Interview with Scott Lykins

Academy artistic director Jeremy Rhizor with Scott Lykins.

Scott Lykins is the artistic and executive director of the Lakes Area Music Festival (LAMF) in Brainerd, Minnesota. Together with associate artistic director John Taylor Ward and community members he built a summer festival with an annual budget over $300,000 that offers free orchestral, chamber music, and fully-staged operatic performances to the greater lakes area. Jeremy Rhizor, the Academy of Sacred Drama artistic director, interviews Scott about his vision for the festival and his professional journey as a cellist and administrator.

JR: The quality of LAMF performances is competitive with much larger metropolitan areas and still manages to focus on more community-minded aspects of performance. What role does the pursuit of artistic excellence play within a larger vision for LAMF performances?

SL: It has been amazing to watch the performance quality grow substantially in each of our nine seasons. There are a few factors that account for this. Among the most important are the fact that as Executive Director, I am still a musician first; I don’t think any artist, when faced with the possibility of excellence, would be accepting of anything less. Also, many of the long-time members of our roster (including myself and [Associate Artistic Director John] Taylor Ward) started coming to Minnesota as undergraduate students. Now, almost a decade later, the talents of those individuals have naturally progressed. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the role our audience and community play in everything we do. We have a very diverse audience: we have many people who heard their first symphony orchestra or saw their first opera at our performances; we also have many committed audience members who have retired to the area or visit seasonally that are frequent attendees at the world’s best symphonies and opera companies and who expect excellence. Knowing that the quality of our programs is what draws these classical music aficionados, and seeing how they in turn support us as donors and volunteers, is an endorsement of our success.

JR: The Academy of Sacred Drama’s Year of Judith explores the story of an unlikely heroine who faces and defeats a seemingly unstoppable enemy on behalf of her community. What are some of Brainerd’s most pressing challenges, and how has the unlikely medium of classical music helped to address those issues in the greater lakes area?

SL: Brainerd, Minnesota was recently named the poorest downtown community in the state. With low median income and high unemployment, many of the permanent, rural residents aren’t afforded vibrant cultural opportunities. One of LAMF’s core values from the beginning was to make excellent music accessible. One way that we do that is that we don’t charge anyone to come to our programs. Instead, we ask people to donate as they are able and put a value on the importance of our organization in their life and in the life of our community. We provide educational opportunities to people of all ages and bring music outside the walls of our concert venue and deep into the community through our outreach programs. Beyond sharing music with people who might not hear it otherwise we are bringing people from different sectors of the community together, engaging individuals through volunteerism, and participating in the revitalization of the region through economic development and improved livability.

JR: Community members in Brainerd speak glowingly about your mother who was a school teacher in the community. How did her vision and values influence the direction that you have taken with the festival?

SL: My mom was a very special person. She was a kindergarten teacher, a resort owner, and was very involved with a number of church and community activities. It seemed like she knew everyone and even today, six years after she passed away as a result of breast cancer, people share stories about how they remember her and felt loved by her. Her generous spirit and her ability to make everyone feel welcomed, accepted, and important definitely helped shape the early development of the festival. She would go above and beyond welcoming people who came through the doors at our concerts and spreading the word about the festival to everyone she encountered, whether she knew them or not. She also made sure that each of our musicians was well taken care of and played an important role in getting volunteers to provide housing and meals to artists. Even though she was only here for two seasons, each year during the festival season is when I think of her most. Organizationally, our commitment to “radical hospitality” is derivative of her work in the early years. Personally, her values help shape the way I positively interact with people; her teaching legacy inspires me to remain committed to youth education and her love of those marginalized in society inspires the continued development of our outreach activities.

R: Your career balances playing cello with arts administration and community organizing. How do these areas of activity fit together into an integrated vision of your professional life and personal identity?

SL: In college, like many of my fellow students, I assumed that a career in music would be based on taking auditions and—hopefully—eventually winning a coveted position in an orchestra. It wasn’t until the festival began that I discovered my interest in administrative leadership. The evolution of LAMF has provided me the opportunity to run an amazing organization, continue performing with inspiring colleagues, network with top professionals in the field, and remain connected with a hometown that I love. You also mention community organizing, which is a large part of what the festival does. After graduating from college and prior to LAMF becoming a full-time job, I spent a year working on a nonpartisan political campaign. Similar to the festival in that it was a cause I was deeply invested in and deeply affected by, being a part of the largest grassroots campaign in state history gave me valuable understanding of the impact an individual can have on others and the power that a collection of individuals can have on a community. LAMF embodies that grassroots spirit as everyone—from musicians to our board of directors to volunteers, donors, and supporters—contributes to make something great.

JR: The LAMF is transitioning from an emerging arts organization to an established and permanent community institution. Next season will mark the festival’s tenth year. How has your vision for the festival changed over the past decade, and how has the festival changed you?

SL: Celebrating ten years is a huge milestone! A decade ago when we put on our first few concerts I would have never imagined the possibility of what has been accomplished. I think one of the greatest developments in vision for me has been the shift of focus from the individual concerts and the individuals who attend to the far-reaching impact LAMF’s existence has on the community at large. Looking to the future, my vision is to ensure the organization’s permanence and sustainability to make sure the music continues long into the future. How has the festival changed me? It has helped me grow as a musician; it has enabled my feeling connected to a strong hometown and musical community; it has made me appreciate the generosity of others; and it has altered the trajectory of my career.

Academy Journal Volume 1, Number 1 (2017) · CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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