Monday Morning Meet Your Leaders – Michele Russo
President & CEO
Young Audiences Arts for Learning
- What is one of the most important qualities of a great leader?
Part of leadership is knowing when and how to share leadership with your team. At Young Audiences, our staff, our board of trustees and our artists have incredible talent, expertise, leadership capacity and knowledge. I look for and actually welcome opportunities where individuals in any part of the organization can provide leadership, whether it’s thought leadership, project leadership, creative thinking or program development. And in fact, for me it’s incredibly rewarding for one of the YA team to grow professionally while advancing our work.
- How does your organization take our community to the next level?
At Young Audiences we understand that arts education is critical to a complete education and that the arts have the power to transform lives. This past year we developed two new programs to target critical issues facing students and schools.
The United We Create program, in its development year, will build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim children with arts programs from Muslim cultures. We know that Muslim children are bullied, excluded and marginalized at a very high rate. The arts can help build connections and break down barriers so that children accept and embrace each other.
And the YA Arts Lab, (funded by The Grunin Foundation and by Princeton Area Community Foundation) will address chronic absenteeism by bringing comprehensive arts programs to two elementary schools, for students, teachers and families, over the course of five years. It’s an exciting time for us—we know our work will make a meaningful impact for all the students, families, and teachers we work with in these two critical programs.
- What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?
I love being outside especially hiking in the cooler weather and swimming and going to the beach in the summer. Being outside is the best way for me to recharge my batteries. I am also part of an amateur improv comedy group, Deadbeats & Hustlers. We meet once a week to rehearse, and we perform occasionally. It can be absolutely ridiculously hilarious, and also I’ve found it preps me for dealing with the unexpected in work situations.
- What is your favorite food/recipe and why?
My favorite recipe is my mom’s “Rainbow Cookie” recipe. It’s the Italian layer cookies that some call Venetian Squares. I make them every Christmas and usually send some to my brother and his family who live in California and my other brother in Vermont. I started making them for the whole family before my mom passed away, and I have kept up the tradition for over 20 years now. They remind me of her, and the recipe card I use is one she hand-wrote. I really don’t need the recipe anymore but I like feeling connected to her.