Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts in Jamaica, New York, a children’s book author, a pianist, and a fanatic knitter. In this First Person Nonprofit story, she tells what she’s learned from knitting:
I had been a classical pianist. But as an executive director, being able to play 32 Beethoven sonatas was not going to provide the knowledge I needed. So I asked someone for advice who had left one world successfully for another world: My mother.
What I got was a ball of yarn and two knitting needles.
My mother taught me to love creating works of art from a single strand of yarn. She taught me to aspire to mastery: “You want the yarn to move gracefully through your fingers, up and over the needles like a little dance.” She brought me into her knitting circle.
And in my Mom’s knitting circle I learned the power of peer circles. In both knitting circles and peer circles you sit in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and discover that you have all the answers — and all the questions — in the room. In both cases there’s something in your hand, and something in the middle. Both these gatherings are places to share, to be vulnerable and to be supported.
I love the buzz in a room whether it is a knitting circle or a peer circle of visual artists: it is the sound of a creative community. In a recent piece in the New York Times about things that make people happy and things that don’t, David Brooks writes: Joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.
Knitting and budget cuts
Knitting is transforming something linear into something multi-dimensional. I’ve lost two funders recently, each with substantial amounts of money for certain programs. If I look at this in a linear way, it’s a loss, a cut. But if I can see it in many dimensions, I can see that if I’m losing funding and support in one area it means that there must be some fat somewhere to cut. And that instead of a loss it’s a way to re-evaluate what we’re doing and ask ourselves honestly, is the tail wagging the dog or is the dog wagging the tail?
How do we become excellent?
When I was a music student there were conservatories around the world training students like me for careers in performance. But there were no such academies when I became an executive director. How do you become excellent in this work? What do you need to practice, what experience do you have to create?
In learning a craft or a trade, it is customary for apprentices to spend years studying with a master before they could become journeymen and artisans in their own right.
How do you get better at anything? Practice. That, at least, I knew from my piano days.
So I knit a little everyday. It delights me to see the progress I have made. I love the feel of the yarn and needles. As an executive director I strive for excellence on a daily basis, through reflective practice of actions big and small.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. — Aristotle
I am changing the world, one artist, one peer circle at a time. It is work I embrace with the same commitment to excellence and practice that I was taught as a young pianist, that I learned in knitting circles, and that I practice every day as an executive director.
Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is an executive director who writes style notes for people who change the world at www.hoongyee.com. She is also an artspy, momspy and nonprofit knitter. You can follow her on Twitter here.