Born in Brussels, Vanessa Wise, Juilliard’s director of development, grew up in Albany and when she was 7, moved to West Nyack, N.Y., where her parents still live. Wise, who received her bachelor’s degree in English from Brown, worked briefly at the Kennedy Center and the Washington Opera before earning an M.B.A. at Columbia. Prior to her arrival at Juilliard, in 2008, she had been at Time Inc. for five years, most recently as a senior brand manager for In Style magazine, where she handled marketing and distribution strategy.
What do you remember about your first day at Juilliard, and what is one of your favorite Juilliard memories?
All I remember about my first day was that it was President’s Day, and I was upset because my husband had off from work and I was starting a new job! I also remember seeing Tori Brand’s baked goods on our “trough” for the first time and thinking that this was going to be a great job perk. Other than that, I recall being very nervous about officially embarking on a career change.
One of my favorite/funniest memories is when I was taking one of our dance donors to observe a dance class on the third floor close to graduation time, and as we were standing outside one of the classrooms talking, we heard loud whooping and yelling. All of a sudden the entire fourth-year dance class came running around the corner, every one of them completely naked.
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day and why?
I think I would probably love Drama faculty member Deb Lapidus’s job because I would enjoy working with our actors on anything musical. There is so much that a good actor can do with a song even if he/she isn’t a singer, and I would get satisfaction out of building a skill to make them more marketable performers.
What is the strangest job you’ve ever had and what made it so?
In college I was doing the summer theater festival at my university and getting paid very little, so I took a temp job typing recipes for a cookbook for Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute. I got hungry a lot doing it.
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do with your free time?
Since I basically have no free time, I would be overwhelmed by the options! I would probably get a massage, go shopping by myself, and spread out a blanket in a park somewhere with a book if it were nice out, and if not, I’d go to the movies. Or I would spend the time getting the laundry list of unfinished things done in my own house.
How do you balance your job and your artistic endeavors?
I used to act and do a lot of singing. Before I had kids, I performed in three solo cabarets in the city and I managed to do one show with some friends two years ago. Now, I just try to fit in voice lessons and coachings when I can just to stay connected. I have a hard enough time balancing work and family, so whenever I can squeeze in something that is just for me, it is a blessing.
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
I have been training—on a super slow track—to become a Pilates instructor for the past several years. I also love cooking and baking, but I have no time to do either unless it’s for my son’s snack day at preschool.
What was the best vacation you’ve had?
The best vacations I have had have been to Italy: once, to stay in a house in Tuscany with friends and then later to return when my older son was about 20 months old and rent a house in an area called Forte di Marmi. Italy represents many of my favorite things—outdoor beauty, good food, good weather, and a love of children. Other than Italy, I would most like to return to Paris. Before I had kids, my husband and I would go there every Thanksgiving. I have always been drawn to Paris because of the artistic treasures—ever since I took art history in college with a very inspiring professor, I have been on a quest to see as much Impressionist art as possible. My other main draw to Paris is simply buttery, flaky baked goods.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
Two things: One is Brooklyn. I have lived in Brooklyn for five years, and each year I fall more and more in love with being near the water, having access to beautiful parks and playgrounds, wonderful mom-and-pop businesses that are unique and eclectic shops and a strong sense of community. My other favorite thing about New York City is having the ability to expose my kids to arts and culture at a very young age so easily and accessibly.
What book are you reading right now?
I am reading two books that could not possibly be more different: Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Fey recounts her career as a woman in comedy writing and performing but in the most hilarious and self-deprecating way. Her chapters on having a child and the juggling act of work and motherhood made me laugh out loud. Hurston’s 1937 book is a Southern love story told in the voice of an African-American woman discovering her selfhood through many trials in her life.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I am happiest when I can be in my pajamas by 8:30 p.m.