We had the good fortune of connecting with Barbara Weigand and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Barbara, how do you think about risk?
I’m an artist and I’ve always been one. If I worried about taking risks, I could never be that, at least not full time. Simply being a full time artist is a huge risk, at least financially, which is why most people don’t make that choice. Also, you open yourself to criticism, so you have to be prepared for that. “Even worse” my husband is a full time musician and that’s all he’s ever done. So the beauty is we are both dedicated to living a creative life, and the “downside” is we are both dedicated to living a creative life. Truthfully, I don’t consider that a downside at all and we’ve always made it work, but it does take some focus. I guess what’s allowed me/us to live this way is that I use both sides of my brain equally. I’ve actually been tested for that. My creative side is always balanced by the practical/business side. That’s how I ended up in arts management. So while I’ve always taken risks throughout my life, they are calculated. The other thing is, I really do have confidence in myself to figure out whatever I need to. If I have what others might consider a “risky” idea, I’ll make a reasonable plan, at least to get started, knowing I have the ability to figure out the details as I go along. That also allows me to stay flexible. I don’t get too locked into plans or details. Often the Universe has much cooler ideas than I could ever think of or plan for myself, you just have to be aware and open to them. If you’re too locked into a plan you’re likely to miss those opportunities, and that can lead to some really wonderful career adventures.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a bit of a Forrest Gump. As an artist I’m always most excited about whatever project I’m working on currently. I pretty much live in the moment, not thinking much about the past and not worrying much about the future. I can’t impact those things. I’ve had an amazing creative career I could never have imagined. Most things I’ve done I pretty much “fell into.” (The Universe working for me.) I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but my practical side knew that I had to find a way to make a living at it so it could continue. I was always good at drawing so I was pushed in that direction by my college teachers. I only went to college for 2 years and then started working as a magazine illustrator. I was always around music and musicians too. I had friends that started what became a successful music publication in Illinois so I did a lot of work for them and various magazines. I also created logos and album covers for many local bands and businesses, really anything I could find to do creatively and that people were willing to pay me for. And I ALWAYS met deadlines, so that helped my reputation a lot. I heard that the Chicago Tribune was looking for a graphic designer in their Marketing & Promotion Dept. I had lots of publication experience, so I went on an interview, even though working at a newspaper, especially one that large, never would have occurred to me. Well they hired me and I spent the next 26 years there. I never imagined being there that long, but the best part about being in marketing at a newspaper at that time is that you were involved with EVERYTHING, from advertising to consumer, B2B, special events and internal communications. My dream job! Some of the standout projects for me were designing every promotional aspect of a huge exhibit of Tiffany Glass at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry, which the Tribune sponsored; designing the stage and all promo materials for the rock stage of the first ChicagoFest, which the paper sponsored with a local radio station; overseeing all promo materials for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, co-sponsored with Disney; and various rebranding efforts. There were so many great projects, I’ve forgotten half of them. And I ALWAYS met deadlines! And then it got better. Shortly after Tribune Company went public, I was tapped to be their first corporate designer, to help develop and produce annual reports, shareholder, and employee communication materials. Up to that point, “the company” to me was just the newspaper. That experience broadened my view to ALL of the company, including TV & radio stations, other newspapers across the country and even newsprint plants in Canada. I was in the corporate office for 3 years and then went back to my old department at the newspaper as manager/creative director. While in corporate I had taught myself the “new technology,” using an Apple computer. They wanted me to bring those skills to the designers at the newspaper. I had a challenge! Once that was accomplished, I realized I had this outstanding staff and tons of “new” technology that many of the smaller operations didn’t have. Most of the TV stations were buying all their print design from agencies, so why not keep it all internal? I put together a business plan, tapping into the finance guys I’d made friends with while at Tribune Co., to have the Chicago Tribune be the internal agency for some of the other companies. And they let me! So now we were also creating design work for Tribune TV shows, like Soul Train, Gene Roddenberry’s Earth Final Conflict, Geraldo Rivera, as well as the Chicago Cubs and WGN Radio. It was like being an entrepreneur within the company. We won lots of awards and it was great while it lasted. Innovation, was a hallmark of that company. But eventually going public changed it. It increasingly became not about doing great work but about saving money and creating “shareholder value.” And all that technology changed the newspaper business dramatically. So in 2002 I was laid off, something I never imagined. So now what?
At that point I was already managing my husband’s band part time. He’d had his own ups and downs in the music biz, but mostly we lead separate creative lives. He’d toured with various Regional and National acts, like Survivor, and eventually started a successful local band. They were doing well and so many other local bands had asked me to manage them too, but I turned them all away. I had a demanding full time job! After my final experience at Tribune I decided I couldn’t go back to the corporate world. I couldn’t give that much of myself to a company again. Though it was exciting there, I was ready to live a “smaller,” more family focused life. So I thought, “Maybe I should stop turning all those musicians away.” I made a plan for my current business, ArtsWarrior Management… and then I got waylaid into the restaurant business. A gifted Italian chef I knew was tired of working for others too and wanted to start his own restaurant. He initially asked me to help him with marketing and then eventually to be his partner. Fortunately I’d gotten a nice package from Tribune to carry me for a year. We launched La Piazza in the town next to where I live and it was an immediate success, called one of the “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Chicago” by pretty much every local publication. It was fun and I loved being a part of it’s success, but it wasn’t “me.” I missed the creative world. So after 2 years I sold my share and went back to my ArtsWarrior plan. I initially managed both International Fine Artists and developed various local bands, building on what I knew from managing Bill’s band. The art side took off and I created shows and opportunities for many artists from Spain and Italy, but the financial crash in 2008 took a toll on that side of my business. So from that point forward, it’s been all about music and that continues today. While I’ve managed as many as 8 bands, I’m now down to 2-3, intentionally. The pandemic has taken a toll on the business plus managing musicians is a lot like herding cats. My patience for it is waning. But I have a really deep relationship with one particular band, Classical Blast, which I co-founded in 2012. Though he wasn’t originally a band member, Bill is now the bass player in that band too and we write all their original music together. Classical Blast is a regional rock band which tours the Midwest. They are known for mashing classical and rock music together. My classical music training as a child has come in handy! The band has gone through various transitions, but it’s still going strong. I never would have imagined myself as a songwriter, but there it is. Most of the music we’ve written together has been published and appears on one of their albums.
So what can someone take from all this? I guess there’s many lessons here. Certainly I’m really focused on whatever I’m doing at the moment. I’ll give it my all and keep at it. I don’t get easily discouraged. Problems are always there, just something to be resolved. And I surround myself with great talent. I think my job as a manager is to remove the obstacles and create opportunities for all these incredibly talented people I work with and then get out of the way so they can do what they do best. But at some point I’ll go back to focus on myself as a visual artist.
Also, I get really excited about helping people find or develop their creative side. It’s the basis for my work with the Caring Arts Foundation, which brings art programming to cancer patients in the Chicago area. We’re all creative beings at heart. We’re meant to be that, it’s just that society pulls us in other directions. Give a child a crayon and they instinctively know what to do with it. Play some music and they instantly respond. Once we get in school we start to be judged, which is a real creativity killer, so we often set aside that part of ourselves, out of fear of judgement. Once a person has faced something like cancer, they’ve now dealt with something much scarier than a blank sheet of paper, so they’re open to trying something new. It’s wonderful to see them reconnect with the artist within. It’s truly healing. That work has become a real passion for me, even though it’s not something I make a living at.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Summer especially in Chicago is glorious and, like most Chicagoans (we actually live in Oak Park, just outside the city), we view “Chicago” as more than downtown. It’s the entire Metropolitan area. So if it’s summer, there’s an outdoor festival SOMEWHERE, with great food, great music and often great art or crafts being exhibited. We’re Cubs fans so you have to go to a Cubs game. Wrigley Field is a gem. A red hot & beer is a must. Chicago may be the “2nd City” but there’s great theater here, as well as comedy. Many Broadway plays actually start here, go to New York and then come back, so grab theater tix, whether it’s a Broadway play or one of the “local” productions, like at Steppenwolfe, Victory Gardens or others. There are also many museums, which I LOVE: Art Institute, Science & Industry, Field Museum, and smaller ones like the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Take a boat tour, maybe an architectural tour down the Chicago River. Music, music, music, it’s everywhere, from great local acts to major tours. The larger outdoor gardens also have music nights, including Botanic Gardens, Morton Arboretum, Cantigny in Wheaton and both zoos, Lincoln Park or Brookfield, which are world class. Of course, Ravinia is a wonderful outdoor summer music experience. A few favorite small to midsize concert venues include The Arcada Theater in St Charles, Hey Nonny in Arlington Hts, Metro or Thalia Hall in the city, or cool “dive bars” like The Hideout, Schubas, Beat Kitchen or Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn. To eat, you have to hit the neighborhoods: Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, Pilsen, Wrigleyville (with a Cubs game) or in summer, just go to an outdoor fest pretty much anywhere. You’ll get great local music there too. Is that enough?
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
We are all shaped by our own life choices, decisions and experiences, but there are always people along the way that play a role in various aspects. For most people, that usually starts with your parents and I am a reflection of both of them in many ways. My mother was a musician (singer) and she loved the arts, so she took pains to instill that same love in her kids. We all took music lessons from a young age and she was so encouraging about my artistic abilities, even as a toddler. She signed me up for special art classes, even though money was tight, and both parents were always there for every exhibit or recital. My dad was such a hard worker. We lived a block away from his job at a bowling alley (he always had 2-3 jobs) so his work was not removed from us. We saw him there working and we all worked with him from a young age. So my work ethic comes from him. Next, teachers. I had some really good ones, mostly very progressive nuns. My high school art teacher, Sister Adelaide, was also my religion teacher. She was always involving her best students in outside activities, often utilizing the arts to bring attention to social causes. Art was life where she was concerned. I credit both her and my mother in my role as co-founder of Caring Arts. I’m the program director and that’s been a labor of love for over 20 years. The Foundation is dedicated to the memory of my mom, who died of breast cancer. And then my husband, Bill Syniar. We’ve always been supportive of each other as artists. I got into music management because of him. He knew I managed a large staff of artists & other creatives at my job at the Tribune, so when his band needed a manager he asked me to consider filling that role. That eventually led to us songwriting together and here we are today, still working and living a creative life together. It’s all a progression.