We had the good fortune of connecting with Sharyl Holtzman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sharyl, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I think it’s more the other way around, it pursued me It feels like a calling, instinctual. I actually produced my first fundraising event when I was 8 years old – it was a carnival, with music and food to raise money for my classmate neighbor who was diagnosed with meningitis, his family struggling financially. When I was 10 I organized the neighborhood kids to perform shows with lights and dancing, I loved the dance scenes on shows like The Monkees; when I was 12 I started keeping a journal, and all I wanted to do was write and read. Two other significant things happened at that age: I saw David Bowie and Tina Turner for the first time on Midnight Special. I was electrified. I was a journalism major in college, and worked at the newspaper, spent one year in the newsroom before moving over to arts and entertainment becoming the editor. I ‘scandalized’ our advisor by launching a weekly arts and entertainment section, doing a cover page that was either a photo or graphic design, no ad. I hired music, art, film and book critics and writers. It was a huge success and was awarded honors by the Society of Professional Journalists. There was no going back! After got school, I got myself a job at a large midwest newspaper chain as a proofreader and typist; by answering the phones I talked my way on to the Chicago Tribune as a freelancer; from there I added Screen, a film/tv trade publication and many other smaller publications. I was a social betty, hugely dialed into the Chicago music, club and spoken word scenes and these became my muses. As a contributor, I could get stories no one else could because of my contacts, and because I had artists speak. And then the AIDS crisis imploded. I was horrified so I started volunteering. Quickly I started contributing my writing skills to do monthly newsletters; from there it grew into press releases, donor/sponsor pitch letters. And we had to do events to raise money. There was no handbook for what we were dealing with (sound familiar?!) and I started working on events and fundraisers. It wasn’t long before my bartending and temp jobs fell to the wayside and I was on staff in development at a meals on wheels program, one of the first AIDS organizations, there were just three of us. While others focused on the $1000 plate dinners, I worked shaping fundraisers and events to infuse cash year-around. I did my first annual fundraiser, a Croquet Tournament, that ran for 10 years. Once again I drew on my ties to music, radio, clubs, restaurants, theater and hair people to form teams, alongside corporate supporters. I wanted them to adopt us as their cause, build city unity and community. This became a signature that has remained with me ever since. I started getting calls when someone needed a fundraiser produced, including a well known performance artist named Brigid Murphy who was diagnosed with lymphoma. She came up to me in then-famed Lounge Ax and said, my friends are organizing a fundraiser, but they don’t know how to pull it all together, will you go to a meeting to help? And so it began. I went to the meeting, became the producer – we had music, spoken word, an art auction, Bloodshot Records, musicians, radio personalities who had been part of/supporting her shows for years, and it was a six-figure haul. The calls kept coming. Small grassroots efforts, concepts that I developed into sustainable entities. A VP at the music promoter JAM Productions took notice – Donna Sue Van Cleaf-Fish – and asked me if I would come to work for them as a salesperson at their main venue. I was flattered but declined. At the time sales didn’t feel like a fit. A few months later she called again, this time, wanting to hire me to do their in-house rock and roll auction that raised money for shelter kids and battered women with their kids.. I felt the adrenaline instantly, before I even had the meeting. Work in music/concerts every day, use it to raise money for homeless kids and battered women? It was like I wrote the job description myself. I stayed five years, doing the auction, added a golf outing, the company party became a casino night fundraiser, and I turned the event into a five-figure annual foundation as a staff of one, supported by volunteer managers and a board of directors. It was a challenge to see what bands, musicians, solo artists, topical pop culture and sports icons I could collect signed items from; bigger, better, , unique items no other auction had. It was easy to ask because I knew who it was for, and knew we could build an amazing coalition within the music community to make us the Chicago go-to charity. Next, the opportunity to break into film production presented itself, and I grabbed it. Then again, I got a call from Donna Sue, she said a well loved nationally known Chicago musician had an idea for a benefit concert for homeless teens, that also included familiar collaborators in the program director of the Triple A radio station and owner of the national radar music club in town, would I meet? I did, and a 5-year benefit concert series called The Waltz and an amazing work relationship was born, with Nicholas Tremulis, musician/producer/composer, as the artistic director, me as the producer and promoter (there’s a theme here! staff of two!) I had never produced a concert before, but a funny thing happens when you work for a major music promoter, I learned a thing or three. The Waltz was a balance of national/international musicians with regional and wealth of local Chicago musicians on the national radar. It was magic; we still talk about these shows today; the sheer volume of names we got, the once in a lifetime collaborations and performances. This was love. Again, I got the calls; this time for call to action benefit concerts – war in Afghanistan, September 11, anti-death penalty and many others. And it kept expanding. Next, a small, high end bass manufacturing company in Chicago wanted to do a 10-year anniversary concert, donate money after costs to a music school for disadvantaged kids; it turned into a sold-out 3 day weekend of events with a meet and greet, after show dinner, master class and open house along with the concert. I eventually decided to move from Chicago, and while I thought I’d land in New York, Los Angeles was where everything came together, where I could merge my background working full time for a film studio, which allowed me to be in a network that also also fueled contacts and financial stability for my projects. I also re-opened my communications toolbox, and with the onset of digital and social media, became an in-demand strategist and visual storyteller for musicians, creatives and niche projects. And this became my life again full time after the studio. Grassroots, small organizations, organizations looking to rebuild/transition; musicians and creators with complex back stories, like musician/poet Vince Bell, who was came up in the Houston music scene with Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffiths, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and was poised for break out stardom when a drunk driver him leaving him almost dead and living with a serious brain injury. Or the art gallery that transitioned from the South Bay to become an arts non-profit in South Central LA, also a voice for its black community. The literary organization with national recognition that should elevate its fundraising and profile so it can be here another 50 years. The 50th anniversary I produced was their turnaround; to see an A list star like Viggo Mortenson, LA punk architects John Doe and Exene of the band X, John Densmore of the doors, poet Kamau Daood, founder of the World Stage Theater, and more convene under a packed, sold out tent for a bacchanal evening of food, poetry and music, was what miracles are made of. This is where I feel at home. This is when I feel everything firing on all the proverbial cylinders. I never think about it; it’s when I soar.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am in a field with amazing communicators and event managers (or producers, we get a few titles along the way! What you get with me is compassion and heart. We are taught that ‘feelings’ aren’t professional and I don’t think that’s true at all. You can do both. I listen, and the creators/organizations I work with know I hear them. I inspire trust in my ability to steer and meet goals. They know I understand and distill complex needs, and can distill them. The events I do, the communications strategies I create and implement, are clearly in their voice – but one with the necessary tools to reach their targets. I never tire of the knowing smiles of clarity and understanding, the head nods. They know my background comes from a diverse range of small and grassroots organizations and creators to working with one of the largest entertainment corporations in the world, equally fluent in both. I have done every job from the ground up; my team of people working with me stays with me for these reasons as well. Nicholas Tremulis has always said I have the soul of an artist with a steel-trap mind for business, delivered in a way that draws people in and makes them happy to be there.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I am based in San Pedro now, the furthest south part of Los Angeles, also the Port of Los Angeles, so starting here and doing a loop through and around downtown LA to Silverlake to Venice and back is a must! We’d start in San Pedro with a visit to The Corner Store for coffee and pastries, and a great place to buy souvenirs from local artists, then to the galleries, candy store, in our downtown, the historic U.S.S. Iowa; through Cabrillo Beach to the Korean Bell, Point Fermin Lighthouse, with a stop at the Pacific Diner for lunch before a coastal drive through Palos Verdes to catch an ocean view sunset with cocktails at the Terranea Resort and then head to dinner at the old school italian steak house J. Trani’s. Next day, on our way to downtown Los Angeles we’d stop in the smaller port town of Wilmington to go to the Chowder Barge, seafood/lunch/breakfast diner on a barge on the water. Make our way to the Broad Museum, Disney Hall, the Mexican Cultural Arts Center and Olivera Street, check for music at Pershing Square or 7th and Figueroa, have a happy hour cocktail on the rooftop at Perch, and finish in Little Tokyo for dinner. Silverlake & Echo Park – drive through the reservoir, slice of pizza at Two Boots, Intelligentsia for a caffeine pick me up, hit all the boutiques and small shops, drive through Griffith Park, pull over for scenic views, do a short scenic walk; stop for happy hour at the real deal Red Lion German Pub before heading to the Edendale for dinner. Hollywood – two days stay at the Roosevelt Hotel, get in some poolside time. Gotta see the Boulevard, Hollywood and Highland, the Kodak Theatre, Grauman’s Chinese; tour Paramount Pictures and have lunch there. See the Morrison Hotel Photography Gallery in the Sunset Marquis and stay for dinner. Next day do a drive through the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills and Bel Air, see Rodeo Drive; sushi for lunch at Rock Sugar; Dinner at the pool at the Roosevelt. Venice Beach – go through the galleries, hit the boardwalk, have lunch at the Sidewalk Cafe for bar food and the best people watching. Park and walk the length of Abbott Kinney, dinner at local favorite James Beach Day trip to Joshua Tree? Or how about Big Bear? Literally scratching the surface – music, theater, films, free music and shows in the parks, art walks.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
One of the greatest joys of this work is the support and mentoring by others. And why now I love to mentor and consult. Sure, it’s paying it forward, but it is a visceral connection to share what was given to me and watch someone, something thrive. Just one?! To Lori Cannon and Victor Salvo – in the days of AIDS & LBGTQ+ rights – remain unmatched for me in their depth, diligence, activism, ability to connect, touch and inspire people. Knowing them was to know what aiming high was, what leaving no stone unturned truly meant. How to apply passion, anger, brilliance into structure and change. Both encouraged me, when everyone was skeptical when I said that the croquet tournament could be a five-figure fundraiser, and how it would also be a friend raiser, a bridge-builder. Scott Gelman (VP, talent buyer) John Soss (marketing/advertising) Buddy Sokolick (production manager, RIP) at JAM Productions – they were the first to get behind me, understand what I wanted to do to take on the rock and roll auction and blow it up bigger. They listened, they encouraged every thought, every idea and gave me the tools I needed to break through. They opened doors, they never thought twice about making a call, using their leverage to make something happen. Joe Shanahan – was my finishing school. Owner of the Metro, we started collaborating when I was at Rock For Kids, and continued to grow, we had amazing highs for that auction, and the work we did year round to make it happen. The trio of partners were Joe, the VP and a talent buyer at JAM, the program director at XRT. It was Joe who got in the trenches with me and the vision we had for what The Waltz concerts could be. I had to stand up and explain to these very successful, powerful professionals, top in their industries, that the model they were used to in packaging concerts was not going to work for a benefit like this; the one I proposed would. Nicholas Tremulis 🙂 yes his name comes up often for me; collaborating with him changed the direction of my life forever. It was the beginning of the beauty of pairing with someone and their creative/artistic vision and being the ‘whisperer’ who made it happen. He has the intrinsic ability to laser in on what it is you do best, pull it out of you; truly push you to places you never thought of or thought you could reach because that’s the bar he also sets for himself. Nick’s energy is like the way the city of New York feels when you first step off the subway – you can feel it pulsing under your feet. That’s what Nick’s presence is like. I have produced mega, multi-artist concerts, met and worked with my music heroes, taken on projects that were life-changing. Susan Hayden, poet, writer and founder of the brilliant Library Girl Series; we are soul sisters – her depth, her vision, her love of words and music, the ability to pair and connect, create community. And she inspires me to bring out my dormant but not so inner-writer.