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Women’s History Month 2024 Honoree: Laurie Russell

Women’s History Month 2024 Interview

Laurie brings over 30 years of arts administration experience to her current role as Executive Director of the Winchester Community Music School. She has enjoyed being in this role for over 20 years. Laurie is a past president and board member of the Rotary Club of Winchester and serves on the Winchester Town Day Committee, Winchester Porchfest Committee, and is a board member for Club Passim in Cambridge. A classically trained percussionist and music educator, Laurie has served on the education committee for the Percussive Arts Society, presented at numerous conferences of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, and acts as a consultant with peer schools on various nonprofit organizational management and board topics.

What motivated you to choose or start working with the nonprofit organization(s) you have worked with? 

In college, I was introduced to the concept of community arts education – schools that offer a broad range of musical opportunities beyond just music lessons. I wish I had access to this type of school in my youth. That is what inspired my career in arts administration. I came to Winchester Community Music School (WCMS) in 2001 when the school’s founder, Corie Nichols, was retiring as the Executive Director. At that point in my professional career, I wanted to take the next step in nonprofit leadership and become an Executive Director. 

What have been some of the highlights of your work? 

There are so many! The first of which is working with such a talented faculty, admin team, and board at WCMS. It’s a pleasure to work with our enthusiastic board and the faculty to help the school adapt and change to the needs and interests of the community. Over the years, this has helped diversify the musical offerings of the school and expand the performance opportunities for the students and faculty. I also get excited to see multiple generations engage at WCMS. We serve toddlers through senior adults and everyone in between. There are students at WCMS whose parents were once WCMS students, as well as grandparents taking classes with their grandchildren. It’s truly a community.

What are some of your goals for yourself, as a leader of the nonprofit(s) you are working with? 

At WCMS, we are looking to position the school to serve future generations. This shared vision for the school will help ensure the quality of programming, and WCMS’s reputation will live on to serve the community. 

Do you feel you faced particular challenges, and/or had particular advantages, as a woman doing this work?

I am a professionally trained classical percussionist and music educator. Growing up and playing in the percussion section, I was typically the only female. (Luckily, this has changed, and we see far more female percussionists nowadays!) When I started my career in arts administration, many schools, especially the larger ones associated with higher education where I began my career, were run by men. By being in more male-dominated environments, I learned early on to have self-confidence and perseverance. I was fortunate to have great mentors who saw my potential and helped develop my career path.  

Since this is a month honoring women, is there a woman who has inspired you and why? 

From a young age, I always looked to women in history for inspiration. At the start of my career, I was blessed with wonderful female colleagues who were not only fabulous musicians but also great leaders. Once I arrived at WCMS, many of our Board members have been remarkable women who have introduced me to the community, been fabulous sounding boards, and strategic partners in the school’s leadership.  

What advice would you like to share with young people, especially young women, who are considering working in the nonprofit community? 

Never stop learning and growing your skills as a leader. Have an open door, a willingness to listen, and be nimble. Take the time to reflect on each day to celebrate what went well and what challenges you need to address tomorrow. 

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

I am humbled to be an honoree this year and appreciate this tribute. I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful life partner, Mike Lambert, as well as an amazing team of teaching artists, staff, and Board members at WCMS for my work family. Thank you!

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