Meet an Emerging Arts Leader: Jessica Craft

​We're partnering with Emerging Arts Leaders: Philadelphia to introduce you to some of the exciting arts and cultural professionals working on behalf of our sector. This month's interview is with Jessica Craft!

Number of years working in the arts: 6+ 

Degrees/certificates: BA Business Administration and Economics / Certificate from the Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute at Bryn Mawr (NELI)

Current occupation: Founding Executive Director at Rock to the Future

Other work experience in the arts: Drummer for numerous Philadelphia area bands, previously volunteer drum instructor at Girls Rock Philly’s summer camp and Ladies Rock Camp

What keeps you engaged and passionate when it comes to arts and culture?
The arts can bring community together, heal the soul, and provide a positive outlet for emotion. Growing up, music gave me an outlet and a place to belong when I felt like an outsider. In college, I met incredible people through The Big Art Show and a painting collective I created with my best friend. After college, I toured with my band throughout the United States. I continue to meet incredible people from different backgrounds with similar and completely different tastes and art forms. There is always something new to see and experience. Writing and performing music, painting, and sculpting all calm my mind and provide me with comfort in a crazy world. I’m not the best at any of these things, but that’s the great thing about art. There is no such thing as being the best. It’s just about being yourself.

What’s the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your current job?
Seeing how much kids and teens enjoy our programs is what it’s all about. It’s really inspiring to see a young artist that we’ve worked with for months or years take the stage to perform an original song—conquering their fears, seeing their friends and parents cheering and clapping, and walking off proud. Many kids return year after year so I get to see the true, long-term impact of our programs. I see them striving to do better each day even with all of the struggles they encounter on a daily basis. Working with these amazing kids and teens makes me a better musician and person.  

How did you get involved with Emerging Arts Leaders: Philadelphia? How does being active with EAL:P fit in with your long-term career goals?
Rock to the Future board officer Jeff Barg invited me to a recent happy hour. Groups like EAL:P help me meet other like-minded people so that we can work together to improve our organizations and better help our communities. When I make connections, I think of them in regards to how they can help me improve Rock to the Future either with funding sources, program partnerships, or student outreach. I’m not sure what my long-term career goals are right now but I know we have a 5-year strategic plan that I want to be successful. My personal success comes with the success of my organization. I’ve considered entering politics but really love working at Rock to the Future!

Have you had any mentors also working in this sector who have had a significant impact on your professional development?
Margie DuBrow from NELI had a huge impact on my development as a leader. I didn’t really know what would happen when I started Rock to the Future, and it grew very quickly because of need and innovativeness. Suddenly, I was managing a staff of 10 and a program serving hundreds of students. Margie is incredible and provided me with feedback and tools I needed for success—she gave it to me straight. I remember her telling me, in so many words, to stop talking and to just listen because I needed to learn. I have a strong personality and she helped me understand how to use that to my advantage. I also meet regularly with peers that I trust and who provide me with insight and feedback based off of their own experiences. It’s really wonderful having folks I can turn to who won’t judge me for not knowing the answers, and now I'm able to share my knowledge with other young leaders just starting out.

In your opinion, what is the most significant issue arts leaders will have to grapple with in the next 10 years?
The continual changes in technology and decreased arts education funding. People, especially young people, have an increasingly short attention span combined with the desire to have everything at their fingertips and need for instant gratification. That paired with the decrease in arts education could lead to the next generation’s decreased participation in the arts.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I play drums in a surf rock band called Conversations and we opened for The Beach Boys (direct support—just us then them!) and got to perform for an endless sea of people. That was pretty wild.