Running Start Spotlights

Juliana Kartsimas

Juliana Karsimas - BM Voice 2012

Juliana Kartsimas takes the skills learned at the College of Music, and applies them to an arts organization as a facilitator, so high-level art can be created. She is working on a software application “that would streamline the process of communication between artists and production teams.” Juliana’s passion to connect people, in person or through new software, comes through as she discusses her administrative role, her work with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, and her advice for current College of Music students.


How would you describe your professional identity in a sentence?

My professional identity in a lot of ways is as a supporter, so that my team can take creative risks. I create structures for artists that are concise and clear enough that they understand what the expectation is, what the timelines are, and how to communicate with each other, but that are free and fluid enough so that I can support them in their artistic, creative journey and process.

How has your career, project, or initiative been growing and developing since you graduated? Since last year? What are your next steps as you go forward?

I have been with the company since September of 2014, so this is my second season. The company completely restructured itself this season; before, we performed 6 nights a year, and everything was equally spread out [throughout the year].  We looked at that model and it didn’t feel sustainable. The company now has a major [fall] fundraiser, and a condensed Spring/Summer season. We added a recital series, a young artist program, and we’re going into the Grand Rapids Public Schools every week. We added master classes, flash mobs, and the chorus is performing for the tree-lighting ceremony for Experience Grand Rapids. We just decided that we really wanted to be a part of the community.

The general director of our company, Anne Berquist, is infinitely creative. She had some visions for projects and programs that she wanted to create. She would bring those visions to our team, and we would parse through what was feasible, who our partners would be, and how we can best serve the people in the community. It has been thrilling for me to have a leader like that to work under, who is thoughtful enough to ask me my professional opinion, and to feel like my voice is heard.

How did the College of Music prepare you to embark on your career?

Professor [Melanie] Helton opened up so many doors for me because I essentially just said “I’m interested in [production management].” And my senior year, she created a stage directing class, that was me and a few other students. She carved out time, that she probably didn’t have, but we were all so passionate about learning about it. I feel like I got so much from MSU from the fact that the faculty wanted to open doors.

I first met Ricky Ian Gordon through Professor Melanie Helton when he came to MSU as an Artist in Residence for a week to work with students involved in his operatic adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath.  My experiences with Ricky that week opened doors for me to travel to his apartment in NYC the following year and learn his song cycle, Late Afternoon, as it had been unrecorded at that point.  We spent two days pouring through his songs and talking about poetry at the very piano where he’s composed so much of his music.  There was a certain magic to it all that continues to inspire me.  When Ricky came to Grand Rapids last month to speak to a group of high schoolers, I reached out and asked if I could come and listen.  We ended up singing a duet from Grapes for the students and then a few of his songs for a dinner party that night, which left me thinking about how some of the most fulfilling musical experiences in my life began with just asking if I could be involved.

What do you think are the most important skills to have as a 21st century musician? As an entrepreneur?

As young people, you feel like there is a perceived separation between being a student and the musicians that they idolize. My advice for students, is that they realize that it is just a matter of reaching out to people, and talking to them like a fellow human. It grows you as a young person to learn from other people. There is so much generosity in the music world. I really encourage people to utilize the resources, of creating relationships with other musicians, no matter what age they are.

What words of wisdom do you have for MSU students?

I think that my best advice is for people to go through the motions of creating something that is not required in your degree program. Find your own [ways of being entrepreneurial]: by saying you would like to explore a type of music, prepare a recital of that music, even if it is in Hart or Cook, or at a local church or school. There are very few other times in life where you’ll find a group of musicians who are willing to do things with you for free. [Through this process], you will learn about how far in advance you have to make your program, what it’s like to call rehearsals, what it is like to manage your own business and marketing, thinking critically about an audience, and what they actually want to see in a program.