We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Edwards and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
It was important to build a company that was both founded and led by women, with respect and diversity as core ethics, providing value to the community and the arts in every possible way. In working for other arts education companies and didn’t always like the way their organizations were run or the way people were treated, although I loved the work itself. I felt that the money from government funding and grants could be used more efficiently with greater impact and serve more people. There was a decision to start a new non-profit company with a focus on maximum impact on the community, more diverse programming, service to other demographics, more competitive compensation for the teaching artists and a working environment and culture for employees where they were allowed to express themselves creatively, be heard, feel appreciated and respected. The dream was to create the company that I wished I worked for.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a performer, a rockstar, or the lead in a movie musical. I was fortunate enough to have parents, both educators, who provided piano lessons which led me to discover my own talent. They made sure it happened, and I was lucky to have some arts programming in my school. I dedicated my life to my craft and worked in music as early as 15. When I eventually began teaching and seeing how many children don’t have the same opportunity, don’t have access to what I so easily had, my calling changed from being a rockstar to helping others find their own inner “rockstar” – arts education, so kids (and now others) can discover their talents they don’t even know they have, to have a creative outlet, and to collaborate and work as a team, and even to make friends. I’ve so often seen the power of how art heals and inspires. It’s incredible, no matter what age a person is — I’ve seen 85-year-olds discover talent they never knew they had. I’m thrilled they found it, but wish they didn’t have to wait 85 years. New York is the epicenter of art and a melting pot full of possibilities to discover. With this true, I find myself asking – why doesn’t everyone have access to arts education?
I’ve learned about so many things in New York, seen so many wonders, and think: how is it possible that this is my life? It definitely has not been easy, yet it still feels dream-like at times: the people I’ve had opportunities to meet and work with, the beautiful things I’ve experienced. Still, it is a challenge, it can be so scary, but all the tough things have made me stronger. I’ve had to learn that even when I don’t succeed, I know how to do better and prepare for next time. It makes me driven to help people avoid obstacles I’ve learned from. It’s fundamental for me to wish people could always be kind, and could all have each other’s backs, and the good guys would win more often. So many things fly at you in the arts: not having any money, hateful people, people don’t want you to succeed because of their egos, prejudice. Then monumental challenges like 9/11, the Recession, and the Pandemic — all these have forced me and other artists to find a way to survive, to keep going, and find other work. While I’ve always managed to keep driving toward my artistic goals and have been a working musician one way or another, through these “survival” jobs I’ve focused on gathering skills that made me more well-rounded, enabling a pianist to take on building an organization that uses the sum of all my experiences and capabilities. My friends know I’m always the first person to show up for them and support their dreams and talents. I know how much it has mattered to me when others do that. I wouldn’t be here without the help of others, the generous support and many hours of contribution from people like my husband, friends, believers, donors. With their help, I get to do something better than being a rockstar. I get to make “ahha” moments possible, the moment when you believe in yourself, when you see possibility, when you connect your talent with your tomorrow. That is why there is an exclamation point between AhHa and Broadway. Everything I’ve been given, every opportunity, every obstacle I’ve overcome, every NY experience I’ve had, every person I’ve watched be transformed — it’s all captured in that exclamation point.
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.
New York City has so much to offer and it is ever changing. So many people call New York “the greatest city in the world” and if that’s true then visitors deserve more than just the traditional tourist attractions. There is such deep culture and a wealth of hidden gems in the city that show its true identity, and those are the types of things I like to show off. The Museum Of Moving Image is a fantastic place for film, television and nostalgia, and the Jim Henson exhibit I loads of fun for all ages. Of course I have to bring visitors to the American Museum of Natural History (especially the Hall of Gems & Minerals) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While I would never take those off the list, I love to surprise visitors with something they didn’t expect as well.
Of course, I also love food, and the list of foods I don’t like is very short. I even keep a document with all of my favorite restaurants and cafes, based on cuisine, location, price, because so many folks ask for recommendations. Sort of my own personal Yelp. One of my favorite restaurant is Enoteca Maria on Staten Island. It’s easy to get to by the Staten Island Ferry which is an experience in and of itself. Once off the ferry it’s a short walk to this unique and delicious restaurant. Each day, the restaurant features a dish from a different region of Italy, authentically made by a different Nonna. Diners have the opportunity to meet the Nonnas and see them at work creating their fresh homecooked meals made with love!
Festivals are also a lot of fun for visitors and there’s always a festival or parade or street fair anywhere you go here. One of my favorite festivals was the Bacon & Beer Festival. I love bacon and even came in 2nd place at a bacon eating contest one year. Even though I didn’t come in first, I still felt that I won because I got the keep the bacon I didn’t finish plus take home 3 different types of artisanal bacon. Tasty good fun!
Whatever we do, I enjoy telling the backstories and ‘fun facts’ about places in NYC – the oddities and unexpected tales to entertain and make the visit more memorable. There is never a dull moment in this city, that’s for sure!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Throughout my life, so many people have made a difference, given me opportunities, believed in me and helped me grow as an artist, educator and businessperson. However, the greatest champions in my life are my parents, who introduced me to the arts, supported my decision to be a pianist and gave me the tools and education to fulfill my dreams – they are my Universe. I am often inspired by this great gift, since we serve so many who do not have that same access. My piano teacher and mentor, Beverly Greenbaum, who saw what I was capable of, nurtured it and mentored me to develop my skills, guiding me and introducing me to the many facets of music. Each of us needs someone who will go that extra mile because they believe in us and what we can become and do. And last, but not least, my husband (business guru/advisor/idea guy/actor/podcaster/film maker) Marc Raco, who is endlessly talented himself and has stood by me, supported me, championed me, and been honest at the most crucial moments and integral in my path forward in leading and building AhHa!Broadway, particularly in the face of the pandemic.
All photos courtesy of AhHa!Broadway Inc. Photo with 3 actors in front of red curtain – Photographer: Emmersen Tormey, courtesy of AhHa!Broadway Inc.