Episode 1: Julia Lougheed
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For the complete interview, you can access here.
Kristine Dizon: Hello, my name is Kristine Dizon, and I'm the CEO and founder of The Modern Artist Project.
Today I'm here with Dr. Julia Lougheed, the newly appointed Executive Director of the New Works Project. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to making new music more accessible to wider audiences. In addition to her role at the New Works Project, Julia is also an adjunct professor of clarinet at Scottsdale Community College and Paradise Valley Community College. She also serves as the Event Coordinator for the Fine and Performing Arts department at Phoenix College and is the production manager for the All My Ears New Music Festival. Thank you, Julia, for joining us today.
JL: Thank you for having me, Kristine. I'm excited to be here.
KD: I'm glad you could join us. I know you have a lot of different jobs, but can you tell us more about your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
JL: Sure. I like to think of my career as having three facets — performing, teaching, and administration. As a performer, I'm a clarinetist and I often play music by living composers. I'm also an educator, teaching college students at Paradise Valley Community College, Scottsdale Community College, and in my small private studio. In addition to my teaching roles, I'm also an administrator, working as the event coordinator for the Fine and Performing Arts department at Phoenix College, and as the production manager for the All My Ears New Music Festival. I'm also involved with Rosie's House, a nonprofit music academy for children that provides music classes and serves as a community center. It's a really beautiful organization.
I wear many hats in my career. I am the executive director for the New Works Project and the event coordinator for the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Phoenix College. This means that I manage theater shows, run concerts, and coordinate events in the Eric Fischl gallery on campus.
As a performer, educator, and administrator, I love the variety in my work. When I was a teenager, I realized that I could communicate my feelings through music and people would understand me better than if I just talked to them. This realization gave me a sense of power and value on stage, especially when I was young and didn't fully understand my own feelings.
Once I started studying clarinet performance and pursuing a career as a clarinetist, I realized that I also had other skills that made me a great teacher and administrator, such as organization and problem-solving. It is just as rewarding for me to set up an event and make it possible for someone else to communicate through their art as it is for me to get on stage, play something, and have people say it's amazing. I also find it rewarding to help my students communicate something through music that they couldn't before studying with me. In short, I wear many hats in my artistic career, but I am nourished by all of them.
KD: No, that's what's really great. And it's really inspiring to hear how music allowed you to be able to have that medium of communication. Especially during a time where, as we're all growing up, we're all trying to decipher our emotions, and being able to have a way of expressing them through an instrument, I think really, really is great.
And what's really interesting too is the fact that you have so many different types — Julia the administrator, Julia the clarinet teacher, Julia the performer. How do you balance it all and what is the journey that led you to that?
JL: I don't believe in balance for someone like me who is a Type A person. Instead of trying to balance everything, I focus on getting important tasks done first and then I let everything else fall into place. When I don't have work to do, I make sure to enjoy my free time and protect it. It's not a balance, it's more of a work hard and play hard mentality. Some weeks are intense with work, but others are more relaxed.
I've chosen to wear many different hats in my career because I love being creative and playing the clarinet, but I also want a comfortable lifestyle with good health insurance and the ability to travel and enjoy sushi and hipster bars. My skills as an educator and administrator have allowed me to have a predictable income and plan for my future projects. This also helps me not burn out because I am able to shift my focus to different tasks and responsibilities as I go. Balance is different for everyone, but this is how I handle it.
KD: I think this is great because a lot of the time when we're in conservatories or universities, the focus is on getting good grades and studying music theory and history. However, it's also important to be really good at your instrument.
Julia, it seems that throughout your journey, you were able to find things and have realizations about yourself, your background, and how to create a career that was meaningful for you. What advice would you give to our listeners regarding pursuing different careers in the arts?
JL: Yeah, I think that's the thing we need to be giving more advice about. I feel like my mentors — who I have nothing bad to say about and am incredibly thankful for — but for them, I feel like the underlying message was always kind of stated like, "Okay, you're a clarinetist, you went to graduate school, you're going to teach, you're going to perform, it's going to be great." And I kind of started looking around and I was like, "Okay, but I have all these other skills of organization, event planning, communicating, and speaking to people about things I care about a lot.”
This is something I do a lot, for example, for New Works Project. We manage consortiums for underrepresented composers. It's one of my biggest passions and my career is getting music by underrepresented composers played more often. So speaking about that comes naturally to me, but I started looking around and going, "I got all these other skills while I was getting really good as a clarinetist and teacher, I could be using these other skills to do something that helps me put food on the table, plan artistic projects and also flex a brain muscle that needs to be flexed.” I mean, everyone who's close to me kind of jokes that I'm like a husky: if I don't have enough to I’ll do run around the house and eat the couch.
So my advice for someone who's going through a conservatory and is in it right now, look around and notice the skills you've picked up from studying to be a performer or studying to be a teacher and look at ways you can use them to help your music community or help make music happen in another way.
I got my start as an administrator because I like playing music by living composers, which meant that the first world premiere I ever did was the concert that I produced myself with help from a composer in Florida. So I got those skills of event production and planning and administration for that because I had to, because it was important for me to get the piece played. All of those skills I gained from that experience. You have to find the words to describe them, but they can go on your resume, and they are valued by arts organizations because they’re skills that not everybody has. Being able to comment on administration from the perspective of an artist, and being able to ‘speak artist’ is a skill that you can't put into words, and you can't quantify, but it's so helpful.
So, my role in New Works Project is of executive director. Essentially, I'm a facilitator for commissioning projects. I am also actively pursuing my own commissioning projects as a performer who knows composers because I know that side of it and what it's like to be the performer in that relationship. And because I've been talking to, hanging out with, and working with composers for a significant part of my adult life, I'm well-poised in that role to be able to communicate with others about it and I'm well-poised in the role to know what needs to get done for help. And I feel like both composers and performers trust me a little more because that's what that's my background and that's what I bring to it.
And likewise, in my job at Phoenix College as an event coordinator, I just got done house managing a show this weekend, we did a production of A Doll's House, Part 2. Now, I'm not an actress and I've never been, but I am a performer and I'm someone that gets all the nerves and all the emotions and all the creative chaos that happens before someone goes on stage. So while I'm house managing and putting out fires involved with opening a show, I'm also someone that the actors and the artistic team can talk to — and if people like you, it's easier for you to work with them. If people feel understood by you, it's easier for them to like you.
So my advice is to look around at the other skills you have, and remember that being able to speak the language of artists and really understand what it's like to have that creative chaos going on is so important and valuable to so many arts organizations, both inside and outside of conservatories. I wish someone had told me this when I was younger, to look outside of the conservatory and see areas where I could apply my skills. Once I started doing that, my career really started to take off.
KD: No, this is excellent advice in regard to sharing your own experiences. A lot of the time, especially early on in training, we're told that we must be really great at our instrument and that is our goal. However, you can be an excellent musician and still be well-rounded and develop skills that are useful in other areas, like curating. The thing is, in order to make art, we have to have money, and being able to have the skills to manage and fundraise for projects is crucial.
JL: It's a drag, but it's so true. As an artist, you need three resources: time, energy, and money. No one wants to talk about the third one, but it's such a big factor.
KD: Yeah, it's a really big factor. Especially when you're talking about commissioning works and trying to inspire growth with composers today — I think that's something that's really important and really valuable. A lot of time people feel like if they don't get that dream career, if they're not touring around the world as a soloist or what have you, then they view that as a failure.
And that's sometimes a tough part of being an artist today. It's not so much about being good, it's also about being someone that you could work with.
JL: Yeah, I tell my students all the time, “you don't play well enough to be a jerk.” And then I'll follow up with, “I don't play well enough to be a jerk either.”
The only person I can think of who in my opinion plays well enough to be a jerk is Joshua Bell, a virtuosic violinist. And guess what? I've met him, he's not a jerk. It's an underrated skill, being nice. It's not even a skill. It's an underrated quality in people.
KD: It sounds like you not only have those backgrounds but were able to develop interpersonal skills, learning how to “talk artist”. So for our listeners, can you clarify what that means and also how useful it was for you in regard to your own journey?
JL: Sure. So, when I say that I ‘speak artist’ or I ‘talk artist’ or I understand artists, I really think that artists of any sort — visual artists, actors, dancers, musicians, filmmakers — we see the world differently. I have people close to me who are not artists, friends from when I was a sophomore in college — I lived with two engineering majors. I'm around these people who are very much more ‘science’, ‘data’. And I'll go on a walk, and I'll come back, and I'll be like “I saw flowers and I got inspired and I have to take down this voice memo right now because I got this idea for a piece and I know my friend would do a really good job with this collaboration and I have to write this down right now, I'm gonna forget.” And people close to me who are not artists will go on a walk and enjoy the weather and come back and go on to their next activity.
I think artists, I'll say creative people in general, we just experience life a little bit differently in that way and I know that. Still, having been in work and school environments surrounded by people who are not artists for some years of my life, it feels like you're an outsider when you're seated at a table where no one else understands what it's like to go on a walk and see a pretty flower and think of a piece that reminds you of your friend. There are people that don't understand that.
So, this ‘speaking artist’ is not a real tangible quality, but it's this ability to understand that someone takes inspiration from the rest of their life. It's this ability to understand that when my boss in the theater department screams my name down the hallway during tech week, she's not mad at me, she's just stressed because she's the director of a show that opens on Thursday. It's the ability to understand that when a composer collaborating with me sends a draft late, but it's also two pages longer than it needs to be and asks me for recording the next day, he just got ideas a little bit later.
It's understanding that timelines shift because people's lives are involved with the creative process and it's understanding that, while a lot of artists are inherently disorganized, it's kind of an organized chaos. I feel like most artists I work with are organized about their projects, and then the rest of the world or living in the real world is second to that while that's going on.
So ‘speaking artist’ is understanding that we have this divide here and know the right way to remind somebody that they have to live in the real world and also get their paperwork done in X, Y, Z. This needs to happen in order for that to happen. That's what I mean by ‘speaking artist’.
My studio engineer Clark Rigsby actually studied composition and it's a big reason I really like working with him. I don't understand anything about recording. I understand very little about music technology, I'm trying to learn, I really am. I would like to be able to work sound that shows I produce because it's getting harder and harder for me to find sound people, but it's not my area of expertise at all. But Clark has worked with enough classical musicians to know that even though we may not use technical terms, we have a clear idea, and he can understand and translate that. That's what I mean by ‘speaking artist’ now.
KD: I hear you, you're preaching to the choir, Julia.
JL: I know, because you are also an artist who's very organized. So you understand.
KD: It's, I mean it depends on, you know, your definition of organized. What we say actually at TMAP is that I'm a work in progress. I still have an email problem, but we're working past it step by step, right? It's always a process.
JL: I love that, I might steal that.
KD: What I really love about the things that you're sharing with us right now is how important that awareness of music technology is. We live in a digital age. I mean things are so different now than they were 10 years ago. I don't know if you found that for yourself too.
JL: Absolutely, and I feel like coming from conservatory programs in my schooling, I got really good at playing my skills, I got really good at performing solo pieces on stage and taking auditions — and that's great, and those skills are valuable, I am not undervaluing any of those skills, any of my training or any of the time I've put into being able to do that — but it's also not the complete picture. Just because you can play well, it doesn't mean you can make an album if you don't have recording skills or know somebody who has recording skills, right? If you don't have the means to do that, it can't happen.
I think it's both humbling and amazing to look at how many different moving parts go into any artistic project. I keep bringing up my album, I know you recently completed one as well and I'm in the finishing stages of mine, so that's a project that you can understand. There are so many more moving parts to it, right? There's the playing, yes, that needs to be great. The recording needs to be great, the packaging needs to be great. The marketing needs to be great. Oh, and hey, there's this legal component that nobody tells you about…
KD: No one said anything!
JL: No one tells you any of that!
KD: Again, Julia, preaching to the choir.
JL: For your album Kristine — I really think you're a superwoman — but there's no way you did all of that yourself, right? You found people to help you and to work with you in those areas. That's what's beautiful about art, to me. About any art project. We credit the artist, and if you go to a museum and you see a painting, there's one person's name below it on the placard, but that one person isn't the only reason that painting is up in the museum. It's been a whole galaxy of people helping that person and working with them.
One of my mentors always reminded me to check in on the ‘why’ of my art and I'm really grateful he would ask those questions. My ‘why’ is always that I think art brings truth to light in humanity and I think it brings people together, both through the discussion of it, the experience of it, and the process of creating it. So, that's what's amazing to me.
KD: And that's the thing, it’s important to consider how much the world has changed. Sometimes, with TMAP, our job is to make sure we keep up with how the world is changing. It's not just through different technologies, different platforms, social media marketing, and things like that, but also through a change in the culture, and how a result of that change affects our art. That's one of the things we do at TMAP, making sure we're aware of those things, and being able to find the ‘why’. I feel like we could do more of that, and encourage people more, because I feel like that ‘why’ provides a focus in regard to why artists create.
JL: And a really amazing part of TMAP's purpose is that you guys help tell people about art that's going on. That's part of the modern artist project — I'm going to call it promotion, but it's more than that — it's just telling people what somebody is doing, finding a way to get that word out there, and packaging it in a way that's really clear, and really communicates that 'why' in a way that can be seen and understood by potential audiences.
And I mean, here's the thing, I found this hit me really hard pre-vaccine days, in the early days of Covid. I love performing, and when the audience got taken away, music wasn't fun for me anymore. If a clarinetist plays the C above the staff perfectly in tune, but nobody hears it, did it matter? I don't know. So, with TMAP’s projects, you guys are great at reaching audience members, creating that audience, and making sure that C above the staff that's perfectly in tune is heard, or that amazing album gets seen and distributed and purchased by everybody. We need more of that honestly, and we need people running marketing, packaging, and communicating campaigns who ‘speak artist’, right? TMAP is a different organization than one that’s marketing something for the fashion industry or some organization that's marketing something for software. It's a different audience and it's a different language.
KD: Thank you! I mean, that's essentially what we do at TMAP, while also bringing awareness about this idea of the digital age that we live in. So, for example, you mentioned earlier that you have a lot of students and you work with a lot of different people. And what I really love is that you don’t just work with the students in the universities and the colleges that you teach in, but you’re also able to contribute to the community in a meaningful way. And I think that's something that really says a lot and it resonates with me, at least, because I feel like if we want to be able to continue art, we also have to be giving back to our communities.
JL: And the thing is, when you invest in your community, your community invests back in you. For example, I work with Rosie's House, a community center that provides music classes for kids. I teach kids who see music as their reason for getting out of bed on a Saturday morning. Sometimes, those kids are my biggest cheerleaders and they're my students. The work I do at Phoenix College — I'm a staff member there, not faculty — and while I do stuff for the music department, I'm also kept quite busy with the theater department and the art gallery. The ceramics teacher who runs the art gallery wants to come to my next show, and my boss in the theater department is always asking me when I'm playing, she wants to come out and see it. She wants to tell her friends about it.
When you invest in a community and use your skills to help people or bring art to people who wouldn't have it otherwise, it doesn't go unnoticed, and people remember you. I live pretty far away from where I grew up, and having something like a family in the artistic scene in my area has been really powerful and life-changing. That doesn't happen if you don't invest in a community, you have to put down roots a little bit and put art in spaces where it wasn't there. I've never invested in a community associated with my art — either an immediate or digital one, that I got to through different connections — and not gotten something back from it. It's a scratch each other's back situation, everyone feels great.
KD: This is really great, and I think that's why I really love working with you, Julia. That level of awareness, that level of compassion and empathy, of being able to reach out to people that otherwise would not have been reached. I feel like that's what we should be doing as artists because a lot of times we get trapped in our own bubble in regard to "I must do this, do this, do this." And then there are some days when we can't do it, when something has to change. And I think, with what you've mentioned, this is really valuable.
JL: Yeah, I found one gray hair a couple of weeks ago and freaked out about it, but the community that I've invested in came forth and said "no, you're still young, you're fine."
KD: But when we talk about other young people, young professionals that come after us that want that job, that career, being able to do art without limitations. Because a lot of the time, when we have limitations, it's usually financial, or there are difficulties with attaining spaces, being able to know people, and things like that. What would you suggest to those people pursuing that career?
JL: To make art, you need time, energy, and money. If you're struggling to complete a project or find inspiration for your next one, it's important to address those three things and do some rebalancing in your life.
For example, if money is an issue, try to find a grant or take on some temporary gig work. If you're struggling with energy, consider finding and replacing whatever is draining in your life with something that can meet your needs for time and money, but also free up some more energy for you. Time management is also key when it comes to making art. How you spend your free time can make a big difference.
Another piece of advice is to be more open-minded. If your narrow version of success isn't working out, take that narrow version and open it up a little bit. As artists, we are creative people, so we can find creative solutions. By widening your perspective and looking around, you can get the fulfillment that you need, that’s what you want, and that makes you happy without it necessarily being that exact career goal that you had when you were 18.
To summarize, make sure you have time, energy, and money to devote to your projects. If your narrow version of success isn't working out, open it up a little bit, and don't be afraid to look around. And finally, enjoy the journey. It can be frustrating at times, but remember why you got into it in the first place. Life is short, so find ways to enjoy the journey.
KD: Oh, this is, this is really great. You hit on a lot of points that are very useful and helpful. I need to remind myself that I may not be happy all the time, or I might encounter different frustrations, and I need to stop and really think, “am I doing this in a way that is productive for me?” And I think this does create that balance, that you’re speaking of.
JL: Yeah, yeah.
KD: I know New Works Project has some exciting events coming up. Would you like to talk a little bit about that?
JL: Sure! We have a few upcoming events that I am really excited about. One of them is a concert series that we're putting on in collaboration with a local theater company. It's going to be a mix of live music and live theater, and I think it's going to be a really unique and engaging experience for audiences. We're also working on a community mural project that will be on display in a public park. It's a way for us to bring art to a wider audience and to involve the community.
For those who are not familiar with the New Works Project, we exist as consortium managers. We seek out and solicit composers for both clarinet and percussion instruments who are underrepresented in some way. This means not cis-gendered white men over 40 with doctorate degrees. A lot of people fall under that underrepresented umbrella when we define it that way.
Currently, we have two series going on: our main work series and many other work series. For our core series, we have two commissions open right now. You can go to our website and get involved by signing up for these commissions today. We have 11 core commissions for clarinet open right now. One of them is a new solo piece by Brittany Green. Brittany's music is described as cinematic in the best sense and works to facilitate intimate musical spaces that ignite visceral responses. The intersections between sound, video, movement, and text are the focal point of these music spaces.
On the percussion side of things, we have Emma Holler writing for us. Her piece will also be finished on January 15th. Emma is an Irish composer who freely intertwines acoustic and electronic music and is currently writing for a percussion duo.
New Works Project is dedicated to eliminating or at least minimizing financial barriers involved with new music. All of our clarinet commissions can be played effectively on any clarinet that you have access to and all of our percussion works are written specifically for either found object percussion or percussion instruments that one can expect someone to own.
So, it's meant to be accessible in that way. There are different tiers you can join, but honestly, if you just throw $20 at this consortium project and play the piece once, you can have a brand new piece of music, be part of a performance that's possibly a regional performance in your area and under a period of exclusivity.
These are all words that sound great and exciting and these pieces would usually be about $3,000 to $5,000. So, what's cool about New Works Project? Because we work with a consortium model, a bunch of folks are throwing in $20 that these Projects, and we pay our composers what their work is worth. And because so many people have paid into it and are performing these pieces, we get so many more performances than would likely be possible from one person commissioning these composers.
So, it's something really exciting. Again, both of those commissions in the core series will be completed by January 15th. So, if you're sitting around planning out a rep for the spring or planning out a rep for this summer, please think about New Works Project and keep us in mind. Again, that website is newworksproject.org and you can join our consortiums under the 'Get Involved' tab.
KD: Wow, thank you so much Julia for joining us today and sharing your experiences and thoughts. We look forward to seeing the amazing things you continue to do for our community.
JL: Thank you so much for having me, Kristine. It's really an honor to be here chatting with you.
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