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Ariel AVANT: Q&A with Presenting Partners

We’re thrilled and grateful to partner with five extraordinary concert presenters for the Ariel AVANT “Impact Performance” competition. These five individuals have visionary mindsets energized by risk-taking and rigorous interdisciplinary inquiry in the arts, and have committed to presenting the Grand Prize Winner of the “Impact Performance” competition on their esteemed concert series, as well as hosting the paired engagement event in their communities.  We asked each of them three questions to catch a glimpse of their thought process.  Read on to learn more about each presenter!

Ariel AVANT: What’s an emerging opportunity that can be developed in the classical music performance world / how can classical music expand its impact in the present moment?

Aisha Ahmad-Post: I think it’s easier than ever for musicians to collaborate directly with composers, to have that dialogue between performer and composer, and to take risks with repertoire and lifting up lesser-known or newer composers.

Eileen Carr: I feel like my work as a presenter IS an emerging opportunity—for our audiences and for the artists we invite. Even within the traditions of a classical chamber series (which is just one part of our annual calendar), I look for ways to stretch the notion of what classical can be, even for a mostly older audience.  I include not only traditional formats and composers (what audiences THINK they want to hear), but also programs that introduce new composers and ways of making music. Some of the best moments are when audiences come away surprised by how much they enjoyed the new!

Rob Cross: We have an opportunity to expand our audience for classical music and specifically chamber music. Over the past decade the Virginia Arts Festival has begun to develop a younger audience that is new to classical music. By working with artists on the format of the concerts and exploring alternative performances spaces we have found many of the traditional barriers to attendance are broken down. Artists are beginning to understand the importance of their interaction with the audience both during the concert and after and also the importance of working with young people.

Derek Kwan: Classical music must learn to embrace a performance experience that is participatory for its audiences.

Fidias Reyes: I’m interested in reaching a younger, more diverse audience especially students from our university campus. I really love your idea of incorporating technology and/or electronics into these performances. This is an important tool in engaging young people. We also need to break away from presenting classical music in the standard theater or recital hall format. By shaking up the traditional way that classical music is presented, we have the ability to develop and engage a new audience.

Ariel AVANT: How does your institution reflect the values of the AVANT initiative in general, and/or the “Impact Performance” competition in particular?

Aisha Ahmad-Post: We can’t afford to be okay with the status quo. A university is by nature interdisciplinary and values creative research and work; why should the performing arts center be any different?

Eileen Carr: As a presenter of programming that serves both our campus and community, I believe our series has a responsibility to introduce our audiences to music that will nudge them into new places, new perspectives. We are located in a small Midwestern city where people are comfortable with traditional genres. But I find that if I can program material that expands traditions gently and creatively, we all benefit and enjoy the adventurous programming I love to present. I think audiences can be especially responsive when the innovation is fueled by a commitment to social issues—a perspective that fuels our University’s mission as well.

Rob Cross: Virginia Arts Festival is excited to participate in this project as it aligns with our mission and goals to support new work and to reach a more diverse audience for classical music.

Derek Kwan: Creating healthy communities is central to the Lied Center of Kansas’s mission. Supporting programs that highlight issues of social justice fits perfectly into this concept.

Fidias Reyes: I’m always interested in collaborating and finding new ways of presenting our series, UNCW Presents and our summer festival, Lumina Festival of the Arts. Opportunities like this allow me to engage with other industry professionals and get an inside look into how an artform is evolving and innovating.

Ariel AVANT: What would you say to an artist considering applying to the “Impact Performance” innovation competition?

Aisha Ahmad-Post: There’s room for everyone in this field. You don’t have to be an artist in a certain way because your teacher said that’s the only way, or because that’s how you’ve always done it. Be thoughtful, be curious, be imaginative, and be bold!

Eileen Carr: Think about the audience. This is challenging, because there are so many potential audiences. But perhaps what I mean is, although your work should reflect your own inner voice and passion, make sure you’re thinking about how to bridge to people who are not already fans. Think about how a novice listener might experience your work. Preaching to the choir can be satisfying. But preaching to the wider world is both harder and richer work.

Rob Cross: I would challenge the artist to imagine what will spark the audience to want to return for the next concert and want them to invite their friends to discover a sound world they might be missing.

Derek Kwan: You are the future of classical music.

Fidias Reyes: It is the role of the artist to break away and challenge tradition. This competition is an opportunity to do just that.

About the Presenting Partners

Aisha Ahmad-Post, Director
Ent Center for the Arts – Colorado Springs, CO

Aisha Ahmad-Post is the Director of the Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Previously, she was the Producer for Public Programs at The New York Public Library, and has held positions with Columbia Artists Management, Barrett Vantage Artists, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. Ahmad-Post holds a bachelors in piano and international relations and a masters in music theory from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Eileen Carr, Director
Dayton ArtsLIVE – Dayton, OH

Eileen Carr has been managing a performing arts series for the University of Dayton for 15 years. She has served as a panelist for the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation’s US Artists International, and has received program support from MAAF, CMA and ArtsMidwest. Her programming embraces a wide range of genres, from classical to world traditions, and always includes artists who challenge the status quo.

Rob Cross, Executive and Artistic Director
Virginia Arts Festival – Norfolk, VA

Robert W. Cross, drawing on his decades of experience as a manager, programmer, and performer, founded the Virginia Arts Festival in 1997 and has served as its only executive and artistic director. Under Mr. Cross’s leadership, the festival has brought distinguished dance companies, world-class theater, and internationally celebrated musicians to Virginia. Mr. Cross graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied percussion with Vic Firth of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Derek Kwan, Executive Director
Lied Center of Kansas – Lawrence, KS

Derek Kwan became the Executive Director of the Lied Center of Kansas in January, 2014. He previously served as Vice President of Concerts & Touring for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Executive Director of Interlochen Presents.

Fidias Reyes, Interim Director of Arts Engagement
UNCW Office of the Arts – Wilmington, NC

Fidias Reyes is the Interim Director of Arts Engagement for the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s (UNCW) Office of the Arts. She’s the curator of the performing arts series UNCW Presents and Lumina Festival of the Arts. She received her Masters in Public Administration from UNCW in 2012. She is a proud native of The Bronx in New York.

Impact Performance Competition Guidelines

Ariel AVANT’s Impact Performance prize goes to the most compelling interdisciplinary and/or multimedia performance designed to generate productive conversation and offer positive means of action addressing a social justice issue, particularly one related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prioritized to be achieved by 2030. Applying artists should also propose one or more new works (of at least 10 minutes total) which will be commissioned for the performance itself and integral to its implementation. 

In an effort to mitigate existing bias, the competition will be judged by three tiers of judging panels made up of varying ratios of concert presenters, industry thought leaders, and Ariel roster artists, all from diverse backgrounds. The best ideas win, with four levels of recognition: Grand Prize Winner, Second and Third Place winners, and a Heart winner, an honorable mention for a proposal “with heart.” The grand prize includes a $20,000 touring fund to support five performances with paired engagement events, a $10,000 development and commissioning fund, and a two-week incubation residency for beta testing at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Second and third prizes are honorariums of $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.
The AVANT competitions are open to classical music soloists and chamber ensembles of every background, regardless of age, ensemble instrumentation, race, gender identification, sexual orientation, or any other factor. 
The only eligibility requirements to apply are the following:

  • An active performance history of at least two years
  • Established membership of at least two years (in the case of chamber ensembles)
  • The total number of touring artists/collaborators (including accompanying technicians) must range from 3-6 people
  • Applicants must be able to tour in the United States during the Grand Prize touring period (approximately September through December 2021)
  • Commissioned works must be completed and delivered to artists/collaborators well in advance of the Grand Prize touring period
  • Applications Due: June 1, 2020
  • Semi-Finalists Announced: July 2020
  • Finalists Announced: August 2020
  • Grand Prize Winner Announced: September 2020
  • Approximate Touring Period: September – December 2021

For Full Competition Guidelines, Visit:

Competition Timeline:

Applications Due: June 1, 2020
Semi-Finalists Announced: July 2020
Finalists Announced: August 2020
Grand Prize Winner Announced: September 2020
Approximate Touring Period: September – December 2021