Locally I know an outstanding young millennial, Jackson Cooper, who at age 22 is believed to be the youngest executive director of a performing arts organization in the country. I recent sat down for a discussion with Jackson.
STAN: You are currently the Executive Director of Chamber Music Raleigh. Can you tell me a little more about this group and your responsibilities?
JACKSON: Chamber Music Raleigh is a 75 year old presenting organization, meaning that we invite groups from all over the state and world to come and perform on our concert series. We have two concert series: the ‘Guild” series that features artists from all over the country and world (groups like the Harlem Quartet, Juilliard, Chamber Society of Lincoln Center) and our “Sights and Sounds” series which highlights emerging and established North Carolina artists.
One of the first things I have done in my job is to establish the North Carolina Museum of Art as our permanent home for presenting these concerts. This further deepens our relationship with the Raleigh community by presenting our series at a central, public space like the museum. It also allows for exciting collaborations which we have plans for in coming seasons!
As ED, I am responsible for maintaining the day-to-day operations of the organization. I am a staff of one, with the help of volunteers and my dedicated board. I maintain donor relations, write grants, help facilitate decisions about the coming seasons, prepare contracts, and a slew of other responsibilities.
STAN: How did you get interested in this type of work?
JACKSON: I grew up in Raleigh arts, working in internships since I was 13 years old, specifically in arts administration. I used to go to school until 3pm, drive to an internship and work till 6, eat dinner, then sometimes go rehearse a show. I was lucky enough to have several mentors early on (still do) who pushed me to work hard and translate this passion and excitement I had for working in the arts into results.
However, the stereotypical gypsy / freelance lifestyle of an artist never appealed to me. I still keep up with my various crafts and have been lucky to always be working on projects, but I like stability too much to be a freelancer my entire life. I still do believe an arts manager should also be an artist (though, I’ve learned recently from example that the opposite isn’t always true). But you should practice an art if you are a manager. It grounds you and solidifies your work on a deeper level.
I love making connections, connecting artists and people, communities and works of art, etc. I’m still growing and acknowledge that, and every day feels like a new adventure.
STAN: What essential skills do you bring to your job that you believe will help you succeed?
JACKSON: Early on, I recognized that initiative and passion go a long way. I have encountered quite a bit of push back about how young I am. People didn’t think it was possible for someone so young and enthusiastic about the field he was working in to do a good job.
So, I began to hone my skills so that I could prepare myself for leading effectively. I wanted to show people that I had learned the importance of Big Picture Thinking and Day-To-Day Thinking, Planning for Long-Term Success and Last Minute Disasters, and the power of the grace note. By that I mean, the power of following up with your audience, community members, and others who are important to you or your organization. In this age of hyper-behavior, people like it when you remember their birthday, send a Christmas card, or just say thank you. Kindness goes a long way. And no matter how busy you are, you always have time to tell someone “I hope you’re having a good day.”
STAN: Where do you see yourself career wise 10 or 15 years down the road? What are your aspirations?
JACKSON: I hope to hold an upper level artistic position at an arts organization. I am currently looking into graduate programs and Executive Leadership programs at Harvard Business School and Duke University for furthering my education. Eventually, I would like to open my own arts consulting firm or work for one.
I plan to continue giving back to my community by serving on community boards, volunteering, and donating. In my (little) spare time I write so I am hoping to publish more. I have a book coming out early next year, and hopefully it’s the first of many!
STAN: In addition to being the youngest ED of a performing arts group in the country, you are also an out gay man. What encouragement would you provide to your LGBT peers in terms of their future or career?
JACKSON: Don’t ever stop being yourself and put yourself in everything you do. Every day you make a decision about coming out. To do that, you have to be confident in yourself and stand up for you. You are all you have in this life so why waste it pretending to be something you’re not?
There will always be people better than you, there will always be better jobs out there that you can’t have at this moment–but if you let things that aren’t in your control get you down, nothing will ever make you happy. And always listen to that little voice in the back of your head. It knows things better than you do.
STAN: Is there anything else you would like to share with my blog readers?
JACKSON: Chamber Music Raleigh is now at the Museum of Art so come by and pick up a brochure or subscribe to our mailing list at chambermusicraleigh.org. We are about to announce our exciting 2017-2018 season.
STAN: Thank you, Jackson! I look forward to building our friendship, following your career and reading your first book when it comes out.