Interview by Thomas Agnew
Photography by Sarah Bader
Our 7th “On A Mission” feature is professionally trained Vocalist, Studio Manager of BOOM Concepts, Education Director at Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Anqwenique Wingfield. Not only is she an active opera performer, Anqwenique splits her time functioning as a mentor, consultant, serving on advisory boards, and is highly sought out to assist as a programming manager for children and community productions. Most recently being recognized as a member of the 2017 40 Under 40 via Pittsburgh Magazine, Anqwenique spoke with us about developing the skills she gained to help grow her career flourish, being on the producer side of work, and more.
You’ve been able to utilize the skills you learned and apply them to consulting, teaching, etc. When did you or what made you start to take initiative to do so outside of just being apart of productions?
I remember for a while hearing this popular quote “be the change you want to see in the world.” And when I thought deeply about how to apply that to my own creative work, I realized I had to be involved in all facets of presenting an idea and that could not rely on anyone to bring forth MY vision. So, it became important to me the be self reliant in not just my ability to do a thing, but to galvanize support and a team of people to make things happen. Then I had to figure out, how do I selfishly get people to buy in to my vision while still making it beneficial and worth it for them. I’m the kind of person who is always considering every possible angle and the needs of people around me. In developing Groove Aesthetic, I wanted to my collaborators to find themselves within the idea also. Then thinking on a broader level, how do we change things for real, for generations to come. I realized that my passion for education was a key factor in “creating this change,” that if we want to create a path way for others to follow, we have to teach them and show them the way.
One big hang up when it comes to pay with artist is that some don’t know how to gauge how much they should be paid for a gig. How did you come up with your pay rate and did it take you a while to be comfortable with saying certain numbers?
Pay is a difficult thing but it is absolutely imperative that we require and demand equitable pay for the work we do as artists. This is something I struggled with right after graduating college and dropping down in Pittsburgh. I loved singing and making music, so much that it hadn’t hit me that I paid for a degree to be a performer so that I could make a living. Coming back home was a culture shock for this fact, because no one in my immediate surroundings were making money as artists, not solely. Both my parents are extremely hardworking people and they had very different relationships to their jobs. So, I had to find what that meant for me and how to be successful as a musician, not just because I loved it and it brought me joy, but because I had to eat, travel, sustain, save, and pay bills.
I approach my artist work with the same business mindset and work ethic I watch my parents have. It was also important to be aware: aware of the landscape, where I enter into that, aware of elders to make sure I’m showing respect, and aware of my unique ability to create something beautiful and important to add to the situation. All of this awareness helps me know how much I need to charge a client because just as much as it’s about getting paid, it’s about paying people.
Being able to do both has given you a mix of opportunities. What so far has been the most beneficial for your career and why?
Understanding how to navigate the philanthropic community as an individual artist has been one of the most beneficial aspects of my trajectory. The reality is that as artists, we need support to create the beautiful works that heal and entertain the world. Also, in order to be credible, you must have a body of work the present as evidence of your hard work and ability. Historically and too often, money is THE barrier for creating the body of work, and depending on your medium, it’s more so. When I had the vision for The NO BOUNDaries Project, I had no way of funding it myself as a working teaching artist and musician. Then I applied for a grant to fund the expenses and it changed everything. It made so much possible including the opportunity to deepen my relationship with internationally renowned artists, pay them, pay myself, pay other musicians and host a full day workshop for young artists.
You’ve been apart of productions as a performer but what’s it like on the other side as a producer finding talent, organizing, and delivering the final product?
It’s stressful [laughs] but also extremely rewarding because for me the greatest gift is to be in a position to give artists a platform. I recognize how important it was for me to be able to attend jam sessions and perform and meet people. That’s what gives us legs to stand on, that’s how I got gigs, that’s how I met musicians who would later become not only some of my closest friends but fierce allies and collaborators. So, to be on the other end knowing how necessary it is, is the greatest gift to me. It also provides me with another set of skills to aid in my growth.
Did you have a mentor? How important is it to have and also provide mentorship in the community?
Absolutely. I’ve had many mentors throughout my life and career many of them in the form of educators and some as friends. I can contribute so much of my success, ability, understanding, experiences and more to mentors who have shared their experience with me. I have to admit there’s a lot I had to figure out on my own and continue to. I think of my work truly as gifts to the world, some of those gifts are to make way for other artists younger than me or in need to help build and strengthen our ecosystem. I stand on the shoulders of musicians and singers who endured and persevered through some of the most trying times for black artists in this country and as we continue to press on through trying times, I make my shoulders available as well.
What would you like to produce in the future that would be your ultimate experience?
I don’t know what the ultimate experience would be, I’d like to keep that open. But, I hope to continue to build a consistent body of work that reflects steady growth, exploration, collaboration and impact. I’m excited to experience life and love in my personal that continues to inform my motivation and creativity. I’m also building on on going projects in the coming years such as: Sirens & Queens, educational recital series celebrating black women composers, performances by Groove Aesthetic, interdisciplinary artist collective and co-directing alongside DS Kinsel on If I Die I’m A Legend: A tale of Hoodoo, Orisha and #Blacklivesmatter, an immersive physical theater experience.