We had the good fortune of connecting with Adrienne Valencia and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Adrienne, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I was raised in a family that had a deep appreciation for the arts. My father, who was Mexican, loved Mariachi and Big Band music from the 1930s and ’40s (that was his era). My mom had more of a classical background – she took voice lessons as a teenager and loved her weekly painting class for seniors before COVID shut it down. My two sisters and I were always encouraged to “cut and paste,” to experiment with new recipes in the kitchen, and to learn a craft, My parents gave us dance lessons and piano lessons; we sang in our school choir and participated in our high school theater productions. My mom is especially artsy and she’d cart us around to community theater, concerts in the park and museums. However, when it came time to choose a major in college, my parents encouraged me to do something a little more…secure. Actually, my dad said, “Pick something stable, I don’t want to support you for the rest of my life.” While that might sound unsupportive, I think he was really just looking out for me. And it forced me to really consider if a life in the arts was what I wanted. I started as a biology major, then switched to business but I just felt like a fish out of water. I would always take a music class, though, and felt completely at home in the music department. It was energizing to be around so many creative and passionate people. I finally changed my major to music on the recommendation of my college piano teacher and I’ve never looked back. As time went on, I realized that not everyone grows up with these types of opportunities and experiences. I can’t say that I’ve had a grand plan for my career – in fact, it has evolved very organically – but one thread has always been making opportunities for students of all ages to experience the beauty, power and richness of the arts. There are so many benefits to participating in the arts that I want more people to have and enjoy them. It’s those early experiences that inform my work and get me up out of bed in the morning. The beautiful thing about the arts is that you don’t have to be a child to learn and appreciate an art form. You can enter the artistic world at any time and it can be part of your life from then on.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m so fortunate to have made my career in the arts, but it’s not always an easy road. One has to be aware that it takes everything you have to be successful. I started out as a piano teacher and then entered the world of orchestra management. I spent about 20 years working in the education departments of various orchestras across the country, creating and implementing programs that introduced people to symphonic music. About three years ago, I joined the staff of Arts for Learning San Diego as the Programs Director and was recently promoted to Executive Director. I’m nothing if not tenacious, and I’ve found that quality to have served me well. I don’t give up easily and when faced with a problem, I think of every possible way to solve it (especially now that I have so many people counting on me). I’m excited and energized by challenges and don’t back away from even the most daunting task. I like creating systems and making things function smoothly. I’m also very curious – I like to call myself a compulsive learner, If I don’t know how to do something, I’ll learn it and do it to the best of my ability. I like to dig in and get familiar with every aspect of the job I’m doing. I don’t really feel like I have a grasp of an organization until I understand how all the parts function together. An important lesson I’ve learned is to create relationships on a foundation of trust. Sometimes that means having difficult conversations, but ultimately two people or two organizations have to trust each other. I have also learned to not take things personally – everyone is doing the best they can. I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work with organizations whose missions I believe in and find ways to put systems and processes into place that make them stronger, more efficient, and able to fulfill their mission. It’s my jam.
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.
Well, this is a little difficult given the present situation! But I would start out with breakfast in my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Parkhouse Eatery. Their staff is super friendly, the menu is delicious and I love the homey feel of the converted house. Balboa Park is a must! I was once given a “backstage tour” of the park by Ranger Kim and it totally changed how I saw this unique treasure in our community. We’d definitely take in a museum or two. I’d want to show her Coronado Island for a little window shopping. Since I am a fair-skinned redhead (as is my BFF), I’d avoid the beach until the evening when we could take in one of San Diego’s spectacular sunsets. And of course, we’d take in a performance or two of live theater or music. We’d also have drinks at Top of the Hyatt in the evening to enjoy the city lights at night.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve been so blessed to work with some truly wonderful people – people who have mentored me, encouraged me, and helped me along the way. But my biggest help and support is my oldest sister Phaedra who truly walks alongside me every step of the way. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her love and support.
The portrait: Brian McHugh Productions The picture of me at the piano: Amy Wallace