Performer, Educator, and Executive Director of El Sistema USA.
Jacobs School alumna Katie Wyatt is an accomplished musician, executive, and innovator in social change through music. She is Project Jumpstart’s November Entrepreneur of the Month.
In July 2016, Mrs. Wyatt became the first Executive Director of El Sistema USA, the national network supporting the U.S. movement of El Sistema, and established a new headquarters at Duke University. Mrs. Wyatt is a national leader in creating programs for access and opportunity through the transformative power of music. She enjoys teaching “Social Entrepreneurship and the Arts” as adjunct faculty at Duke University, is a national consultant and speaker in the arts for social change, and as a violist has performed with chamber groups, opera companies, and orchestras around the world.
Mrs. Wyatt was recently honored as a Kennedy Center 2017-18 Citizen Artist Fellow, a national award recognizing her work in citizen artistry and community development through the arts. Mrs. Wyatt co-founded the first El Sistema-inspired program in North Carolina, Kidznotes in Raleigh-Durham, and served as the founding Executive Director from 2010-2017. She speaks Spanish and French and holds advanced degrees in Political Science and Viola Performance from Indiana University and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, jazz musician Dr. Aaron Vandermeer, and their dog, Bear.
PJ: How did your time at Indiana University prepare you for your current career?
KW: My time at IU taught me about maximizing opportunity. I had an incredible instructors and mentors (including Gwyn Richards, who coached me through the admissions process while I was living in Belgium, while he was still Director of Admissions!). They encouraged me to think big and imagine a university experience that fulfilled my learning desires. While a viola performance major, I took political science courses to feed my interest and my experience as a military brat. IU taught me about the benefits of buckling down and committing until the end. I was able to finish two undergraduate degrees in music and political science in four and a half years. My experience at IU shaped me into the landscape thinker that I am today; I actively take the birds-eye view of the full experience. A question I ask myself everyday is: “Is there something more we could be doing here?
My experience at IU was incredibly rich; my best friend Robyn Sharman (then Faike), also a Music Ed. alumna, and I started the very first music school Little 500 team (called Con Fuoco). We raced for three years together and even finished 3rd our senior year! I’ve recently been reconnected to IU through my husband, Dr. Aaron Vandermeer. He is a jazz professor at UNC Pembroke, former David Baker associate instructor and we came back to Bloomington for David’s memorial service. I wish I took more of his classes and had a chance to get to know him better. He left an incredible legacy of students and music.
PJ: What does it mean to you to be a performer and educator, a straddler of the two fields?
KW: As a performer, educator, and executive, I am constantly thinking about quality. Is the work I’m pursuing and the work I’m asking my students to pursue worth doing? I’m always seeking to learn! I teach my students and my staff about the importance of feedback loops. Is the work that you think is amazing and important having the same effect on the people you’re working with? How about the community you’re working in? How do you know? I love the process of “r and d” (research and development), which is the same process as PRACTICING. Trying something out, working hard at it, getting feedback on your ideas, sometimes failing, and trying again in a new and different way.
El Sistema is the music for social change movement that started in Venezuela in the 1970’s. Their concept, known as “ser y no ser todavia” (being and not being yet), is still what guides my work at El Sistema USA today.We are always arriving, always learning, and always changing.
PJ: As the newly executive director of El Sistema USA, how would you like to affect change within the organization and the broader field of music education?
KW: I would love for El Sistema programs across the country to become integral parts of the community fabric devoted to empowering all young people, no matter their social or economic circumstances. El Sistema programs have a critical role to play in advocating for music’s ability to inspire and unleash talent within all people. It has the power to return music education and instrumental instruction to the core of early childhood education. Music provides the necessary and crucial skills of creativity and innovation required in today’s workplace.
PJ: Do you have advice for young musicians who wish to engage with the community?
KW: A great way to start is to ask yourself: How can I help? All of my programming choices are made through the communities I’m working in. Another tip is to never think that you have all the answers. Get out and ask!