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Northwestern Opera Singer Returns to Begin Career in Arts Activism

This is the second in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

For the last few years, Kaitlin Very has taught music to an eager group of students: preschoolers.

“You won’t get a more excited group of students than four-year-olds,” Very said.

Since graduating from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern, Very has been working as a music teacher in Pittsburgh. The experience has given the opera singer the motivation to finally pursue arts outreach professionally, something she’s wanted to do since she first graduated from Northwestern in 2011 with a degree in vocal performance and a minor in arts administration. “That is my main inspiration,” she said. “I really want to focus on outreach and opera in the future.”

To do that, she’s returning to Chicago to begin the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. Very was drawn to the program by its emphasis on connecting students with industry people to open doors for future career paths. She’s also looking forward to learning the basics of marketing and finance so that she pursue jobs in outreach and education that require those skills. “In the long run, I would love own or work for an opera company that does a lot of arts activism and outreach and education type stuff,” Very said.

“That’s what I’m most passionate about.” Very’s fascination with arts activism began while she was an undergraduate at Northwestern. She saw theatre director Peter Sellars attempt a contemporary staging of an opera that was written in 1744 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. “Hercules” explores war and homecoming, and Sellars made these themes current by interviewing Chicago veterans while shaping the opera, and then inviting them to attend the performance and participate in a discussion with other audience members. The result, according to Very, was “way more impacting.” “It took it to a whole new level,” she said.

“It exposed [the audience] to a community in Chicago they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.” Very is also interested in working to get younger people interested in opera. As she’s learned during her years teaching, opera is “not a common part of music curriculum” for school children. “Audiences are aging out in opera specifically because it’s most commonly appreciated by older audiences,” Very said.

“It’s not necessarily why I’m passionate about arts activism, but it would be a great perk if it got new people interested.” And while the focus of her aspirations will be administrative, Very hopes she will be able to continue singing while she’s back in Chicago and after. “If there’s a community group that puts on a musical I can audition for I totally would perform,” she said. “I still love performing as well.”