Saturday, June 6, 2009

Challenge and Confidence

Published in L Magazine, August 2008
Copyright 2008 by L Magazine, used with permission
This is my original, unedited version

“I am honored and humbled to be given such an extraordinary opportunity.”

That’s how Ann Chang-Barnes describes her thoughts on her new position as interim director of the Lied Center. What gave her the confidence to accept the appointment?

What gets me through those moments when I question whether or not I can do something like this is the experience I had with Meadowlark Music Festival,” she said.

Dr. Chang-Barnes founded the highly successful classical music festival in 2001 and served as executive and artistic director for five years, a position that included everything from planning the season to fundraising, administration and event coordinating. She describes the experience as the most difficult thing she has ever done.

“It’s created out of nothing, and it’s hard for people to support something that doesn’t exist. You have to work harder to communicate your vision. I was very fortunate that the community came and embraced the idea after the first season. I learned so much, and that is one of the reasons I felt that I had the nerve to accept this appointment.”

Although directing the Lied Center presents a much bigger challenge, Ann’s confidence has been further boosted by the capable staff who are dedicated to the concept of the Lied Center as a vital organization in our community.

Born in Seoul, Korea, Ann emigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was nine years old, settling in Chicago. Music has always been an important part of her life. Strauss waltzes and Beethoven’s symphonies on the record player were staples in their home. Ann started playing piano at age five and never stopped, going on to earn her doctorate in piano performance from Indiana University in 1993. It was there that she met and married Paul Barnes and the two started their family, which now includes Sarah, 16, Hannah, 15, and Peter, 11.

Ann was a piano instructor at De Pauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before moving to Lincoln in 1995, when Paul took the position of co-chair of UNL’s piano department and Ann was appointed senior lecturer in the department. She is taking a leave of absence from her most recent position of artist in residence, but plans to honor her performance commitments, including an August 18 concert at the Chicago Cultural Center, and a September 9 faculty recital in Kimball Hall in Lincoln. In addition, as part of her recent Fulbright Scholar appointment, Ann will be performing and doing research with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels in the summer of 2009.

“It’s important to keep that part of my identity intact,” she said. “Because that’s who I am—a musician. Being a musician will help me in this job because so much of it is about artistic creativity. I will try to keep on performing, because that’s what keeps me centered.”

Dr. Chang-Barnes got her first taste of presenting while serving on the board of Lincoln Friends of Chamber Music in the late 1990s. While curating her first season for the organization, she discovered how much she enjoyed finding talented musicians and putting together a season for the patrons. She tries to develop a season around a theme, though not always obviously identifiable.

“I see a season as a complete, sort of rounded whole,” she said. “With Lincoln Friends I had to program five concerts throughout the year, and so I tried to be diverse in who I brought in, but also keep the same kind of standard and direction.”

In addition to her work with Meadowlark Music Festival and Lincoln Friends of Chamber Music, Ann has served on the Lied Advisory Board, the Geske Lecture Series Board, the UNL International Programs Advisory Council and as Vice Chair of Woods Charitable Fund. Her three years in the latter position were life-changing, she said.

“Being a part of Woods Charitable fund has opened my eyes to philanthropy and the needs of the community and how ordinary people are out there serving the needs of the community of Lincoln. I see how big of an impact foundations like the Woods Charitable Fund can have by providing funding for this kind of work that is being done well and quietly around the city.”

Lincoln is an extremely sophisticated city, Ann said, stemming from university’s presence as well as a young, family centered population who recognizes quality performances. Her goal for the Lied Center is to continue to provide a high standard of performing arts, not only for Lincoln, but for the entire state of Nebraska.

“We take that position very seriously, and it’s a much more challenging goal than just going out and finding patrons,” she said. “We have to educate the patrons and bring performing arts to people who don’t even know they’re missing it.”

When the Lied staff create a season, they choose several artists with an affinity for community outreach and arrange a tour of smaller communities throughout the state, bringing the arts into the schools and to patrons who are not able to make it to Lincoln.

The 2008-2009 Lied Center season, which she inherited from previous director Charles Bethea, provides a diverse line-up, with holiday events such as a Celtic Christmas and Holiday with the Canadian Brass, a bit of nostalgia with the Beatles Experience, celebrities like Ruben Studdard in “Ain’t Misbehavin,” recognizable names such as Frankie Avalon, and timely humor by Capitol Steps.

For the 2009-2010 season, which Ann and her staff are currently putting together, she is seeking to generate interest from a wider range of patrons by providing artists with national recognition, increasing the diversity of the events, and “pushing the edges a little bit.”

There’s a lot of “wiggle room” within the standard genres of children’s programming, classical music, jazz, theater and dance, she explained. Some jazz artists push the genre more into rock, attracting an audience that may not normally choose to come to the Lied Center.

“With classical music, we will continue to present the first-rate talented classical musicians that the hard-core classical patrons would love, but at the same time engage a slightly younger audience by presenting a younger talent,” she said.

Though Lied Center ticket prices are below the national prime for acts of this caliber, the events do not come cheap. “If we’re presenting something of this quality you don’t want it to be cheap, because it’s not the experience that you’re going to get,” Ann said. “Our hope is that the audience will begin to see a Lied Center event as an entire experience that is worth that amount of money. We have to earn it, and there’s a lot of work, a lot of planning that goes behind putting on an event. Our job is to make sure that you get your money’s worth.”

With the difficulties of today’s economic times, it may be easy for some to consider the arts as superfluous, but Ann’s hope is that people won’t lose sight of the importance of the arts to one’s quality of life. “It’s what makes us human beings, and it’s what makes us alive and interesting, connected and engaged with the rest of the world,” she said.

If humanity had to leave something behind to show whoever came after us exactly how creative, complex and elevated we were as civilized beings, Ann believes it wouldn’t be a computer program or a machine, as complicated as those things might be. It would be a work of art. For her it would be a great musical piece such as Bach’s Goldberg Variations, while others might choose visual arts or literature.

“Just the fact that we think this way tells you how important art is to us,” she concludes. “Even if we don’t know it, even if we spend days, weeks or months never hearing a piece of music, never seeing a piece of beautiful art, we just know it; it’s part of our DNA to gravitate towards it. Sometimes the things that are the least visible are most important.”

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