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Entrepreneurship with an Edge

Since its inception in 2007, Ensemble ACJW has been a pioneer in the quest to broaden the definition of what a musician’s career can be in the 21st century. Designed around the pillars of artistry, education, advocacy, and entrepreneurship, the two-year fellowship supports a small collective of young professional musicians as they build careers as performers and teachers who use their talents and music to fully engage with and impact the communities in which they live and work.

Though participation in Ensemble ACJW has always afforded performances with innovative programming in high-profile venues (including Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School), as well as teaching artist residencies in partnership with New York City public schools, the entrepreneurship piece has evolved significantly. Fellows have benefited from rigorous and ongoing professional development in a wide range of areas, including teaching, audience engagement, and career development. Growing out of these professional development sessions is ACJW’s newly introduced Entrepreneurship Project, a formalized venture spanning the course of the fellowship that encourages fellows to connect their music making with their individual passions and post-ACJW career goals in a very real-life way.

The purpose of the Entrepreneurship Project, as described by Ensemble ACJW Director Amy Rhodes, is to “give fellows the tools, experiences and skills they will need to be able to shape and define their own career paths. Entrepreneurship is imperative in that context. We structure this part of the program in a way that is both aspirational and practical.”

Fellows spend the first year of the project hearing from several panels of inspiring musicians who have carved unique career paths, such as Jason Treuting of So Percussion, Paola Prestini of National Sawdust and VisionIntoArt, Camille Zamora of Sing for Hope, and Christopher Marianetti of Found Sound Nation. By the end of the year, the fellows each identify an entrepreneurship project to develop during their remaining time in Ensemble ACJW.

“We hope our fellows will bring these projects to fruition nationally and internationally, making a long-lasting impact on the field of music.”

The second year is devoted to the nuts and bolts of practical execution: Fellows learn about budgeting, fundraising, public relations, and marketing during professional development sessions with experts in each field, and also are paired with personal mentors who help refine their projects. At the culmination of the second year, fellows present a formal pitch to a panel (composed of staff from Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School), during which they introduce their projects, detail implementation, answer questions, and receive feedback—similar to a musically oriented Shark Tank.

After their ACJW fellowship is over, the fellows are encouraged to share, pursue, and implement their projects using the knowledge, resources, and connections attained over the course of the two years. Rhodes adds, “We hope our fellows will bring these projects to fruition nationally and internationally, making a long-lasting impact on the field of music. We know that the skills they develop in building these projects will continue to be useful as they move forward in their careers.”

Alexandria Le (ACJW)
Alexandria Le

Alexandria Le, a 2014 alumna of Ensemble ACJW, is a recent example of this goal realized. Her entrepreneurship project, the Las Vegas Wine and Music Festival, began as a seedling in her early 20s, but came to life during her time in the fellowship. “I began mulling over ideas on what kind of musical project would be culturally impactful for my hometown of Las Vegas,” she explains. “Intuitively, I knew the project would need to capture the city’s uniqueness for its success and viability. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City to join ACJW that the idea came to me: How about pairing wine with music? The idea was so attractive—it’s a fun and creative way of bringing culture that matches the city’s brand.”

Le says that the Entrepreneurship Project provided her with the step-by-step knowledge needed to put together a realistic business plan to present to funders and partners, as “it shed light on the inner workings of running a successful project and allowed us to hear from top experts from each field.” She continues: “The program approached it very systematically, and throughout the year we were given overviews of what to consider about starting and maintaining our project. In the end, when it came time to present our project in front of a panel in the boardroom of Carnegie Hall, it felt real to me. How often do we casually set goals or think of a great idea, but never follow through? It led to personal accountability.”

More broadly, Le’s experience as an Ensemble ACJW fellow has directly impacted her long-term goals of serving her community through music. “I am just so amazed at the level of work ACJW and [Carnegie Hall’s] Weill Music Institute does as a whole for the community,” she says. “Being sent into schools, correctional facilities, and rehabilitation centers made me think about how important this type of outreach is and absolutely inspired me to bring that sort of work out to Las Vegas.” The festival is taking a break for one season as Le expands her project into an umbrella non-profit organization called Notes with a Purpose, which includes her festival and piano institute, plus year-round educational and community initiatives in the Las Vegas area.

“It’s a tough road, driving your own entrepreneurship project—it’s hard to stop and smell the roses,” Le admits. “But when I do, I see that I’m doing the right things, and I owe much of that to Ensemble ACJW.”

—Dr. ToniMarie Marchioni is assistant professor of oboe at the University of Kentucky and was a member of Ensemble ACJW, 2010–2012.

The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education

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