Conversations | Making Your Way as an Immigrant Performing Artist

Conversations | Making Your Way as an Immigrant Performing Artist

Q&A with Aryo Wicaksono, musician and Membership Manager at Grantmakers in the Arts.

Aryo Wicaksono joined us on #ArtistHotline last month to discuss community building and creating a career as an immigrant performing artist, and we’re expanding on our Twitter Q&A here with fresh insights.

Wicaksono has performed as a featured soloist and chamber musician in venues and festivals throughout the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe. He’s been hailed by the San Francisco Examiner as a “virtuoso talent, offering an excellent combination of solid technique and sensitive expressiveness.” He joined Grantmakers in the Arts as Membership Manager this January after serving as Chamber Music America’s Membership Manager and Artistic and Executive Director of the Yogyakarta International Music Festival Academy.

NYFA: As an immigrant artist, where do you typically look for opportunities in the performing arts?

Aryo Wicaksono: For me, there are two categories of opportunities: 1) income-generating opportunities in the form of teaching and performances and 2) publicity, growth, and name-expanding opportunities. 

Part 1, the income-generating opportunities, can be practical, cut-and-dry, and considered as a necessity. I would suggest looking closer within your own neighborhood as well as within your affinity groups. One can do this through finding students to teach within their neighborhood, or joining a local music school that’s catering to your affinity/ethnic groups. Being an arts administrator at an art/music/gallery-related space or being a teaching artist can also help you get more connections, enlarging your sphere of connections and opportunities. It’s OK to work in another field, but I would suggest a steady stream of income that will challenge and enhance your performing career, connections, etc.

Part 2 can be more adventurous, daring, and can generally exist if you are solid with Part 1. Believe in your core artistic values and uniqueness, aligning gigs and opportunities with the bigger arc of your lifelong artistic journey as an immigrant artist. 

NYFA: Are there specific resources or links that you find indispensable to your career as an immigrant artist?

AW: Well, obviously NYFA is a great one. I have always learned from your webinars, chats, sessions, and articles, as well as various public events that you do across the city (and now in various cities) – so thank you! Additionally, I would suggest looking into resources offered by other service organizations including Opera America, Chamber Music America, Dance/USA, League of American Orchestras, and Asian American Arts Alliance.

I also like to learn, read, grow, and expand myself. So I have budgeted time to be part of various data, coding, finance, and marketing groups in the city (either through Meetup or organizations that I am also active in such as OPEN Finance, Out in Tech, and so on) as well as Toastmasters.


NYFA: You have a pretty impressive list of press placements to your credit. Do you have any tips for approaching press or for finding “newsworthy” elements in your work?

AW: My tip—especially in a social media-minded world—is to be authentic and genuine, while also ensuring your approach is unique and relevant. Align your messaging with a need of that community. One hypothetical example would be to frame your work as artist-in-residency related to social justice initiatives in your community. Find ways to give back to the community in which you are visiting, performing, or having a residency. Hopefully the press will take notice and cover your work. 

If they don’t it is not the end of the world. We are in an era where it’s more important and beneficial to get great personal followers, engagements, collaboration, and discussions with your fans, supporters, and close circle of friends, which all can grow out of your social media endeavors, cultivation, and maintenance. The press is only a medium, an intermediary between you and your audience. And, we recognize, the intermediary’s role has diminished during this do-it-yourself social media frenzy.

NYFA: Building an artistic community in a new place can be a daunting challenge for immigrant artists. Do you have advice for reaching out to your peers?

AW: Go to various meetings and activities that relate to your field (Chamber Music America’s First Tuesdays, or Asian American Arts Alliance’s Town Hall, panels organized by NYFA) and listen, learn, meet the speakers, and just be open to putting yourself out there. Sometimes we can say we need a guide, a mentor, and maybe the universe will answer that with providing you one through one of these meetings. Of course, these should be done in an organic, honest way.

There are also lots of Facebook groups (Classical Saxophone Society or Agents & Managers, for example) where one can tap into discussions and trends in your particular group. These are places for artists and art professionals to come in, learn, share their ideas and their work, and ask questions. Be careful to thread the line between sharing vs. just advertising and trying to sell your work or ideas.

NYFA: What are some other networking or professional development tips for immigrant artists who’re looking to take their performing arts career to the next level?

AW: Be kind, be generous, and be genuine. Always be very interested in learning more about other people and other artists’ stories, growth, and development. 

Believe in your own vision, art, and ideas, and be bold and brave enough to not always listen to the other voices that would discourage your work, progress, ideas, and achievements. Share your vision genuinely and generously with your peers, non-performing arts friends, your students, and with your community.

Make friends who are not in your own artistic field or discipline. Try to make friends who are far off from your world so you can keep learning, expanding your own network and opportunities, and gain insights and perspective from people outside of your field.

– Interview conducted by Amy Aronoff, Senior Communications Officer

Did you know that NYFA has an Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program? Learn more about the program here, and don’t forget to sign up for the monthly Con Edison IAP Newsletter to receive opportunities and events as well as artist features directly to your inbox.

Inspired by the NYFA Source Hotline, #ArtistHotline is an initiative dedicated to creating an ongoing online conversation around the professional side of artistic practice. #ArtistHotline occurs on the third Wednesday of each month on Twitter. Our goal is to help artists discover the resources needed, online and off, to develop sustainable careers.

This initiative is supported by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.

Images from top: Aryo Wicaksono rehearsing with the Queer Urban Orchestra  and performing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” October 2016; Aryo Wicaksono giving a State Department Tour Lecture at the Belgrade Conservatory of Music (Serbia), March 2016 

Amy Aronoff
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