By Leah Hollingsworth
You’re in a two-story, multimillion-dollar apartment in New York City, with balconies and stunning city views. Each room is filled with adults reading through piano trios and string quintets after having listened to a short talk on the connections between syphilis and creativity and hearing a concert of music written by artists suspected to have had syphilis. There are bankers, lawyers, software engineers, doctors, and the like—yet they all play music at a high level and are collaborating with a handful of professional musicians for the sight-reading portion of the evening. At the beginning of the event, the founder of a small-ish arts nonprofit shares information about her organization, its vision and mission and current needs—and perhaps by the end of the evening recruits a new board board member or unearths a grant opportunity or in-kind donation. Or goes home with a substantial check.
Now imagine you’re at a breakfast interview with Joshua Bell and Martin Fraenkel, president of S&P Global Platts, or a talk with Dr. Michael Coady, chief of cardiac surgery at Stamford Hospital, who was accepted into medical school based on a recommendation letter written by his piano teacher and who attributes much of his success in surgery to his hours in the practice room.
Events like these are hosted by the organization After Arts, founded in 2019 by pianist Nicholas King, who currently works as a managing director at Fort Point Capital, a registered investment advisor. After Arts is a community of like-minded individuals, professionals trained in music and who love it but are currently working in other fields. King started a finance career immediately following graduation from Juilliard—and says that right away he recognized that there was not a way to connect deeply to people in the workplace. “Who are you outside of your job?” was not a question people were asking, he recalls, and the office didn’t feel like a community.
“If you work at a firm or a hospital and you play French horn, it’s hard to talk about,” says King. “You can talk about sports, or your kids, but not music. I was leaving around 10 p.m. on one of my first nights at my first job after Juilliard, and I heard a Chopin ballad wafting through the air. I followed the music and ended up connecting with someone else in the office who had also studied piano. We sat and talked for an hour, and I thought, ‘What a nice way to connect with people. I’m friends with him now.’ So I started thinking, if I have to interact with people in a professional setting, can it be over a love of the arts?” And that was the seed that began After Arts.
King first recruited people to come to events by searching LinkedIn and finding people with a background in music working in other careers. “My response rate was almost 100 percent,” he remembers. “People were so enthusiastic, told all their friends; we had over 50 people at the first breakfast I organized.” After Arts has now grown into a membership community of over 500 people. Some play regularly; some haven’t practiced in 20 years. Some are amateurs; some are conservatory trained with master’s degrees or higher.
After Arts offers several kinds of events to its members, including salons, a Carnegie Hall Showcase, chamber music pajama parties, breakfasts/discussions, cultural outings, and music festival trips in the summertime. Salons are focused around an unusual theme (“I got so tired of the standard Clara Schumann and Brahms concerts,” King recounts) and include a speaker who is interviewed, a short recital, and then a jam session. They often rent a piano from Steinway and have partnered with a real estate firm that hosts the events in fancy apartments. A New York City violin dealer brings a handful of really nice instruments for people to play. Often, salons start with a short presentation from a small arts organization—King realizes that the After Arts community is a “good pool of prospective donors and board members,” so he tries to leverage this and connect arts organizations with new supporters.
The Carnegie Hall Showcase happens once a year and is an opportunity for After Arts members to perform chamber music at Carnegie Hall. Ten groups play, each group gets ten minutes, and every year “the concert is nearly sold out and really fun for everyone,” King comments. This year’s showcase will be introduced by Wynton Marsalis.
Chamber music pajama parties are reading parties, but it’s “less pretentious when everyone is wearing pjs,” King says. “Everyone brings a bottle of wine, dumplings, whatever comfort food they prefer, and we just read through music. Usually until I have to kick people out,” King shares with a laugh.
Breakfasts are more about conversation than performance, and they often interview artists, arts leaders, or philanthropists paired with someone in a job outside of the arts industry. Clive Gillinson, Wynton Marsalis, Clarence Otis, Jr., and Peter Gelb are just a few of the names from past breakfasts.
The cultural outings have included after-hours trips to the Met Museum, a tour of the Steinway factory in Astoria, and other “cool things you can’t usually do” (according to King) that he has arranged through his vast network. Then, each summer, a group from After Arts travels together to various music festivals. Last year, they did a northeast trip to Tanglewood, Marlboro, and others, and this summer they will go to Verbier in Switzerland.
Not only does King aim to create a meaningful community in a tough corporate environment and “bring the music nerds out of their shells and give them a home,” but he also wants the organization to address the “large existential crisis in funding arts organizations.” King has thought deeply about how he can help the arts community and use After Arts and its connections in the corporate world to positively impact the arts ecosystem. This is what led to inviting a nonprofit to present at salons and his efforts at matchmaking when it comes to finding new board members and donors for these organizations. “I want to mobilize [After Arts] to help the arts world in a tangible way, in a way that doesn’t exist currently,” he says.
King also wants to do what he can to change the idea of what it means to be a “successful musician.” “Why can’t Goldman Sachs recruit from a conservatory?” he asks. He questions the narrow-minded approach of most music conservatories and wonders about their future. He dreams of a day when conservatories could eventually say: “Come here, study the oboe. If you want a career with the New York Phil, great. If you want a career in finance, great. With the training you’ll get here, you could do either.” He’s hoping that organizations outside of the arts world will start to value the kind of discipline, training, and education musicians get at a conservatory and recognize how it can equip artists to contribute meaningfully in other fields. He’s also hoping that if he can use music to foster a sense of interpersonal warmth and community within nonarts organizations, there will be a greater sense of responsibility in these industries to support the arts. These are noble ideas, wonderful pie-in-the-sky musings, but given King’s tremendous success so far, they don’t seem impossible.
“One of the great things about music is that there’s no winning,” he says. “It’s just a bunch of people trying to make something beautiful to make the world better. If that could permeate into the consciousness of people who work in big banks, in big law firms, in hospitals—how could it change their jobs?” This is After Arts.