She's also an associate professor at New York University.
She’s also an associate professor at New York University.
Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Composer talks mentorship, art for the common good.

October 2016 – Starting next semester, accomplished composer Julia Wolfe will be at Drew University weekly as the 2016-17 Andrew W. Mellon Artist-in-Residence.

In an interview with, Wolfe, who has a Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur “genius grant” and two Obies, discusses the residency, mentorship and how awards help her.

What attracted you to the residency?

It is very exciting that Drew University has a strong commitment to the arts, that they pursued the Mellon Artist-in-Residence program to bring the students into contact with artists in different fields. I am excited to bring some of my world to the students and to learn from them.

Big picture, what do you hope to accomplish?

I hope to expand the students’ experience with music, combining music performance with visual elements and social and historical themes.

A professor at the University of Michigan inspired her to compose.
A professor inspired her to compose.
Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

How will you involve students in your work?

By having them create their own work, talking them through the process of developing work.

What’s most interesting about the course on documentary expression that you’ll teach with Rebecca Soderholm?

It’s new for both of us and I look forward to learning more about her work as well as her process.

What’s your role in the New York Semester on Social Entrepreneurship?

I hope to introduce students to my music organization Bang on a Can, to share with them the development of this arts organization.

What did winning a Pulitzer Prize mean to you?

It is always great to receive support for your work. It can certainly put wind in your sails! But as an artist you have to keep a level head through both the struggles and celebrations.

What will the MacArthur grant enable you to do?

I hope to find a way to have more time and space—to think, develop ideas.

How did mentors help you as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan?

I had an amazing teacher there, Jane Heirich, who inspired me to compose. She was a true teacher. It was all about exploration, challenging yourself, appreciation.

How do you define art for the common good?

I would say that great art changes us, opens our minds and arts, expands who we are.