha! This week, I became especially infatuated by the work by Rzewski, titled “The People United.” Listen to track 5 first, which is a powerful version of a crowd singing the piece, followed by the Theme and First Variation of a much longer 36 variation work. Rzewski wrote the piece in 1975 as a tribute to the struggle of the Chilean people against a newly imposed repressive regime.



About The Long Tail Sessions: Last winter, I traveled from LA to NYC on a Virgin America flight and loved that the in-flight entertainment featured musicians in alphabetical order. At first, I found it jarring to see Beethoven next to the Beatles, but then I thought “Of course they’re featured side-by-side, that’s how we enjoy music these days.”

With this in mind, I’m pleased to present a weekly series of playlists dedicated to those of us who are not genre specific in our listening habits. Just as your listening habits have changed dramatically over the past 20 years, so have the ways musicians get paid for their original work. My primary goal for this project is to introduce you to music you might not have heard before. Many of the artists featured on each playlist are trying to make it as performing artists. Help them by sharing the videos you love, following the artist and committing to attend one of their performances the next time they’re in town.

Thanks so much to all! I’d love to feature a song by an artist of your choosing. Please send me along a song by your favorite artist and I’ll do my best to get it on an upcoming playlist


Broadening the definition of success for music students.

This is me in fifth grade. At the age of 12, I remember my teachers telling me that if I continued to work, I could get a scholarship to study the instrument in college. Many began to tell me that I should pursue a career on the instrument.

When I was barely in middle school, my path was already being set for me.

The path of a classical musician is straight and prescribed.

The traditional path for a classical musician that has talent, interest and proclivity is straight and prescribed. In order to reach a high level of excellence on the instrument, proper setup and a deep pursuit of excellence is essential.

This type of training sets up an interesting situation: Practice and listen to what your teacher says and live to see another day or, don’t, and leave the art form all together.


As I mentioned in this post, I believe that students have many pathways to success and our job is to help them find their pathway.


All of this has gotten me thinking: What can teachers do to help students find their path. As a whole, the field should engage in a thoughtful dialogue about broadening the definition of success for students at the earliest age.


Deciding a pathway to become a professional classical musician is a great pathway, but it’s one pathway. This pathway has become practically the only way that teachers define success in their own teaching.  How do we change this dynamic? Here are some quick thoughts:

  1. First and foremost, I am not asking teachers to compromise their pursuit of artistic excellence. Excellence should sit as a strong foundation to everything we do.
  2. As in the visual above, applied teachers should have thoughtful conversations about the variety of career paths that students can embark upon, utilizing the skills developed as classical musicians.
  3. Change the tenure process to allow applied teachers to expand their definition of student success within their studio and broadcast it to students and their families. We should not be ashamed of students who pursue careers outside their instrument.
  4. Only 27% of college graduates have a job related to their major. With our changing economy, we should be preparing students to work outside their degree path.
  5. Finally, I believe it is our responsibility to help students understand that music is something that they can pursue throughout their lives, regardless of whether or not they choose to major in the art form.

As I reflect on the years of amazing training I received to become a better bassoonist, what resonates with me the most is how well the training prepared me to do what I am doing now, running community engagement and career development at Colburn. Going deep in pursuit of excellence on bassoon has prepared me to do many of the things I enjoy most about my work.

How are you encouraging a broadened definition of success with your students? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


Artistic Micro-Movements

Last January, I wrote this post in response the inauguration of #45. The premise behind the post was simple: What small things can you do today to make a difference in the world? In January and February, our collective efforts played out on a daily basis, both on line and in person.

Now, we are exactly 231 days, 0 hours, 26 minutes and 42 seconds into the presidency of #45 so I’ll ask you this: What are you doing today to help make the changes you’d like to see happen tomorrow?

If you’re like me, the rescinding of DACA is on your mind. Now is the time to let your voice be heard.  Here are some examples of artistically minded micro-movements that might help to inspire you.

  1. Musicians Take A Stand is an organization under the umbrella of another amazing organization called the Phoenix Ensemble. Musicans Take a Stand advocates for musicians across the country who wish to bring attention to humanitarian causes, and supports other organizations through the philanthropic contribution of our time and talent as artists for the benefit of others. On Saturday, they will give a benefit concert in Ann Arbor titled “Musicians Take a Stand for Refugees.”
  2. PUBLIQuartet has been effectively blurring the lines between classical music, improvisation, and musical activism for the past several years. They used their residency at the MET to explore what happens when you blend the three concepts together and the result was a beautiful form of expression unique to the ensemble.
  3. Urban Voices Project is an organization under the umbrella of another wonderful organization, Street Symphony.  UVP brings the healing power of music directly to individuals disenfranchised by homelessness, mental health issues and unemployment.
  4. Finally, here are two sites you can click on as you think about creating your own micro-movement.
    1. Click on this Dream Act Tool Kit and take action. The goal for this sight is to encourage Congress to pass a clean version of the Dream Act within the next six months. It takes less than 10 minutes and our legislators need to hear your voice.
    2. Americans for the Arts created this page, which offers options for how you can help Hurricane Harvey victims.

What are you doing today to help change the world tomorrow and who else is doing interesting work in this world?  Please share your thoughts below in the comment section.

(Photo Credit: gth_42)


One thing Artists can do in response to the rescinding of the DACA program.

For most of my adult life, our political parties have been at such odds with each other that even simple legislation has become a challenge to pass. Political score keeping has become more important than the well being of the American people. This type of political paralysis often means that instead of our elected officials legislating policy, our President is put in the position of executing policy through signing or rescinding executive orders.

Executive orders are not party specific. Here are number of executive orders signed by the last six Presidents :

  • Ronald Regan—381 (47.6 executive orders per year)
  • George H. W. Bush—166 (41.5 executive orders per year)
  • Bill Clinton 364—(45.5 executive orders per year)
  • George W. Bush 291—(36.4 executive orders per year)
  • Barak Obama 276—(34.6 executive orders per year)
  • Donald Trump 45—(On pace for 72.7 executive orders this year)

While executive orders achieve a short term win for the political party of the person in office, they can easily be rescinded with a stroke of a pen by the next President.

Today’s announcement by Attorney General Sessions that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be rescinded in six months is an incredible example of how unstable an executive order can be. DACA was signed in 2012 by President Obama and gives close to 800,000 minors who were brought into the US illegally the ability to receive two-year renewable work permits and protection from deportation. Often called “Dreamers,” these individuals have gone through a background check and have been registering with the federal government since 2012.

Executive orders are a powerful way for a President to influence the legislative agenda of congress and help a dialogue occur, nationally. The problem is that if the electorate isn’t engaged, it becomes easy for congress to act upon party lines instead of establishing a legislative agenda that reflects the wishes of their constituents.

Congress is filled with career politicians, lawyers, doctors and business people who are not artists themselves but turn to the arts for a respite from their day to day lives. Our job is to help our legislators think more like artists. Artists derive inspiration from their ability to create and relate to others with empathy. In the pursuit of political score keeping, empathy is largely missing from our politician’s political agenda.

With this in mind, what is one thing artists can do to influence policy? The answer is simple:


As artists, encouraging empathic legislation from our politicians is best done through the beautiful stories we tell. These are the same stories our politicians and electorate turn to every day to make sense of the world. In addition to writing your congress members, I encourage you to create and share an artistically inspired story or work of art rooted in empathy as a way to influence policy.

According to Attorney General Sessions, immigration reform should be in the “interest of the people of the United States.”  The artist voting block represents a large and powerful group of the American people. We have six months to let our voices be heard through the stories we tell so let’s get to work!

(Photo Credit: Michael Dougherty)


Everyone Should Major In Music!

For decades, we have been told not to major in music. We’ve been told that there aren’t any jobs, and the jobs that do exist have job satisfaction rates in the gutter.

When are institutions of higher learning going to widen their definition of success when it comes to majoring in music? The path of an artist is often set when they are 10 or 11 years old and someone realizes that the student has a talent or proclivity for the art form. This sets up a traditional path in the arts, which is binary in nature:

  • Option One: Listen to your teacher and keep improving so you can continue being an artist.
  • Option Two: Don’t meet expectations and do something else.

To be clear, this path towards artistry makes sense. In order to pursue your art as a career path, you have to be shockingly good at your craft and beat out all your competition. However, with so few jobs to go around for the number of graduates pursuing the dream, something needs to change.

Here is my suggestion:


Our students don’t need to change, we do. We must encourage our students to understand that there are many ways to define success upon graduation, regardless of degree choice. Winning a job in an orchestra is a sign of success, but it’s an incredibly narrow path for such a small number of students that it’s no wonder so few people ultimately leave the art form or choose not to study it in the first place.

Twenty-first century life isn’t about narrow and deep, it’s about wide and deep. Our students have to do both. Majoring in music provides an incredible exploration in depth but it must be balanced with a broad understanding of the world, rooted in context, creativity, and empathy.

As academic institutions, we must redefine success. Here are some suggestions for redefining success that would encourage all students to major in music:

  • Celebrate the value of a degree in music — More than ever before there is incredible value in the soft skills that are built as a music major, including empathy, stick-with-it-ness, and grit. These skills should be celebrated and are absolutely applicable to life beyond music and college.
  • Entrepreneurship is not the answer– For institutions that have established or are considering a program in entrepreneurship as a way to help students find success in their field, I would argue that like the pursuit of a job in an orchestra, the pursuit of arts entrepreneurship as a path to success is too narrow. Most students either don’t have the proclivity for entrepreneurship, or they don’t care to pursue the field. Making entrepreneurship the savior for the students at your institution may help a few, but it will ultimately leave the majority behind.
  • Develop an individualized path — We should be inspiring our students to develop an individualized path for success in their career. Institutions of higher learning pride themselves on helping to create independent thinkers, yet we often have a complex, one dimensional approach to delivering information. If we consistently develop an individualized path for our applied students, why can’t we empower our students to pursue a path that will allow them to thrive after graduation?

As educators, our job is to help our students understand the value of a degree in music, regardless of whether or not they intend to have a career in the field. In our current social and economic state, I can’t think of a better degree to prepare students for a thriving career rooted in context, creativity, and empathy within the American workforce.

Do you agree with this idea? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Six ways to tackle your college loans

“The most important investment you can make is in yourself.”

-Warren Buffett

Yesterday, I wrote this post about things to consider when taking out College loans. As Warren Buffett mentions in the quote above, I still believe that taking out a college loan is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. Now that you are out of school and in the midst of your career, here is some quick advice on how to tackle your College loans.

  1. Write off the interest–“You can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid in a given year. As with many tax rules, there is an income limit to this deduction. Your modified adjusted gross income cannot be more than $80,000 (or $160,000 for married couples filing jointly).” (Source: Huffington Post)
  2. Refinance– The national interest rate for federally funded college loans sits at 4.45% as of August, 2017. If you have any loans higher than that, see if you can refinance and lock in the rate now before they go up. If you took out a private loan, which often has interest rates much higher, see if you can consolidate those loans as well into a lower interest rate. Doing so could save you thousands of dollars over the course of a loan.
  3. Tackle loans with the highest interest rates first (credit cards included) — For those of you who have more than one loan, I recommend that you find the loan that has the highest interest rate and pay that note first, then move to the next loan. Alternatively, you could tackle the smallest loans first, because who doesn’t love to see a loan balance hit zero!
  4. Pay $100 extra a month — Speaking of tackling your loans, try to pay $100 extra each month on your loans. ANY extra you can pay now will get you out of debt faster.
  5. Live in a less expensive place — Before you purchase a house or even pay extra rent for a nicer place, consider staying in a less expensive place or get roommates in order to pay off your loans faster. A few years of having less now will pay off in a great way later in life.
  6. Live like a college student — Consider all the finer points of college life and stick with that level of spending for a period until you pay off your loans, or at least put a big dent in them. The same goes if you all of sudden get a raise, or come into more money with a new job/side-hustle. Set your budget and any extra that comes in each month, use the extra money to pay more on your loans.

Here is a free budgeting tool that will help you think about your college loans and credit card debt. Half of the battle is understanding the situation you find yourself in and this tool will help get you moving in the right direction.

Thanks, and please let me know what strategies you have used to pay off your college loans at a faster pace.

(Photo Credit: huppypie)


College Loans and Majoring in the Arts

This morning, I read this CNBC article, which discussed the fact that student loans have gone up over 150% in the last decade. The article states that “The average outstanding college loan balance is now $34,144, up 62 percent over the last 10 years.”

Like most college students, arts majors (music, drama, dance, visual arts) will need to take out college loans in order to pay for their schooling. Generally, institutions of higher education don’t have a sliding scale for tuition based on projected earnings for each college major. Arts majors need need to weigh the value of the education they are receiving with the amount they will need to pay in order to earn their degree.

When I coach artists, a big part of the conversation is about lowering financial risk in order to have more flexibility to pursue the things you love to do. With college becoming more expensive than ever, I encourage you to consider the impact of taking out college loans in order to pursue your art. Here is a breakdown for you to consider as you make the decision to take out college loans:

  1. First, lets look at the average pay for artists working in the field.
    1. A professional artist makes about $51,000 a year on average, while arts educators make about $43,000 a year.
  2. A salary of $51,000 or $43,000 a year is a good amount of money, but it starts to become a challenge if you have 30 years of college loans to pay off.
  3. Let’s do the math.
    1. As of July, 2017,  the average federal loan interest rate sits at 4.45%.  
    2. The average student loan at the end of the 2016 academic year was $37,172.
    3. If you take the normal 30 years (360 payments) to pay off your loans, you would have a monthly payment of $171 a month.
    4. The amount in interest you would pay for that period of time would be just over $28,000.
    5. The TOTAL amount paid (Interest + Principal) during this time would be $62,197.
    6. If you came out of school with the intent to be a software engineer with an average salary of $81,000, the percentage of your annual loan payments against your salary would be about 2.5% of your annual income.
    7. If you came out of school with the intent to be an arts educator, with an average salary of $43,000 a year, the percentage of your annual loan payments against your salary would be about 4.7% of your annual income.

To be clear, there is still great value in taking out loans in order to earn a college degree, as long as you are informed when you make your final decision about where to go. If you would like to do the math yourself, click here to access this free online tool I created to help you think about your college loans.

How are college loans influencing your career decisions? Tomorrow, I’ll list some strategies for those of you who have already taken out college loans.

(Photo Credit: Don Harder)


How I Think about Programmatic Excellence at Colburn

Last week, I wrote this post about ways to tip the scales towards programmatic excellence. Here are five reflections on how I set up programming at Colburn:

  1. Give your program time. I was fortunate to be given a year to identify the needs of the Los Angeles community and see how Colburn was best suited to help. Tip: Start by developing a strategy for your organization. You will move faster when you have an institution-wide vision for your program.  
  2. Connect the dots. When I arrived at Colburn, I noticed that we had a few broad-based programs that provided very nice experiences for students and faculty, but didn’t produce the deep engagement present in our other school divisions. The sequential learning necessary for deep engagement simply wasn’t there. There was a lot of pride in preexisting programming (some programs had be going on for decades). I worked to honor those programs by pairing them with new programming that provided deep engagement for interested students. Tip: There is often pride of and sensitivity about preexisting programming when new initiatives start. Instead of cancelling programming outright, figure out how to honor the programs by fitting them into your pursuit of excellence.
  3. Flexibility is key. Make sure the administration, faculty and staff are willing to look at programming as always evolving in pursuit of excellence. Community Engagement at Colburn became a separate division of the institution when I arrived, allowing me to create programming on my own time and utilize the resources available to me in my own way. Tip: Community based work can be messy, especially when you’re working with elements that are often beyond your control (IE community partners, funding sources). Allow new programming to evolve over the first few years and find leaders who are able to adapt programming as necessary.  
  4. Great teachers produce great results. The faculty at the Colburn school is top-notch. I have been so lucky to be able to engage with a pool of highly talented teachers who are dedicated to artistic excellence as the Colburn Community Engagement programs have come into focus. Tip: Set your strategy for the organization first and then bring faculty on board. Getting your teachers to be in tune with programmatic strategy will allow the programming thrive. 
  5. Identify your pipeline. Like most institutions of higher learning as well as community music schools, Colburn had a ready-made pipeline of excellence. From the start, I could imagine a program that had a path for students in my Community Engagement program that ended in the Community School. Tip: Develop an internal pipeline or a pipeline through partnerships to achieve excellence in your programming. I’m attaching this community engagement tool to help you think about your own program. The first slide is an annotated Colburn Community Engagement pipeline document and the second slide is a blank slide for you to create on your own.

Continue reading “How I Think about Programmatic Excellence at Colburn”


5 Tips for Tipping the Scales Towards Excellence

On the left is a photo of me at age three, on the right, my daughter at the same age. I loved the violin and had supportive parents to guide me. Both artists, they had the cultural affluence to make certain I practiced every day and they expected excellence from the start. Now, 37 years later, my wife and I have the same expectations for our children as they start their lives as artists.

It is through this personal lens that I think about the way many organizations serve high-need students as many programs are set up with an eye towards Continue reading “5 Tips for Tipping the Scales Towards Excellence”


The Portfolio Career

Portfolio Career Defined

A person engaged in a portfolio career doesn’t work for a single company, but rather gathers a “portfolio” of jobs around a common theme or skill set, and balances that portfolio much like an investor manages a bundle of stocks.

—Charles Handy, organizational and management theorist

Charles sums this up nicely, however I might add that a portfolio career is often defined as a project based career.  For the purpose of this post, let’s assume that they can be interchangeable.

The portfolio career has been spoken about for well over a decade. At first, the prevailing thought Continue reading “The Portfolio Career”


5 Steps To Help Solidify Your Career Path

An education rooted in specialization, a career rooted in context.

If you’re like me, your journey through school and even the first few years out of college trained you to think narrowly and deeply about the type of work you’d like to pursue. Most schooling is rooted in specialization, which is fantastic. With that said, in the 21st century, your job is to figure out how knowledge you have gained will fit into the type of job you’d like to pursue. Companies are looking for smart, creative, passionate people to come work for them. Dream big about the typeContinue reading “5 Steps To Help Solidify Your Career Path”


8 Tips for a Successful Arts Based Community Engagement Program

The nation’s top arts organizations are increasingly thinking about how to better serve their community. At Colburn, we are in a unique position. Our mission is to provide music education at the highest level, but we are also a presenting organization, providing countless professional level performances for the greater Los Angeles Community. The Colburn Community Engagement office was formed five years ago to deepen our relationship with the surrounding community and I’d like to share with you eight tips to consider as you develop your own engagement programs.Continue reading “8 Tips for a Successful Arts Based Community Engagement Program”


Thoughts on the National Endowment for the Arts

On January 20th, I wrote this post in response to the inauguration of our 45th President. Now six months in to his presidency, I feel compelled to share thoughts on what we—the electorate—should expect from our politicians. These writings represent my vision for the future rooted in empathy, compassion, and an attempt to close the political canyon between our two parties.  

Vision Statement: Access to high quality arts and arts education is a human right.

The attempt by the Trump administration to cut the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from the FY18 budget came as no surprise to me. This has happened before. Thankfully, the House Appropriations Committee has a different opinion and has largely kept NEA funding in place. For now.Continue reading “Thoughts on the National Endowment for the Arts”


Finding your pot of gold: 5 factors to consider when choosing a place to attend college

Congratulations! You are months away from graduation and well on your way to the dream of starting your collegiate career or graduate work! You have received — or are about to receive — letters of acceptance, and now all you need to do is make that all important decision about where you will attend school in the fall.  Here are 5 factors, followed by advice to consider as you choose a place to attend college:Continue reading “Finding your pot of gold: 5 factors to consider when choosing a place to attend college”



I read about #39 in history books. Though I have distinct memories from the 80’s, #40 came and went in the fog of my preteen years. #41 taught me the power of patriotism, yellow ribbons, and pride in my country.  #42 arrived during my coming of age years and helped me grow my progressive roots. I found my political voice when #43 was in office and it marked the first time I remember bonding over politics with my father.  Both of my children came into this world during #44, thank you for making the world a better place for my children.

40 years of Presidential power.  40 years of life. Every single moment fleeting.Continue reading “#45”


5 Things Artists Can Do, Post-Election


The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their nature and their shapes and their uses survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and societies, even the very civilizations that produced them.  They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality.  They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.

—Katherine Anne Porter

Continue reading “5 Things Artists Can Do, Post-Election”


3 Career Fears To Tackle In 5 Years

Before declaring my major in college I remember losing what felt like weeks of sleep trying to decide if the path to become a music educator was right for me.  Choosing the wrong path or worse, choosing the right path and ultimately not finding success in said path was all consuming.  What I didn’t know then was that the pursuit of a music degree was preparing me incredibly well for work in the 21st century.  Like you, I was passionate, intellectually curious, and incredibly interested in becoming an expert in my discipline; all characteristics for a successful career.  Fear be damned.

My career fear has led to a deep exploration of careers in the arts, an exploration that continues to this day. Most recently, I’ve been podcasting a course out of Stanford called “How to Start a Startup.”  Paul Graham, Co-Founder of Y Combinator, argues that genuine intellectual curiosity in pursuit of domain expertise in the traditional sense will enable you to thrive in the 21st century economy.  For example, if your intellectual curiosity involves becoming a scholar on the compositions for Dulcian by Giovanni Antoli Bertoli, great.  Your job is to know Bertoli deeply first, then be able to contextualize his work in a way that can propel you into a sustainable career.  Paul points out that:

“The optimal thing to do in college if you want to be a successful startup founder [read: successful artist] is not some sort of new vocational version of college, focused on entrepreneurship.  It’s the classic version of college, [which] is education [for] its own sake. If you want to start your own startup [read: arts centric arts career], what you should do in college is learn powerful things.”

In spite of this very open approach to learning, my hunch is that many of you don’t feel that you’re learning the “powerful things” necessary for a sustainable career in the arts.  It’s time to take control.  Paul’s words only work if your pursuit of knowledge is the type of knowledge that empower you to build a career.  Below are three fears to tackle in the next five years.  Consider it a self-directed pursuit of powerful things.

Fear #1: I won’t have a financially stable career.

  • Start a budget, now!  I’ve been using You Need A Budget, and I love it.  Getting your personal finances in order is the single most important thing you can do to be financially stable five years from now.
  • Understand your student loans.  The less debt you have out of college, the more flexibility you have to do the things you love.  If debt is unavoidable, know exactly what you need to do to get out as fast as possible when you graduate.
  • Understand the job market for your chosen career path.  Start reading trade magazines, interview people in the field you wish to pursue, and know about the community in which you’d like to live.

Fear #2: I won’t have a job in my field of interest.

  • Become an expert in something. Your current degree path is attempting to help you achieve domain expertise.  However, the prescribed course of study often only gives you a broad understanding of the discipline. 21st century experts know their field deeply, but it’s less about the facts and more about the context of that expertise combined with your ability to convey your ideas.  If you want to be a true expert in five years, start reading, asking questions, and writing extensively about the discipline you’re passionate about.
  • Start something new, now! The best way to ensure that you will always be able to do something you love is to create a career path based on what you love.  The arts entrepreneurship movement is based on the idea of becoming your own you centric, artistic startup.  A prescribed entrepreneurship curriculum is not as powerful as you putting yourself out there and launching something on your own.  Pick the thing you’re most passionate about, see what innovative things people in the field are doing, and launch something you could see yourself doing five years from now.  If it totally bombs, don’t worry!  Every time you put yourself out there, it’s a learning experience.

Fear #3: I might not achieve my goals.

  • Explore a small step off your path. Think about your “dream job.”  What aspects of that job that are attractive?  Over the next five years, isolate those aspects and see if there are other career paths that enable you to pursue your passions.  Try to have 2-3 potential career paths when you gradate, even if they’re a small step away from what you’re thinking about doing now.
  • Have Grit.  There are many studies being conducted on the notion of grit.  Angela Lee Duckworth has been studying grit for years and has concluded that people with grit often have the “perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals.”  Do you have grit?  Here’s a great article to get you thinking.

I think we all need to stop and take a deep breath when it comes to career fear.  Most of you already have the skill set to be incredibly successful.  My advice to you is to pursue the things you’re passionate about and become an expert.  College happens to be a great place for that exploration because there’s such a diversity of thought.  The trick here—and why I believe entrepreneurship has been embraced so deeply across the country—is to attach your deep learning with the skills to develop a sustainable career in your chosen field.

What things have you done to tackle your career fears?  Share your thoughts below, it would be great to hear from you!  Thanks for reading.


5 Ways College Students Can Jumpstart Their Career In The Arts

I love this post by Ivan Trevino.  He raises questions many of us are asking at institutions of higher learning across the country.  The arts entrepreneurship  movement from the past few years has helped and many schools are working diligently behind the scenes to address the new needs of the 21st century artist, however, change is hard at the institutional level.

While I agree with Ivan whole-heartedly, the curriculum he desires in his post represents a shift in the entire higher-education system.  That is, a shift from the traditional, lecture-based, skill and drill type curriculum to a curriculum rooted in experiential learning, critical thinking and real world skills building.

What if you’re attending a music school that offers a great – but traditional – education?  You have to do more in today’s marketplace. No longer can you simply put in 100% effort into your degree and expect to be successful in your field upon graduation.  (This goes for just about every degree out there, not just music) That said, there has never been a better time to jumpstart your career while still in school.  Here are a few suggestions that you might find helpful as you navigate the college experience:

Know the industry.  Read and be curious about what is trending in the professional music world.  You will be there in less than four years.  College is the optimal time to become an expert in your field, but it’s also a time to figure out how you will contribute to your chosen field after you graduate.  Here are some suggested activities to get you started:

  • Find at least one trade magazine relevant to your chosen career path and read it every month for a year.
  • Find one local person in your chosen field, ask to shadow them, and take them out to coffee to see what their life is all about (don’t ask your professor, that’s too easy).
  • Set up a series of Google alerts (takes 5 min) for the topics you find most interesting.
  • Pick one social media source (I like twitter) and follow all the big thinkers (people and organizations) in the field.  Read your feed for 10-15 min every day. Here’s my feed.

Learn how to teach.  Regardless of where you see your career headed, you will teach in one way, shape, or form.  At the Colburn School, we have invested deeply in this idea.  It’s not just about training to be a teacher in the public schools anymore, it’s about being an artist who can teach.  K-12 education is changing before our eyes to the point that many schools aren’t able to offer arts in the same way we experienced growing up.  A lack of sequential arts learning in the public schools opens a huge learning gap that can be capitalized upon by you.  Invest the time and learn now.  Need help getting started? Read below:

  • Read this! The article should give you ample inspiration to dive into teaching.  
  • Set up a studio.  You’ll learn more about teaching-and about your own life as an artist-faster than just about anything else.  Need a way to build your studio? Approach five local middle schools and offer to start a group of students over the summer.  
  • Set up a week-long, mini-camp for kids.  Upon completion of the camp, offer weekly lessons (30 min) to each of the kids and their families.  I grew my bassoon studio from 3-17 in one year using the above method.  
  • Shadow your teacher. You can learn SO much from your studio teacher, especially when it’s not you shs diagnosing.  Sit in, listen, and take a ton of notes.  

Know your competition.  In the arts, your competition is usually pretty easy to suss out.  I’m not talking about competition on a personal level, I’m talking about how do you stack up against the competition nationally.  Generally speaking, you gauge yourself against others in your studio based on placement, and the type of feedback you receive from your teachers.  Regardless of your chosen place of study, you gauge yourself against others nationally by applying for competitions, summer festivals, and fellowships.  If you’re going to be competitive in your chosen career path, not only must you be at the very top of your studio and school, but you’ve got to be getting into national competitions, festivals, and receiving fellowships for further study.

  • Work with your studio teacher to identify 2-3 summer festivals and competitions and apply.  
  • Attend the international conference for your specific instrument.  Not only are they a lot of fun, they’re also a way to meet other great performers and teachers.
  • Be real, have an open mind, and listen to the feedback you receive.  Objective feedback from your studio teacher, summer festivals, competitions will give you a very real picture of how you stack up against competition.  If you aren’t getting into the competitions, festivals, or even rising up to the top of the studio, it’s ok.  Just keep the big picture in mind and make sure you’re focusing on the best next steps for you.  Try the 50 cups of coffee method to give you clarity.  

Be passionate.  I can’t stress this enough.  Love what you do.  It is so important, not just in your ability to be successful personally, but also in your professional career.  21st century employers are looking for people with passion.  Finally—this is important—take the time to identify what you’re passionate about.  So often I find people who say they’re passionate about one thing—for example, music—only to find that they’re really passionate about something else—for example, interacting with people.  Not a problem, just helps to define the direction you’ll go. Take a bit of time and explore the following two career development tools:

  • At Colburn, my colleague Laura Liepins and I use this values test to help our students identify what matters most to them.  Take 30 minutes to figure out what matters most to you.  You might be surprised.  
  • After you complete the values test, answer the following three questions:  What are you passionate about? (Your art form….and what else?) What can you do better than anyone else? (Your art….and what else?)  Can you name a time when questions one and two smashed together?  NOTE: The goal with this assignment is to explore ALL things you’re interested in pursuing.  A true self-study may surprise you!  This exercise comes from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.”  Here’s a little blog post that may help.

YOU control your future. Most importantly, you are in control of your destiny.  Never before have there been so many opportunities for recent college grads.  Pick a path and go for it.  Take some time and identify your goals:

  • Develop a list of things you could see yourself doing upon graduation and explore them deeply.  No longer should you wait for someone to tell you which direction you should go.

Institutions of higher learning are working to create the “dream school” Ivan speaks about and most of us are on the same page when it comes to the development of creating experiences that mirror the life of a 21st century musician.  This won’t happen over night.  While we’re working on a solution, take control of your own career and let me know how your exploration goes!

Check out my latest post here. 

Career Strategy: When does your art become a hobby?

The movie Moneyball is solidly on my list of top ten baseball movies of all time (behind Field of Dreams, and The Natural, of course) One of my favorite quotes in the movie comes when a baseball scout talks to Billy Beane about the moment a baseball player is told to hang up their uniform. Here’s the clip from the movie, followed by the quote:

Scout: “We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t…we don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.”Continue reading “Career Strategy: When does your art become a hobby?”

Ten Steps to a Personal Strategy Statement

Yesterday, I wrote about the steps I was compelled to take in my career to develop a better work/life balance for myself. The post contained big picture thoughts on how to make change in your life and career. Today’s post provides 10 steps to help you develop your own personal strategy statement:

  1. Sit with a friend and come up with a list of the top 10 aspects of your career and life that are most important to you. For example, my family is really important to me, as is my work empowering individuals to find success so both would be on my top 10. It’s really important to have another person do this with you as they will often hear different values than you think you’re conveying. Goal: Ten career and life goals. No more, no less.
  2. Identify 5 individuals that are 5 years ahead of you who you admire in your professional field. Document their careers based on your ten goals. Goal: To compare and contrast things that are of value to you. 
  3. Take your ten career and life values and assign each of them a number between 0-10, depending on their importance. You may not assign a number more than 10 to any value and you only have 50 points to assign in total. Goal: To make important decisions about the next steps in your career, knowing that you can’t do everything. 
  4. Determine if your strategy will be intrinsic or extrinsic. Look at your top goals and see if they are more intrinsic (IE personal growth) or extrinsic (IE more performances).
  5. Set a date in the future in which you would like to accomplish these new goals. I like three years in the future for a strategic plan.
  6. Identify your objective which is a defined element of success that can be bench marked, singular and precise. A singular goal. Looking at your established values, which top value will enable you to make the most strides in your strategy over the next several years?
  7. Next determine your scope for the work. My guess is that your scope will fall into one of the following three areas:
    1.  How will you improve upon on a personal level? (IE work/life balance)
    2. How will you improve upon on a career path level? (IE getting better gigs)
    3. How will you improve on a financial level? (IE higher paying gigs)
  8. The final step to setting a personal strategy statement is to determine the individualized path you will take to address your scope and objective. This should be unique and personal to you. 
  9. Combine your the elements of steps 6, 7, and 8 to come up with your personal strategy statement. Here’s a hypothetical statement structure for a person who wants to find more work life balance:
    1. Objective: To find 10 extra hours a week for my family within three years. (notice that this is a singular objective and time bound)
    2. Scope: An intrinsic approach that will help me have a better work/life balance.
    3. Individualized Path: Setting a strict weekly calendar and saying no to the bottom 20% of gigs that pay the least.
  10. Compose your strategy statement. For example:  By 2021 Nate Zeisler will work a maximum of 30 hours a week so he can spend more time with his family by setting a strict weekly calendar and saying no to the bottom 20% of gigs that pay the least and focusing on an intrinsic approach to his career that will help him have a better work/life balance.

Did you find this helpful? Please share your personal strategy statement with us in the comment section below.


Photo Credit: Stephan Erchwender

Career Strategy for Artists

In 2010, I had the dream.  My wife and I owned a house and had recently welcomed our first child into the world. In addition, my work life was great. I had a tenure track position teaching bassoon at Bowling Green State University where I worked with a full studio of lovely students, I was performing regularly in two regional orchestras and my work as an instructor within the entrepreneurship program at the institution allowed me to create new career pathways for students from across the campus.

Everything was perfect.

Except it wasn’t.

I was completely burnt out, tired from being stretched too thin, and not bringing my best to my work or my art. I knew I needed a change but was honestly lost because it was difficult for me to imagine leaving a career that so many people in my field were striving to achieve.

My work/life balance was way out of sync, which meant that I wasn’t able to be present for my family, nor was I able to bring my best at work.  Something needed to change so I worked to transition into a new position at Colburn where I continue to work.

If this resonates with you, here are some suggestions that may help you as you work to transition into something new.

  1. MOST IMPORTANT: You are the only person who can dictate the path you will take–One of the things that made my decision to change jobs so difficult is that I was comparing my career to others in the field and using their successes to determine my path. Tip: ONLY YOU can determine your path. If you are not happy in your current position, search for the answer internally. 
  2. Establish what is driving your desire for a change—As I mentioned above, the intensity of a tenure track position, combined with my creative work made it impossible for me to find the right work/life balance. I remember performing in a chamber music concert that was scheduled six months prior the performance and feeling miserable because the performance happened to take place two days after I ran a major conference. Most people probably didn’t notice that my level of artistry wasn’t at its best, but I did. Right then and there, I knew that I needed to make a change. Tip: Work/Life Balance, the necessity to make more money, and the need to have more artistically satisfying work are the top three reasons individuals come to me seeking advice for their career. Prioritize which of these three areas are driving you to make a change and focus your attention on what steps you will take carve out a new path.
  3. Know your desired work load mix—At the time, my goal was to have an even 50/50 split between my work as an artist and my work as an arts administrator. In some ways, that worked but my family suffered deeply because I was working all hours of the night to keep up. Tip: Consider 100% of your time in a week and divide your current work/life load up across the areas below. When you finish, do the same exercise but divide up you load according to what you would like your time to look like. Here are the cagegories: 
    1. Artistic Work
    2. Teaching
    3. Work beyond your direct art (IE, desk job, running a festival, designing a product, etc.)
    4. Life (IE, family, friends, hobbies, time for you)
  4. Know your desired income level—How much would you like to be making at the other end of the process? Tip: Come up with a number and write it down so you have a goal to shoot for. 

How does this resonate with you and what challenges have you faced when making a major change in your career? Let me know in the comment section below.


(Photo Credit: GotCredit.com)

Thoughts on how to serve your community.

As I mentioned in my previous post, serving your community can be some of the most rewarding work we can do as artists. Here are some thoughts about ways you can roll up your sleeves and serve your community.

What to do……..

  • If you want to serve but don’t have the time — This is the biggest reason people don’t serve a cause they care about. Here are three quick suggestions to help you carve out time to get involved:
    1. Incorporate work that you’re already doing into an initiative. For example, if you perform in a chamber music series, consider donating all proceeds for a specific performance to a local charity.
    2. Block off time in your calendar to serve — Instead of thinking about your service as an ongoing thing, commit to two weeks a year of intensive work for an organization, let them know your intent to serve, and show up. The trick is to schedule it ahead of time and keep the time sacred.
    3. Consider other types of service to an organization — The clearest substitution to giving of your time is giving of your money. Donating to an organization can create a huge impact on the cause because, in doing so, you raise awareness about the organization. A donation at ANY level helps and is money most causes/non-profits don’t expect. Don’t be shy about giving.
  • If you want to launch a service based program in your community — For those of you seeking to launch your own service based program/organization for a cause in your community, thank you! You are about to, and in may cases already are, providing an incredible service to your community. Three bits of advice:
    1. Start Small — Whatever cause you endeavor to serve, make certain you start small. Many service organizations start out of one person’s passion to make the world a better place. That same person often ends up doing the work of 3-5 people in the early years. If you over stretch yourself by developing programs that are too big for you to run, you will burn out and not be able to achieve the change that drove you to do the work in the first place.
    2. Be Flexible — Because you are engaging with a community that is likely not your own, your original idea to help will likely need to change over the first months and years of your program. If you are open to that change, you’ll have a much bigger shot at success in the long run.
    3. Look for partners — One of the biggest things I see overlooked when someone launches a new initiative is that they fail to identify partners that are doing similar work.  Don’t feel like you need to do this work on your own and take the time to see if you can possibly connect with another service provider before you launch your own initiative. When answering the call to serve, it’s about the cause, not about the individual.

I hope these suggestions help and please share your thoughts about how to launch a successful arts service organization below.


Using Your Art To Answer The Call To Serve Your Community

As artists, we often feel a calling to serve the community in which we live. Showing up to serve can be, and is some of, the most fulfilling and rewarding work we can do. This can be incredibly difficult as we balance family/friends, work, and the constant pursuit of perfection in our art.

For the past fifteen years, I have been passionately working with individuals and organizations to help them identify a strategy to serve their community. Here are three rules of engagement to help you as you consider how to serve your community:

  1. Show Up — In order to serve, you have to be willing to physically and mentally show up in a place and commit to serving a cause that is way bigger than you. There are a multitude of areas in which to get involved, your job is to pick one (only one) cause and dive in. Tip: Before you commit to helping an organization or a cause, take several months to explore the different service organizations that inspire you. There are likely local, regional, national and international organizations that serve each cause so you want to figure out what feels right. It’s also important to note that many organizations do similar work within each service sector so once you figure out the specific cause in which you’d like to engage (serving individuals experiencing homelessness, serving our veterans, etc) take a second step and identify five organizations doing similar work and get to know them as well. You may be surprised in the subtle differences each organization has to offer. 
  2. Listen — During the exploratory phase of your work, you have one job. Listen. Listen to the various service providers who passionately lead their organizations, listen to those individuals being served by the organization, and read up/research the organizations. Tip: This is not about you, this is about how you fit on a personal/philosophical level with a specific cause. 
  3. Stay — The most important thing to remember when it comes to serving a community/cause is that when you make a commitment, you keep it. Organizations often suffer from Volunteer Fatigue. Put simply, they are reticent to having volunteers because they come and go so quickly, which makes it difficult for organizations to rely on individuals wishing to give their time. Tip: When you make the decision to serve, make an additional commitment in writing of how much you intend to serve. I like to say something like “I’d like to serve this cause for three hours a week for the next three months and reevaluate the relationship.” Giving a specific timeline and commitment amount allows you and the service provider to think about how to engage in the work. 

What are you doing in your community today that might help my audience think about ways to engage with their own community? Let me know in the comment section below. Tomorrow I’ll discuss ways you can engage when you are limited by time.


%d bloggers like this: