We had the good fortune of connecting with Anne Kelly-Saxenmeyer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Anne, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Work/life balance was a big part of what my husband and I were thinking about when we started our business in 2004. We wanted to create something that we would enjoy, that would support our family, and would allow one of us to be home with our 2-year-old son during the day.
Running a small business was of course harder than we imagined, but it did give us that precious time with our son, and years later with our twin daughters. By late 2018 (because we’re slow learners) we had finally reached the promised land of work/life balance. With all three kids in school, two starting elementary and one in high school, James and I were splitting the week between managing our space in Mid-Wilshire and working from home.
On my home days, I was able to do my regular tasks and work on exciting new projects. We had just partnered with The Huntington Library and with Pacific Clinics, a non-profit organization that serves children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs through their childcare providers. I spent my days making content for our music and art programs, and working out ways to make them more accessible to all families. I kind of couldn’t believe my luck.
These days, with both of us working from home (while our space on West Third sits empty) and all three kids also home (Zooming 1st grade & college), work/life balance is less a big picture goal than a series of moment-to-moment decisions and new skills to practice all day: trying to switch from work tasks to parenting ones at a crazy speed (without seeming crazy), knowing when to get into something that requires concentration (5:30 am is good), choosing moments to wrack my brain for new ideas and knowing when to let it go for the day, and remembering my great luck in having a partner in all of it and the privilege of staying home with parts of our business still running well, and that we’re all doing fine.
What has made this new balancing act so much easier for me is going on Zoom six days a week to co-host our music-and-movement classes, and seeing all the families making it work in so many different ways, and doing it so well. I have none of the Zoom fatigue people talk about. Being online has given us work and life, everything from purpose in our jobs to pancakes with my mom every Sunday morning.
What should our readers know about your business?
PLAY specializes in music and art programs for families with kids from babyhood to five years, and all of our activities are designed for children to participate in along with parents or caregivers. We’ve been offering classes and community for families at our Mid-Wilshire space since 2005 with a detour to online programming since April of this year. In the design of our space and of our programs, we strive to create an environment that encourages exploration, and is fun and exciting both for kids and their adults.
PLAY music is our original, music-and-movement curriculum, which we developed with the help of local artists and educators, and implemented in January 2010. We’ve since had over a thousand families participate in the program between our Mid-Wilshire location, our outpost at Silverlake Conservatory of Music since 2017, and collaborations with The Huntington Library and Pacific Clinics. The collection of content we’ve developed over the years is what I’m most proud of with PLAY.
We strongly believe that good children’s material should be simple and true, developmentally appropriate, and, at the very least, palatable to adults—who are the gatekeepers. If the grown-ups aren’t into it, it’s not family music or a family art project. One of the highlights of our music program is a wonderful collection of original songs by our collaborator, Willie Aron, a multi-instrumentalist and composer, who also co-produces all of our recordings (with Marc Aaron Jacobs at Tonal Chaos). Willie has a gift for creating songs that charm kids and their grown-ups equally.
For the future, I’m very excited to take the lessons I’ve learned this year and use them to remake our business with a focus on reaching a larger audience, increasing accessibility to our programming, and creating opportunities for our teachers to have full-fledged careers with our company. These are big tasks, which we’ve been working on in fits and starts for years, but 2020 has taught us to stretch ourselves, and has also given us some new skills to help get these things done.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The places I’d love to visit right now are mostly ones that would make my kids go wild with happiness. Planning a week of activities is beyond me, but for a day or two of fun (in normal times) we’d invite my mom over and take my daughters to the beach, hit Travel Town on the way back, scoop up my son from home, then eat at Joy in Highland Park, and go to a show at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. I’d like to go for tacos with my husband at Home State in Highland Park. (When our space was open, we had a running lunch date there on our one day off together, which was kind of our favorite day of the week.) Lastly, I’d love to splurge and take my son to Sushi Kimagure in Pasadena to belatedly celebrate his high school graduation.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’m extremely grateful to the teachers in my life and my children’s lives. For me, there are a couple of these (a ballet teacher and a writing professor) whose lessons come up all the time and inform my work and life, though I was their student so long ago.
More recently, Sifu Tav Byerhoff at Six Harmony Martial Arts keeps me strong and sane. For my family, there have been teachers who helped us when we really needed it. You don’t always get a chance to see how incredibly dedicated most educators are unless you reach an unexpected bump in the road. I have to mention my daughters’ beloved kindergarten teacher, Ms. Karabel, and their first grade teacher, Mrs. Reyes, who inspires me daily—and more importantly inspires my girls, who have only met her on Zoom, but are happy and excited about learning.
The teachers I owe the most to in my work are of course our wonderful music teachers and art facilitators over the years at PLAY, and especially the music teachers working with us now on Zoom: Keith Colacicco, Emilia Lopez-Yañez, and Veronika Luu. They have worked so hard and adapted so quickly, and they’re also just great people. Without their talents and dedication, we would not be able to do what we do.
all photos by Orit Harpaz