We had the good fortune of connecting with Tara Aesquivel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tara, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
My dad has told me since childhood, “Do what you love, and do it well enough that someone will pay you to do it.” The thing that I have loved since childhood is music and I’ve never really envisioned myself in any other type of career. My college admissions essay was about the joy I felt sharing music as a drum major for my high school marching band, and the same motivation keeps me going in every day in my current job.
Music has been such a powerful force in my own life, and I love nothing more than to share that with others. Though, I didn’t identify exactly what my career within music would look like until a few years after I graduated with a music degree. I worked for a little while after college and went back to school to study nonprofit arts management at Carnegie Mellon. It was a perfect fit and I’m grateful to be able to pursue a career doing work that is personally meaningful.
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.
My career journey can probably be summed up as persistence, resilience, and a touch of idealism. I also recognize that I’ve had privilege. As I said above, I didn’t know exactly what my career field would be until after college– but I felt, in an instinctual way, that I was generally heading in the right direction and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
My career felt undefined and meandering for years, until it all magically came together to set me up for the type of job that had inspired me to go back to grad school. I’ve worked in music, theatre, dance, museums, academia, and a marketing agency. Through it all, I have always tried to learn everything I could and give my best effort to the job. But, at times when I didn’t feel connected to the work or motivated to give 100%, it was time to think about what would come next.
A major lesson that I have learned is that I need a support network of friends and colleagues that I can reliably turn to for help and advice. This includes friends and family that are supportive of me as a friend, daughter, wife, sister, and mom, as well as colleagues in my field that will listen to my specific work-related concerns and share their relevant experiences. I’m so grateful to have crossed paths with dozens of kind, smart, passionate people that are now part of my network.
Two years ago I started my role as Executive Director of the American Youth Symphony. No joke, I had literally saved this position in an inbox folder called “Dream Job.” I loved my previous position, too, but had started to talk with my (fantastic) professional coach about long-term career goals. She asked me a lot of questions about the type of work that could potentially pull me away from my former position. Once I had a few criteria in mind, she encouraged me to look around for organizations and positions that fit my list. I discovered AYS and stored it away in said inbox folder. When I saw the job posting for my current role, I knew it was time to go for it. I landed my “dream job” and no longer feel that I have to prove to myself (or anyone else) that I can climb the ladder professionally.
So, I’m creating longer-term goals based on impact. Two of my highly-respected colleagues asked me (totally separately, but within weeks of each other earlier this year) what I want my career legacy of impact to be. I’m giving it long, serious consideration.
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.
Most of my recommendations are for the South Bay area, where I have lived for 10 years. It’s very LA to find a gem in an unexpected place. That’s the case for my local favorites, Toyo Sushi in Torrance, and Eatalian in Gardena. When people come to visit me from out of state, I design a day in Long Beach, including Sweet Dixie Kitchen for breakfast, a long bike ride along the beach, and a stop by the Museum of Latin American Art. The harbor cruise through the Port of Long Beach is definitely worth taking, as well as the more adventurous boat ride to Catalina Island. Another fun day is to explore tidepools and pebble beaches on the south side of Palos Verdes and grab a bite with ocean-sunset views at one of the Terranea restaurants. Any day is a good day to start with coffee and pastries at GreenDoor Coffee in Carson, and end with ramen for dinner at Shin-Sen-Gumi in Gardena. Closer to the heart of LA, I usually take visitors to a major museum that fits their interests: the Getty, LACMA, Natural History Museum, or the California Science Center. If we’re midtown a stop at Papa Cristo’s for spanakopita and baklava is absolutely essential! There’s also usually a great festival happening somewhere– I tend to gravitate toward food-centric festivals. The great thing about LA is that there’s always something new to enjoy!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This is such a difficult choice, because I have found incredible, life-changing support from many places. But, if I have to pick one, I would like to dedicate this shoutout to my grandma, Sophie. No matter what, even when it felt like no one in the world approved of my decisions, or if I felt completely lost and hopeless, my Nana has shown me nothing but pure love. She has always believed in me and been my #1 fan. I’m so thankful to have had her support as a throughline to my life’s twists and turns.
Photos courtesy of American Youth Symphony