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Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 4

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a podcast from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals about what it's like to work in the performing arts, featuring bold, untold stories from arts workers.
APAP Podcast Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 4


Space, Place and Community




Rick: It was just stunning. I'd go to Times Square on my bike and just and I would see absolutely no one. When normally you would see – literally – a million people.

Claire: When the pandemic started in March 2020, Rick Whitaker had been working at Columbia University in New York for almost two decades.

And he loved his job. As a concert manager for the University's Italian Academy, he had a lot of creative freedom, and was proud to bring unique shows to the city.

Rick: Namely very old and especially very new classical music that might without us actually go unperformed in New York City. Things went pretty smoothly along for some 18 years until the pandemic.

Claire: With all his performances canceled, Rick was nervous about his job. But then the provost of Columbia University sent out a note.

Rick: The first message we got after the pandemic was, “Columbia is fine financially, no problem, we didn't suffer from the pandemic at all.” That was the message we got from the provost.

Claire: But then… Rick’s salary was cut in half.

Rick: I was told that I would only be expected to work half the time. And that was that. Human resources had made its decision. I was quite stunned because a lot of people at Columbia got shifted to other kinds of tasks. You know, COVID testing and things like that. I would have been happy to do that, you know, like I would have taken any, any kind of responsibility, but I wasn't offered that.

Claire: He felt abandoned by his boss, his coworkers, and really his entire work community

Rick: I did feel that that the people that I worked for dropped the ball or sort of threw me under the bus a little bit. They really damaged my life, you know, for a couple of years. They really did. I can't deny it.

Claire: So he turned to a different community,

Rick: During that time, it got to be really spooky. It was it was kind of lonely. So I started delivering groceries for, for older people, a volunteer sort of situation, which I really enjoyed.

I looked forward to the 7:00 every night, to be honest, all over the city, people were hanging out the windows and, you know, banging pots and pans, you know, it was great.

Claire: Rick connected with his neighbors – his physical community – during the 7 p.m. salute.

In the early months of the pandemic, the 7 p.m. salute was when New Yorkers would open their windows, climb out onto fire escapes and make some noise to show their support for healthcare workers.

>> People cheering out of windows, clapping, banging pots and pans

Rick: It was this really moving auditory spectacle in a way, you know. My favorite was when I started taking my Bluetooth speaker and pumping out anything that was loud and kind of crazy. It was kind of a release, you know, like everybody was kind of involved. It sort of felt like the whole neighborhood was outside together for just a few minutes, you know? And it was it was just perfect in a way.

>> music


Claire: You’re listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

I’m Claire Caulfield.

A lot of arts organizations are centered around a specific community – whether that’s geographic, cultural or focused on a specific medium.

But you can’t just throw the word “community” in your mission statement and call it a day.

So today’s episode is called Space, Place and Community.

Focusing on space in the literal sense: with a story about real estate, then looking at what an organization loses when it creates a place that doesn’t truly serve its audience. And lastly, how even a small group of people can make a powerful community.

>> music


Claire: Act one, for the record

When Taylor Abrahamse was just starting as a musician, they were having trouble finding an affordable place to record their music in the Toronto area.

So Taylor teamed up with a longtime friend to create a place for emerging artists to record their work.

They rented a house and transformed a detached unit in the back into a state-of-the-art recording studio.

And Silverthorne Studios was born.

In their story, Taylor reflects on the importance of physical spaces for communities to meet, and how that’s increasingly difficult to find.

Here’s Taylor:

Taylor: We decided to make a pro studio in the detached space behind the house. Trying to make a dream space for an emerging artist.

It seems like there's an extreme cognitive dissonance between, the, the corporate world of, of recording and things like that and musicians. And most studios hadn't really reconciled that.

And in our case, there, there was no obscene rent to pay where we were, which allowed us to keep costs down and, and make a space of our quality and caliber more accessible for emerging artists.

So that was the opportunity of that space and something that was extremely rare in the city.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

But more of what describes the studio is the people that were there and how it was used. We just had such a warm community around it, and you could feel how the space itself brought out something very joyous and free in people.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

So about six years into running the studio, we had just found out that we had broken even. *Chuckle*

But literally within a few days from there, I get an email from the landlord saying that they're looking to sell the home.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

They were going to offer us the house for $1.1 million because they knew that we really wanted it.

And I set my entire life aside 18 hours a day to make, make this happen just in a state of perpetual anxiety, because the price continued to balloon over the next few months. At a certain point, it was going for $1.45 million and, keep in mind, six years before, this would have gone for about $700,000, $800,000. So it's just baffling.

Soon after that, I got to have a conversation with this investor and with them and with a bit of assistance from some friends of mine who would also basically be living with me in the house, we were able to put together a really compelling offer.

So basically, on the Tuesday before the Thursday, which was supposed to be the offer day, the realtor just reminded me that anyone can place a bully offer, and I kind of took that as code. Okay. He's telling me that there's going to be something coming.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

Around 8:00 that night, a bully offer did come in. They placed a cash offer, which is how these bully offers work. And just my heart sank.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

It was 11:59 p.m. when we were just told that the landlords accepted the other offer and I… I felt just, you know, shock and disgust and horror, and also a sense of like, nothing matters except how big your bank account is.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

>> “Detached Garage // Home for the brave // Fawns in a field // Versus sharks in a cage”

I don't know how anyone in their right mind can justify destroying a creative community.

I get that it was a complicated choice in a complicated circumstance. You know, like ultimately I think the landlords did what 99.9% of people would have done in the same situation.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

Obviously, I have a lot of anger, but I think ultimately that anger is towards a system.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

>> “Sharks in a cage!”

It's been about a month now, and it is something that's painful to talk about. I had my whole life taken from me and my means of income, and I'm really building from scratch.

>> ‘Sharks In A Cage’ song

>> “Sharks in a cage // Sharks in a cage”

One thing I always thought was, even if we didn't save it, at least if we could carry its legacy somehow, That was really important to me.

So the glimmer of light that there is before we had to destroy the studio, I was in conversations with a venue in Toronto, a beloved venue called Hughes Room. They saw what we had accomplished, and we and we felt like we were very much kindred souls.

They had an abhorrent rent hike recently and were looking for a new location with the intention of buying it.

We basically have signed a letter of understanding with them where if they purchase this building, then they will also absorb what we were able to get out of Silverthorn. Which was considerable, you know, precious and expensive cabling, and floors and doors and trim and all the gear.

But I'm really having a firm boundary and just saying whatever happens, happens. I'm not letting this world get my hopes up again.

>> ‘Written In Your Heart’ song

>>“Night and day // Night and day”

There's a particular George Rafferty song that I deliberately tracked in the studio as one of the last things and I made it with my business partner.

He does this beautiful harmonica solo, and there's a lot of things we recorded that were our way of trying to say goodbye and thank you to the space.

>> ‘Written In Your Heart’ song: harmonica solo

I would look at every corner of that place and every square inch of wall and just soak it all up and just thank it. *sob* Just say thank you. *crying*

>> ‘Written In Your Heart’ song: harmonica solo

>>“At least we got our memories”

What's amazing to me is. Just getting to know myself as someone who could get that close. Who could be an artist coming from a pandemic, trying to buy a home for $1.4 or $1.5 million. You know, those are preposterous odds. And the fact that I played that game and played that game to the last bitter millisecond is just that's something I can carry with me that I’m proud of.

>> ‘Written In Your Heart’ song and harmonica

“Whatever's written in your heart // Whatever's written in your heart”

Claire: Taylor Abrahamse is a singer, songwriter, voice actor and entrepreneur living in Toronto, Ontario.

>> ‘Written In Your Heart’ song

>>“Night and day”


Claire: Act two, stirring the pot.

Ariel Davis has worked with a lot of arts organizations all over the country.

She loves the work, but was feeling disenchanted with the nonprofit world and all these organizations that touted “community” in name only.

But then she had a conversation with her mother, and it sparked a realization about her entire life, and reminded her why she is so dedicated to mixing things up.

Here’s Ariel with that story:

Ariel: So recently I got a chance to hang out with my mom. Um, she began sharing the story about how her and my dad met. I had never heard this level of detail, but it just explains so much.

My mom grew up in Jamaica, in a small parish called St. Elizabeth.

My mom has always been very curious. At the age of 18, that curiosity led her to do something she probably shouldn't have done, which was hitchhike her way to Montego Bay for a reggae festival.

Again, this is the late 80s, y'all, so it's literally you know, thumb out on the road trying to figure out your way there.

She spent eight hours on the road traveling there, right? She gets to Montego Bay.

Um, she comes across this American guy from Detroit and they hit it off and they end up talking all night. That's my father.

>> music

In that story, there's a lot that kind of blew my mind. It's the serendipity of those occurrences that take place in cultural events, festivals, and for me, working in the arts and culture field, it was a beautiful reminder on how important this work is.

>> music

Um, one moment of serendipity that occurred for me was, in 2016, in a chance encounter that I had with an old college friend of mine by the name of Quanice Floyd. It was just a happy hour, you know, casual.

Again, this is 2016. Right. This was during the time where there were a lot of, you know, conversations around representation bubbling up.

Quanice and I are in a conversation, sharing with one another that we're hearing our colleagues say that there's not enough diversity in the field of arts administration that there are these opportunities out there these jobs, but the candidate pool ends up being, you know, quite homogenous. Right. And so, for both Quanice and I, we didn't understand this perspective um *laugh* for the both of us, we saw so many people, you know, from so many different backgrounds, doing this work of cultural organizing.

Um, there needed to be a centralized hub of arts administrators that identified as people of color so that we can share with one another resources, opportunities and, um, you know, coach one another.

So after that chance encounter with Quanice and I we started this organization called the Arts Administrators Of Color Network. And that group grew and grew and grew to be, you know, the organization that it is today.

Seeing those folks continue on and continue to connect has again just highlighted how beautiful, or how beautifully, serendipity can unfold itself when you put the right ingredients in the pot.

>> music

So in my career, I have seen the work happening in a way where, you know, folks are super curious and open but unfortunately, I've also seen many, many examples of folks that kind of take, the experiences of a very close, tight knit group of people and using that in order to produce the work that comes to life on stage.

For several years, I had the immense opportunity to work at a larger institution that provided free concerts to the public on a daily basis. But one thing that I struggled with, was that the performances would happen every day at six o'clock. At seven o'clock, they would end and then you know, you'd have to run out as soon as that concluded, right. And so, for audience members, there wasn't really much of an opportunity to mingle with one another, to mingle with artists,

And, for me, I felt like there was just so much lost in that.

>> music

The thing of coming in, watching and then leaving doesn't really give us opportunity to digest the work as fully as we can and should.

There is opportunity where that does happen, you know, but it's typically not the free-and-open-to-the-public concert. It's, um, you know, with a donor who gets a free pass to go hang out with the artists afterwards.

>> music

One of the things that happens in the arts is the over usage of certain terms. One of those terms is community. For me, when I see and hear folks use the word community, but their community personally is so limited. There isn't real community happening in those spaces. It's you know, it's a, it's a good buzzword, though.

>> music

The cultural spaces that we create, and the events that we produce are absolutely a reflection of our own social circles. Like I truly believe magic does not occur or moments of serendipity don't really happen unless there's as varied and interesting a batch of ingredients in a pot.

If you prefer, you know, no shade to McDonald's, but like you know, McDonald's kind of stuff…

Sure! Keep it bland, keep it easy, you know, but if you're looking for something that's a bit more quality, yeah, you got to mix up your ingredients.

>> music

For me in telling this story about my parents, and you know, these stories around serendipity. I encourage folks not necessarily to hitchhike across islands. You know, without any access to technology. Don't do that. But I would absolutely encourage you to be open, to having these serendipitous moments.

>> music

To being open, to being willing to talk to that stranger from another country. How can we make sure that folks have a little bit easier access? Like, what would it have looked like if my mom didn't have to hitchhike across the island to get there? Right? *laugh* Thank goodness she survived but, you know, it's the thing of being more open minded, ultimately, that I think is crucial to us doing the work in the real and true ways that we all ultimately envision this work taking place.

>> music

Claire: Ariel Davis is co-founder of the Arts Administrators of Color Network

And director of communications for the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund.

She lives in Mount Rainier, Maryland.

>> music


Claire: Act three, the stuff of legend.

Andee Joyce has always loved music and performing, but despite multiple tries in multiple decades, she felt like she couldn’t get music to love her back.

Andee starts her story a few years back, as she was stepping on stage at an open-mic night in Portland, Oregon.

Andee: I was at a singer songwriter night with a hipstery kinda vibe. Almost everybody appeared to be half my age or – gods help me –a third.

When it was finally my turn to go up there, I thought, well, at least I won't be dull.

One called ‘Stuff My Hands Do.’

>> fade up 'Stuff My Hands Do' song with clapping in the background

>>“Andee you’re weird, Andee you’re weird”

This was an acapella song that I wrote about flapping with an F, something I was finally allowing myself to do with my hands after almost killing myself for decades, trying to squelch all signs of being autistic.

>> 'Stuff My Hands Do' song

“This is the stuff my hands do // and that's not my fault”

Flapping… Almost looks like I'm fanning myself. You know, basically it's your hands moving around up and down, side to side, around, whatever they're doing.

>> “Stuff My Hands Do” song

>> “And I can hide it sometimes // but I can’t stop // I don’t mean to embarrass you”

As soon as I went into the song, I could tell that this was the wrong material for the room. I did get some people tapping on the table and rhythm and a few laughs here and there. But overall it felt like they were all looking at me like I was a giant space turd. Except, as it turns out, for one person. This would be Kirsten Muir.

Her partner Joey was also autistic.

When Kirsten told me about that, I understood that my instinct to do that song there was the right one after all.

Over the next couple of years we formed enough of a bond that the two of them invited me down to Eugene to do a show in their yard.

They did tell me that most of their friends were some form of neurodivergent or had close family who were, and that they would love it if I did as many songs as possible about being neurologically interesting. So I did that.

>> 'Imagining Things' song

>> “I was actually born 58 years old // and now I’m 14”

>> Audience laughs loudly

These people were cracking up at my one-liners and clapping with me and nodding in recognition.

Oh, my God, I needed that so badly.

>> ‘Imagining Things’ song

>> “Clapping out a heart beat faster, faster”

>>Audience clapping along in time

I mean just really love to get an audience going.

>> 'Imagining Things' song

>> “Faster!”

>>Audience clapping along faster

It was just ridiculous, 'cause it's like, ‘What kind of autistic am I?’ to, you know...Because we're supposed to hate those things. We're supposed to hate the idea of being in a crowd. We're supposed to hate the idea of those noises. We're supposed to…. You know, there's so many stereotypes.

When I was a kid, I would watch TV shows and, you know, I would see the audiences clapping along, I would just, you know, it just kind of took over me and I couldn't really tell anybody about it. I mean, this would have been like 1970. In those days, people were still getting thrown into insane asylums for life. People thought I was out there enough already. So, no, I never told anybody.

>> music

I was in my forties, and I was having a lot of perseverative thought patterns.

I felt like, ‘God, what's wrong with me? What's wrong with me? Why can't I do anything right? I want so badly to connect with people, and I can't.’

And so I found a therapist who did neuro-linguistic programming because that might stop some of the perseverative thought patterns, you know, stuff repeating over and over and over again in my head.

About 10 minutes into our session, therapist said, ‘I think you might have Asperger syndrome,’ because that's how they were designating autistic people who could talk back in 2007. I was 44.

>> music

After I got diagnosed I was like, “Oh my god. Really? Wow.’ And then, I mean, part of it was, like, really exciting because I felt like I turned, turning the hourglass back over. But then a part of it was, like, really angry because I'm like, 44. I missed everything. I missed everything.

Because I was trying so hard to be something I could never be.

>> music

Prejudice, you know, or stigma or whatever doesn't have to look like, ‘we hate people with disabilities’ or where ‘we hate this kind of person’ or whatever.

It's not usually overt hate. I mean, sometimes it is. But more much more often what you'll get is something… it's a lot more insidious.

It's more like ‘we like things the way they are, and we don't want to change them to accommodate people we don't know.’ And I even see some of this when it comes to the accessibility of music venues. I'm always the killjoy who’s going, ‘Is there, Is there a ramp here? Is there an elevator here? Can people with mobility issues get into this place?’

And sometimes it takes somebody to go in there and be a little bit of a pain in the butt about it.

>> music

A lot of this, you know, for me, has been about confronting things that needed to be confronted.

Performing is going to bring up everything: It’s going to bring up... the good stuff, the bad stuff, all of it. I had to deal with my thinking that nobody would want to look at me and nobody would want to listen to me.

The rejection thing just kept me under the bed for so long. I know nobody likes it. Nobody enjoys being, no one says ‘oh yay. I got rejected.’ But they say in baseball, if you get a hit a third of the time, you're in the Hall of Fame.

>> music

Don't water yourself down to be more, quote unquote marketable. You know, look for that outlet, that venue where you can be everything that you are. And do not ever apologize for that.

>> 'Imagining Things' song

>> “Oh, yeah, I heard music in the hairdryer, music in the dishwasher, because of course, I did! There’s an energy...”

In recent years, I've expanded my social circles dramatically. I mean, people know me now. There are a lot of people who say they really like me and they love me and I love them, and it’s great.

Doing a show in that yard for all these neurodivergent people made me realize that people need this kind of stuff. Me doing this show is going to help other people feel seen.

I mean what more could you want than for them, having somebody say, you know, ‘I felt like I was the only weirdo here. I thought I was the only one who had weird stuff like that in their head that no one else could understand. But I'm not the only one.’

>> 'Imagining Things' song ends

>> “And 1, 2, 3, 4 stop!”

Audience loudly claps and cheers

Claire: Andee Joyce is a singer and songwriter, based in Portland, Oregon.

>> Audience clapping continues

Man in crowd, yelling: You’re a legend, Andee

>> Audience cheers


>> music

Claire: Thank you for listening.

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. You can join APAP at

I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.

Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.

And music today from Taylor Abrahamse, Andee Joyce and Blue Dot Sessions.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.

Other thank yous to Sherri Larsen,

The APAP staff and board of directors

Our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.

Your stories matter. And arts workers ARE essential.

Speaking of stories If you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast, you can do so at

And if you enjoyed this episode, which I hope you did, please leave us a review. It’ll help other people find the show.

Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. That’s real *laugh*

>> music

Claire: And next time on ARTS. WORK. LIFE….

Monique: I don't think I've acknowledged until this moment how painful that response is not just for me, but for our field.

Emily: And I think there's just this thinking of the business world knows how to run organizations better than the actual people that they're serving. I think it’s a generational kind of mindset that we have to...

Carolyn: At that particular time, I was the only African American woman in an executive position. And that put me in a very strange circumstance.

Yukio: Because if we don't do that, now, there will come a time where we will have grown too old, to be really effective in our jobs and we’ll wonder what happened.

>> music




This podcast made possible with the generous support of The Wallace Foundation and listeners like you. Donate here.
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Photos: Lynn Neuman at a recycling facility; Thamara Bejarano courtesy of storyteller; Taylor Gordon photo by Jon Tayler; Craig Knudsen returns to the opera stage in 2018.
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