5 Questions to Gina Izzo and Eunbi Kim (co-founders of bespoken)

Flutist Gina Izzo and pianist Eunbi Kim have garnered success both in their performance careers and in arts administration roles. Their paths converged in 2016, and their common interests have led them to form bespoken, a mentoring organization which provides career development guidance to musicians, composers, and/or administrators, who are female, trans*, or gender non-conforming. We caught up with Gina and Eunbi recently to learn more about their plans and aspirations for bespoken.

What led to your decisions to launch bespoken?

Eunbi: Figuring out the puzzle of how to achieve your dreams and create a sustainable life in music can be a fun, interesting, and sometimes daunting challenge. So often, you have to ask yourself how to create something out of nothing. In 2018, Gina and I founded bespoken, a music mentorship program which emerged from the shared belief that mentorship alongside professional development support in the early stages of an individual’s career will help advance emerging artists in the classical, contemporary, and jazz industry for the long-term.

Gina and I met through Chamber Music America’s National Conference where she served as Manager of Public Programs. In 2016, Gina invited me to work with CMA’s NextGen, a program which engages emerging professionals (age 25 and under) and geared towards those transitioning into the professional ranks. Working with this specific age group allowed us to engage with and hear all the kinds of questions and concerns they had for their own career paths. That’s when Gina approached me to discuss what a mentorship program could look like.

Gina: Over the past year, we met and talked a lot about our individual backgrounds and career paths. We both found that as musicians, we had to wear so many hats that fell outside of playing our instruments. We also discussed the areas we felt were most useful to us in our own transitions, the skills we developed to handle the many administrative tasks that fell into our laps, and we really took a look and assessed the questions that were presented to us from the 25 and under group we had worked with. Many of these questions were gender-based, which informed us of a need to create a space to address those questions. That’s when we decided to create bespoken to provide other women with the kind of support that we found so valuable in our own paths.

Gina Izzo (l) and Eunbi Kim (r) with bespoken client Linda Collazo (c). (photo by Simon Yu)

Gina Izzo (l) and Eunbi Kim (r) with bespoken client Linda Collazo (c)–Photo by Simon Yu

How does your one-on-one mentorship offering work?

Eunbi: bespoken developed with the fundamental idea that one-on-one mentoring was the strongest way to support individuals’ transitions into the professional realm. One-on-one sessions allow us to individualize and tailor each session to meet the specific needs of each fellow. That’s where the name bespoken came from. “bespoke” is often used in reference to a tailored or custom made suit, and we tailor the skills specifically to what each client wants to accomplish.

For the past year, we’ve covered a wide range of skill-building topic areas with our fellows, such as writing bios and resumes, building connections, website design, social media presence, interviewing strategies, among many other administrative skills and tasks that have become increasingly necessary for artists to support their own careers. We help answer questions related to relationship building, building connections and community, how to implement outreach and booking, and ways of thinking about and engaging in the professional world through their creative work.

Our mentoring also continues beyond one-on-one sessions each month. During the time in between meeting with our fellows, we both are there to help advise and answer questions remotely, as questions also emerge along the way and often times need to be answered quickly!

What additional services are you developing?

Gina: In 2019, we are kicking off our bespoken workshop and podcast series led by leading women professionals in today’s industry. The workshops and podcasts are designed to elevate ideas, tools, and resources to help emerging artists thrive and get a sense of the kinds of challenges these established artists have faced and overcome to get to where they are today.

bespoken is also working directly with community colleges, institutions, and conservatories to bring our one-on-one mentoring and workshops to their schools. We are specifically interested in working with schools that do not have established entrepreneurship programs or formalized career-development curriculum. This way we have the opportunity to work with more individuals and also individuals that will be tasked with transitioning into the field with no entrepreneurial background or previous support.

How would you characterize the typical bespoken fellow?

Gina: Each fellow has approached us with an interest in participating in bespoken for a variety of reasons. Some expressed interest in developing project ideas such as working on a debut album, starting a concert series, or raising money to make their projects come to life. Others wanted to work on tasks such as building websites, developing social media presence, and editing resumes and bios.

One central area we explore with our fellows is what makes them and their music unique. Often times, we find that one of the biggest barriers for individuals is overcoming insecurities for promoting their art. Part of what we’re working on with them is developing a clear understanding of what makes them unique and why their voice is important, necessary, and valuable.  

bespoken has a brief application process as part of connecting with prospective fellows. The application is free and really a way for us to get a sense of the kinds of areas they want to explore and develop with the understanding that the program is here to also play a guiding part in exploring ideas and territories that may not already be on their minds.

We want to work with fellows who are interested in charting their own career path and exploring the many kinds of ways to build a career today! Information regarding the application process can be found on our website.

What is your business model for bespoken?

Eunbi: Right now, we are focusing on women in the industry because we feel that we are most able to relate our own experiences as women to help fellows navigate similar issues, questions, or concerns that they may also come across. A big part of what bespoken wants to do is create a community where women feel open to expressing any gender-related challenges or obstacles they are facing, especially in the earlier stages of their careers.  

We are aware that we are only two people, though sometimes we feel we can take on the world, and we want this kind of mentorship to reach as many individuals as possible. In order to do so, we are looking to sign on other leading female musicians to join bespoken as mentors and to participate as workshop leaders, speakers, and as advocates. There are many incredible female leaders in our industry who have such valuable insight and different perspectives on how they have built their own careers and ignited their own projects.