It Takes a Team: Five Questions for Byron Au Yong

Byron Au Yong at Sundance Institute; photo by Fred Hayes

Byron Au Yong is a composer, Creative Capital Awardee, and leader of our “Art Business Management” online workshop. His interdisciplinary projects, scored for voices with Asian, European and handmade instruments, have been performed in concert halls, festivals, theaters, museums, and site-specific locations. We had a few questions for Byron about his creative work and how he manages it. For more, be sure to check out Byron’s online workshop on Monday, April 2.

Hannah Fenlon: Your work has been performed in all kinds of places. What are some of your favorites? Any non-traditional spaces that really stand out in your memory?
Byron Au Yong: My favorite places and presenters provide multiple access points to develop and think about a project. American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, and Sundance Institute Theatre residencies around North America were crucial in supporting my Creative Capital project, STUCK ELEVATOR, and other shows.

In my hometown, favorite venues include On the Boards, Seattle Art Museum and Seattle Theatre Group’s Moore Theater. Memorable non-traditional spaces include 64 waterways for KIDNAPPING WATER: BOTTLED OPERAS thanks to guidance from 4Culture’s Site-Specific Performance Network and Jack Straw New Media Gallery. I am blessed to continue working outdoors along the water with performances of TURBINE, June 27th & 28th, 2015, commissioned by Leah Stein Dance Company and Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia for the 200th anniversary of the Fairmount Water Works.

Hannah: “Art Business Management” is a lofty (but exciting) concept, and can be a struggle for many artists. Was there a time when you weren’t so good at managing your art business, and what did you learn during that moment (or moments)?
Byron: Sustainability has been part of my consciousness since I was a child. Perhaps this is because I am from the Pacific Northwest. I remember riding Metro buses on a field trip to a salmon run where we learned about ecosystems. Artists are part of a living ecology. As a composer, it’s easy to become isolated. This is not sustainable. When I find myself struggling, I seek vibrant communities.
My introduction to Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program was in 2008. I received a MAP Fund Award to support KIDNAPPING WATER: BOTTLED OPERAS. I knew this project could drown me in logistics, so I asked for help. MAP Fund recommended I attend Creative Capital’s PDP Workshop. Along with learning practical business skills, the weekend workshop emphasized the importance of artists supporting each other. I continue to keep in touch with a network of peers, so we can create stronger, sustainable, overlapping ecosystems.


Clip from Byron Au Yong’s Creative Capital project, “Stuck Elevator”

Hannah: Sometimes the hardest thing about making a change is admitting you need to make one! How might artists know that they’re ready to start focusing on building the business of their art, and what first steps might they take towards doing so (besides taking your webinar, of course)?
Byron: I was raised by immigrant working class parents who believe in the American Dream. Idealism and hard work inform my perspective of music as a gift. As an artist, I believe that opportunity comes with responsibility. The first step in being responsible is knowing how to expand opportunity. Thinking of creating art as part of this larger framework helps me focus on what is essential. It takes a team to sustain an art practice.
Hannah: What changes have you seen in our career as you focused on strengthening the business side of your art?
Byron: The way to strengthen a business is by streamlining. My expertise is as a composer. I have learned to streamline the logistics of managing my art practice by hiring assistants, reorganizing my business and work space, as well as managing my time more efficiently. This has made me more effective with large-scale projects.
Hannah: Community, both the community where you live and the communities you speak to in your work, seems very important to you. Can you talk a little about how your communities have impacted your creative output, and the way you manage that output?
Byron: As the only child of divorced parents, I am accustomed to being alone. I started composing by myself at age 11. From age nine to 14, I also performed in any musical that would hire an Asian kid. This combination of solitary and ensemble music-making continues as a pattern in my life today. My work alternates between writing in solitude and working with musical groups around the world.
Thematic areas connect with community concerns. For example, an attention to labor and immigration in STUCK ELEVATOR or water and civic responsibility in KIDNAPPING WATER: BOTTLED OPERAS and TURBINE broadens the potential impact of performances when related communities become involved. A continual dialogue with archival material, interviews and site visits informs and deepens my understanding of a project and relationship with various communities.
Having clear roles helps me manage my creative output. As the composer in the room, I know I need to pay attention to sound and text, performers and venue. Experts such as historians and scientists, and artists such as choreographers, designers, directors, and writers each have a specialty. Working in collaboration with many types of people builds community by allowing us to share our strengths and differences.
Learn more from Byron in his “Art Business Management” online workshop on Monday, April 2.

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