How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bore
Natalia Bohórquez, cellist; alumna, Global Leaders Program
This past year, I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from Guarneri Hall, a Chicago-based non-profit arts organization. In addition to producing high-quality digital content, Guarneri Hall hosts live concerts in their state-of-the-art, custom-made venue, which provides performers and audiences alike with a fabulous acoustic space. As a cellist, this thrilled me. Guarneri Hall does wonderful work supporting emerging and established artists, striving to make classical music more accessible and celebrated in every kind of community. In many ways, it was a dream pairing for me. My mind danced with visions of the ways my skill set might benefit a collaboration between us. And then I received my assignment…
This is a story about grant calendars.
Imagine the disappointment! Not only was I less than passionate about grant calendars—I didn’t even know where to start. It wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t interesting—it certainly wasn’t worth a standing ovation. I was used to the stage! The concerts, the gigs, the musical breakthroughs—this is what led me to pursue music as a career. No matter how much I wanted to help others achieve their musical goals, I didn’t relish the idea of being on a computer all day.
In order to get started, I had to find ways to work without feeling like I was washing my creativity away. My first breakthrough was also my simplest: I activated my curiosity in Guarneri Hall. I was already interested in the work they were doing, but suddenly I was diving into their history, their values, their programs, and their surrounding environment. Feeling the benefits of an outside perspective, I began imagining new ways they might contribute to their community. For example, could they use their resources and infrastructure to celebrate the work of Latin American women? Or allow young artists to use their space to record their works? This turned out to be a very valuable step; it pushed me to look beyond my music skills and question how those skills might make a difference and serve those around me.
This vision guided me to search for potential partnerships or organizations with similar interests and values that could enhance and support the mission of Guarneri Hall, and for others that could benefit from the services that Guarneri Hall offered. I then had my second epiphany: looking for funding and support is about finding and celebrating common ideals. It’s about building bridges. Suddenly, the task felt refreshing—a welcome change from the individualistic, competitive mindset so often required in the music world. Rather than feel as if Guarneri Hall was part of a zero-sum game, pursuing scarce opportunities, I viewed the calendar as a means to build community. And, as I worked, I realized that looking for shared perspectives might ultimately help us find more diverse resources to support our work and the work of others. When we do that, we make this work more sustainable.
And then there are the immediate benefits. Grant calendars help an organization visualize short, medium- and long-term goals that need to be accomplished in order. And when organizational bandwidth is low, it can serve as a pool of resources waiting to be tapped in support of the mission.
In the end, I did it. Despite my initial misgivings, I eventually produced a grant calendar that was organized, minimalistic, and useful to both the organization and those whom it serves. (I even chose a color palette to match Guarneri Hall, though I’m not sure if anybody noticed.) Beyond that, though, I had gone on a journey. I felt inspired by the work of other organizations and artists, which had proven so useful throughout my process. I learned what other arts organizations hope to achieve, and how individual artists help them achieve it. Best of all, I found some new funding opportunities for Guarneri Hall. By simply activating my curiosity and sense of community, I had turned over a few new rocks. (For example: this database of women and gender non-conforming composers, for those looking to expand their repertoire.)
I said this was a story about grant calendars. That isn’t entirely true. It’s a story about loving the work—all of it, even when it takes us off stage. As artists, we are often faced with financial uncertainty and a lack of opportunities for all. We are told that, if we “practice practice practice” we will eventually land that orchestra job we always dreamed of. Now I believe that this “boring work” benefits individual artists as much as the organizations with whom they work. Beyond bringing us a little closer to a more intentional, socially driven artmaking, it compels us to ask: “What are our values? What role can we play in our communities, and how do we channel our creativity to perform that role?”
If calendars and excel sheets make you feel sleepy, these questions should not. So, let’s remember to celebrate the “boring” work we do, even when it goes unseen. And remember that it benefits us as artists, too.