5 Questions to Rebekah Heller (Co-Artistic Director, ICE)

Since its founding in 2001, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) has garnered acclaim not only for stellar musicianship but also for its organizational practices. ICE members can rotate through various leadership and governance roles to provide the collective with variety and alternative skill development. Longtime ICE member Rebekah Heller is the newly appointed co-Artistic Director, and talks with Lana Norris about the mechanics of the leadership model, her vision for ICE’s future, and lessons learned.

Congratulations on your appointment! Leading up to this you spent ten years with ICE in performance, events, and development. What are you discovering in the shift to artistic direction?

Thanks so much! I’m thrilled to serve ICE, and the new music community at large, in this new and deeper way. This transition felt like a natural evolution from my previous role as primary individual fundraiser and CPO (my favorite self-selected title—Chief Party Officer). Building a donor base is much more about building community than it is about raising money, and community-building is and always has been central to ICE’s mission. Now, as AD, I’m tasked with expanding that community even further, by looking for ways to broaden and deepen our work on a local and global scale. The strength of the ICE family has always been about the myriad of creative voices in our group, and harnessing the power of the collective by relying on the talent and creativity of our membership and outside collaborators is incredibly exciting to me.

ICE’s leadership model is unique in that its artistic directors rotate regularly and often remain in the collective after their tenure. How do other internal roles succeed each other? How does ICE prepare for these ongoing leadership transitions and maintain momentum?

Great Question! This is something, I think, that will be fluid and different with each unique transition. So far, these internal shifts have been organic in timing and personnel. Both Ross and I, taking over for Claire Chase and Joshua Rubin, respectively, were already taking on leadership roles well before it became outwardly official. Looking to the future, we’re beginning to work on new ways of opening up the process of entering the artist-staff and leadership roles of the group. One constant that remains is the fluid nature of artist-staff roles. These roles shift to meet the diverse strengths of the artists interested in contributing to the group in this way. They also shift to meet the changing personal needs in any particular artist’s life. Regular staff check-ins, and long-term planning ensure that the momentum of the group is sustained throughout any individual transition.

What work of your predecessors are you most proud of, and what are evolutionary goals for the collective?

I am SO proud of Claire Chase’s original vision of this group as a community-focused collective of creative artists. This is something that still holds true, and in fact, by baking in the very idea of a rotating leadership, it gets stronger each time a new voice steps up. A current goal and challenge of ICE membership is to continue asking the questions, “why are we doing what we’re doing, and for whom?” Highlighting underrepresented compositional voices has always been a core tenet of the ensemble. How can we continue this work in its deepest most impactful ways? How do we bring our community of supporters and advocates into the process? What does true community-building mean today? These questions are the core to our evolution, and I look forward to tackling them with our members and all of you!

Rebekah Heller--Photo by Carrie Schneider

Rebekah Heller–Photo by Carrie Schneider

ICE’s mission focuses primarily on external relationships promoting new work, education, and innovative presentation. What initiatives do you envision for internal capacity building?

Our internal way of working has always involved a fluid shifting of roles. Since Claire left the leadership, about 18 months ago, we’ve been working to build capacity in a sustainable, long-term way. This means hiring more support staff; a full time executive assistant and development associate, as well as a new general manager. What’s so vital about these positions is that although they are filled by non-ICE artists (many of whom are musicians and artists in their own right), the creative people who fill these roles are just as responsible for leading the group and making decisions as artist staff. Everyone who works for ICE has ownership over our collective vision; they get a voice at our weekly staff meetings, in our regular planning sessions and in the big, long-term vision of the ensemble.

This openness is essential to our fast-paced way of working, and contributes to the myriad of different strategies we employ to plan future seasons and continue to hone our mission and vision.

Your tenure with ICE began in 2008, so you weathered the Great Recession. What lessons have you learned about cultivating sustainability and what do you see as critical for a healthy concert music industry this next decade?

It’s true, I joined the ensemble at a critically hard time, especially for fundraising. However, for myself and many other artists with little to no assets, the recession affected me personally much less than it could have. 

As a member of ICE for about 10 years, the question of sustainability is huge. Not only for individual ICE members, as we age and start families, but what that question means for the new music community at large. While we’ve always supported the vision of emerging composers, it’s our shared responsibility to support the work and goals of fellow new music groups. When one of us flourishes, the entire ecosystem benefits, and our shared economy blossoms. I’m thrilled to be a part of New York’s especially vibrant new music community, and look forward to welcoming the work of new and younger groups to come!