A Q&A With Juilliard Trustees

Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Juilliard Journal
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This screenshot from a Zoom room shows three Juilliard trustees, identified in the accompanying caption, and Alberta Khoury; Khory's quadrant is bordered in bright green, indicating that she is speaking.
Clockwise from top left, Laura Linney, Julie Choi, Vincent Mai, and Alberta Khoury spoke on Zoom

Marrying Excellence and Adaptability

This spring, doctoral student Alberta Khoury (BM ’18, MM ’19, guitar) had a Zoom call with three of Juilliard’s trustees: Vincent Mai, who joined the board in 2000 and became chair in 2022; and vice chairs Julie Choi (BM ’85, MM ’86, piano; board 2000–present) and Laura Linney (Group 19; board 2009-present). In addition to Julie and Laura, Juilliard recently welcomed two new alumni onto the board, Anne Akiko Meyers (Pre-College ’87; Certificate ’90, violin) and Jon Batiste (BM ’08, MM ’11, jazz studies). They joined Rondi Charleston (Group 9; BM ’82, MM ’83, voice/opera) and Camille Zamora (MM ’02, voice, Artist Diploma ’04, opera studies) for a total of six alumni trustees. The goal of this interview: to get to know Vincent, Laura, and Julie a bit better, find out why they joined the board, hear about their plans, and see what advice they have for students as artist-citizens. This Q&A has been edited and adapted from that conversation.

How do your experiences as alumni and professionals inform your board service?

LL: We have this wonderful constellation of people on the board who all bring their own strengths to it. And as alums, we certainly have deeper insight as to what it is to be a Juilliard student. How difficult it can be! How wonderful it can be! The needs, the challenges—not just for students, but also for faculty and other alums. My contribution has been very much in that vein as far as getting the drama MFA and teacher apprenticeship programs up and running. I’m always thinking about how the Drama Division in particular can evolve and then taking those ideas and seeing if they apply to the entire school.

It’s also important to note that as board members, we’re not just serving Juilliard but also the arts in general—Juilliard is a gateway to the arts on a larger scale. We want to contribute as much as we can to helping the arts become vibrant, robust, and well-fed, particularly through Juilliard.

JC: As an alum, a focus of mine is what happens after Juilliard—that bridge to the future. We need to have the alumni feel that they have been fed by the school, that they contributed to the school, and that then they go out into the world and keep feeding the arts. Juilliard has improved a lot in the alumni connection, but we can do so much better, for sure.

VM: I’ve served on many boards in the private and not for-profit sectors. As a board member, you’re serving constituents, and to me the most important people the Juilliard board serves is the students. We’re always asking, What are the students’ requirements and how can we best fulfill those needs? What do we need to have a motivated, outstanding faculty and support the leadership and the administrative staff to achieve the level of excellence we want from Juilliard? But the primary thing is the students. What can we do to best fulfill their expectations?

JC: Going back to what Laura was saying—and I’ll just say Laura is the soul of the board. She reminds all of us about the insecurities—food insecurity, job insecurity—she’s a primary source. It’s important that the community knows that each one of us brings something different to the board. It’s a smaller working board, especially compared to big cultural institutions, and one of the requirements is that this isn’t a board that just comes to meetings, gets reported to, and moves on. Vincent’s leadership has really taken it to another level of engagement, and the board is super jazzed about this next chapter for the school with Damian’s vision and leadership.

Particularly in such a changing time, it’s necessary for the school to evolve with our standard of what we want the students to receive and how we want them to grow while they’re here. We’re having to look at everything and listen and be patient so that we make thorough and correct decisions so the whole institution evolves in a way that’s to everyone’s advantage.

What’s your vision for the future of Juilliard and how can you effect that as a board member?

VM: The crucial thing is that we remain faithful to the standards of excellence, teaching, and training that are the bedrock of Juilliard, but we also can’t look in the rearview mirror and rest on our laurels. We have to give students the tools to succeed however they want to when they leave, and we have to ensure that they’re prepared for a world that’s changing faster than we’ve ever experienced. We have to marry that commitment to excellence with being adaptable and forward-thinking. Damian as president embodies this ethic, and together we are working with the board to make sure that Juilliard is always moving ahead in this way.

JC: One big challenge of the board and the administration is engaging people who haven’t thought about giving to the arts. That’s a huge challenge for any cultural institution, but Juilliard should be leading the way in terms of how it’s essential to support arts of every kind—and we will. We need the arts, but audiences and sources of donors are dwindling, so we’re opening up our aperture to capture, for example, that technology person who might have studied classical guitar and that’s where his passion is and where his creativity comes from. Essentially, we’ve got to connect dots that aren’t as obvious.

LL: We stand very firm about the school’s mission and our desires for the students, but at the same time it needs to evolve so that culture and the institution have a conversation with each other that makes the school better. You have big issues, whether that’s race relations, economics, or the need for the arts to penetrate more into society, and then you have the smaller issues of what it is to be a student at Juilliard and the day-to-day challenge as well as the challenges of being a growing artist. These are different things, and then there are the people who marry the two. So, we’re constantly balancing our responsibilities to individuals at the school, to the departments, and then it reverberates out till it gets to, hopefully, our positive influence on culture and the arts in general.

What’s your favorite aspect of serving on the board?

VM: I honestly can't wait to go to Juilliard board meetings, because it’s such an extraordinary group! They’re all wonderful people and they care hugely about Juilliard and serving students. Serving on the board also makes me go to more events at Juilliard, and every time I’m blown away by the quality of everything I see. I find it very moving and very inspiring to be part of it and to hear these wonderful students—including you, Alberta!—perform at such a level of excellence.

JC: Another great dimension of our board meetings is the involvement of the staff and the intersections we have with the heads of divisions and student performers. The board knows how to be aspirational realistically and super tactical. We consider what we’re going to dream about, whether it’s possible, and if it is, how we’re going to get there.

VM: Alberta, do you have questions for us that we haven’t touched on?

Going back to what you said about bridging excellence and marrying it with the changing world, how can one do that as an artist?

LL: Hopefully, what Juilliard gives you is that you become an artist and get to know yourself and your relationship to your work and what you want to do. You are a human being with the arts within you, so how do you connect that to the world and the culture at large? The school hopefully gives you the agency, the confidence, and the creative thinking to figure out how that looks. How can you change things? Juilliard gives you that motivation and perspective.

JC: Genre-crossing in creating new work—collaboration between divisions—is the norm now. But it wasn’t like that before.

And to what Laura was saying, what you do, Alberta, when you go out into the world, it’s not only citizen artistry but also, How are you relevant? How are your fellow artists relevant? How is your artistry relevant? How can it be more relevant? And that goes back to genre-crossing. It’s on each of us to think expansively about art and its relevance.

Coming in as a guitarist and meeting such extraordinary students across the divisions—the incredible faculty inspired me to step out of the instrument and think about collaborating, composing, teaching, and finding all these different ways to connect with more and more people.

LL: Also, there’s the idea that these things happen at the appropriate time. You come to Juilliard to focus on yourself, and that should happen. And then hopefully, through your time here, your outlook will broaden. This doesn’t happen right away. You’re fortunate, Alberta, because you've been here for nine years, which is unusual. You’ve had the opportunity to deeply immerse yourself and think about the guitar, your relationship to the guitar, and then your relationship to your own art, and then to your art within and outside of the building. And that’s what we hope for everybody.

VM: A thread throughout this conversation is that the board is here to serve the students. We have discussions around how we can make the student experience at Juilliard excellent while also relevant to the change going on in the world. We see ourselves as partners; we’re here to make life better and enhance the quality of everything that goes on at Juilliard. That’s what we think about all the time.

Thank you very much. It was It was an honor and a delight to meet with you all.

Alberta Khoury (BM ’18, MM ’19, guitar) is a doctoral candidate