"At the beginning of my journey, I didn't know what a Presidential Scholar was," says Arts Scholar Rachel Moore (1982, CA). But she soon learned and turned her nationally recognized talent into a preeminent career—first as a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and later as the Theatre's executive director and CEO. Today she's President and CEO of The Music Center in Los Angeles.
Rachel was born in Davis, California, but she spent much of her childhood in India and Saudi Arabia where her economist father consulted on water resource management. The family returned to Davis when Rachel was nine. At eleven, she began ballet training—a late start for a dancer—but her exceptional talent soon became apparent. "I was completely enthralled with the art form," Rachel says.
At age thirteen, she was invited to begin dancing professionally in New York, but her parents refused. "This was this transformative moment for my parents and me, that maybe I had some skill in this arena, and I became very serious, and trained seven days a week, and would spend my summers in New York training," Rachel says. When she was seventeen, she was offered a full-time scholarship in New York before her senior year in high school. "My parents, correctly—although I thought they were ruining my life—said I had to stay home and finish school," she says. In retrospect, Rachel sees her parents' decision as beneficial. Finishing high school led her to become a Presidential Scholar and to attend university later in her career.
After high school, Rachel danced as a member of the American Ballet Theatre's corps de ballet for five years, but an ankle injury prompted her to assess her options for the future. "While I was a dancer, I was always interested in things beyond the studio," she says. She had become involved in the dancers' union and fundraised to provide interest-free loans to dancers in need. "Because my parents were economists, numbers and finance never scared me," she says.
Deciding to enter college at age twenty-four, she was accepted at Brown, but the transition was not easy. Leaving her friends and giving up dancing were emotionally difficult, and the university experience was frightening at first. "I hadn't written a paper in many years. I didn't know how to type. I was starting from scratch," Rachel says. But she stuck with her decision and went on to finish two degrees: a bachelor’s from Brown in 1992 and a masters in arts administration from Columbia in 1994. She spent summers in Washington, DC, as an intern and then as a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts. There she learned about what she terms the landscape of the arts nationally: granting programs and how government interfaces with the arts.
"I had always known that I wanted to give back to the arts, because I had been given so many incredible opportunities," Rachel says. Initially, she was interested in becoming an attorney and working on behalf of artists' First Amendment rights. But then a friend advised that the best way to help artists is to ensure that the companies that they work for give them an opportunity to perfect their art. Rachel soon realized that the creation of art was central to her sense of herself.
Several moves and jobs followed. In Washington, DC, she worked with an organization that used the arts to help at-risk children after school. In Boston, she became executive director of Project STEP, a classical music school for students of color. "It was a wonderful experience to work in the symphony world and also to work with these incredibly talented kids who had few resources and help them realize their dreams." She also served as managing director of the Ballet Theatre of Boston before returning to the American Ballet Theatre in New York, this time not as a dancer, but as its executive director.
Today she heads the $65-million Music Center in Los Angeles. She manages its expansive campus and curates its programming, which includes the acclaimed series Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center. In addition, she guides the center's arts education initiatives, which reach children and youth throughout Southern California.
Her book, The Artist’s Compass: The Complete Guide to Building a Life and a Living in the Performing Arts, was released in May 2016 by Simon & Schuster. Rachel says it grew out of her experience as a naïve young performer moving from a small town to a big city. "There didn't seem to be much out there that could help somebody understand the basics of how the arts business works and to give them some tools for understanding why certain things are certain ways. My goal was to help the next generation make a smoother transition than I and a lot of many of my colleagues had," she says.
She offers two bits of advice to those seeking a career in the arts:
First, show business is just that: a business. "That means you must conduct yourself as a professional at all times and understand that the organization you hope to work for has business needs that you may not fit," she says.
Second, think about how you are defining success. "Success is not your name in lights or a fancy title," she says. "Real sustainable success comes when you find what makes you happy in your art form and how you can bring that to the world."
Over the years, Rachel has stayed active with YoungArts, teaching master classes and judging competitions. "I want to acknowledge how meaningful the Presidential Scholar experience was and how it legitimized my desire to become a professional dancer. It said on a much grander scale, 'You have reached a certain level of accomplishment and people believe in you.' . . . To have such a prestigious organization recognize that my journey was worthy was very important to me."