CCM alum and student join OPERA America's Inaugural Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color

Carlos García León and Jaime Sharp will be mentored by arts leaders in Chicago and Portland

UC College-Conservatory of Music alum Carlos García León (MA/MBA Arts Administration, '19) and current MM Voice student Jaime Sharp were selected as inaugural participants in OPERA America's Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color. This new initiative exists to advance racial equity in the field by pairing BIPOC professionals with executive-level leaders who can support them in achieving their career goals.

Three mentees were selected for the inaugural cohort: García León, who is the Individual Giving Manager at Cincinnati Opera; Sharp, who is the President and CEO of OperaNexGen; and Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas, Dramatic Soprano, Creative Performing Artist, and Producer. García León will be mentored by Ishan Johnson, Associate Director of Philanthropy at the Art Institute of Chicago. Sharp will be mentored by Priti Gandhi, Vice President of Artistic at Minnesota Opera and Incoming Artistic Director at Portland Opera. Kizart-Thomas will be mentored by Khori Dastoor, General Director at Opera San José and Incoming General Director at Houston Grand Opera.

"I was so thrilled to discover that I would be mentored by Priti Gandhi," Sharp says. "She had an extensive career as a singer before turning to administration full-time, which is exactly the trajectory I plan to follow. We've started to meet and have had candid discussions surrounding imposter syndrome and how to balance and preserve our day-to-day energy while also striving toward our overarching goals of increasing representation and racial equity within the operatic industry."

The yearlong program will provide mentees with guidance and support from BIPOC arts administrators and establish action plans for professional growth and long-term career trajectories. The pairs will come together for remote and in-person mentoring sessions over the next 12 months, including at Opera Conference 2022 in Minneapolis next May.

"In my mind, I currently don’t have a set title or position when I think of my future," García León says. "What I do have is a personal mission to fight for cultural equity and social justice, particularly in the arts. Fundraising happens to be a means to an end in my fight, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in philanthropy within that. However, as my journey continues I hope to continue expanding my mission by learning from colleagues and mentors, and hopefully inspiring others, too."

García León plans to meet with Johnson once a month virtually and will also plan to have a future outing in Chicago, which is where García León grew up and where Johnson is based. García León looks forward to stregthening their fundraising skills, working with the rest of the cohort and having impactful conversations within the opera and fundraising fields — but their main hope is that this program will help BIPOC individuals have access to leadership roles in the arts.

"I feel an immense honor to be a part of this inaugural cohort; to be among the first of this program, to be the first Latine, the first non-binary person, but the pressure is also on to not be the last," says García León.

Sharp hopes to gain a new outlook and perspective on her career path as an arts administrator and to develop necessary skills to help further her organizations — OperaNexGen, Black Opera Alliance and Hear Us, Hear Them Ensemble. "I also plan to expand my network by building lasting relationships with my mentor and cohort colleagues so that we can continue to fight for equity in opera," she adds.

"Never let doubt or noise from others allow you to set limitations on yourself," Sharp says. "If you told me a year ago that I would be running an opera company with 20 team members, I would've given you a blank stare, and yet here I am. We learn by doing, so turn your ideas into a reality. The best piece of advice I ever received is that you know you are doing a great job when you fall the hardest because it means you took a risk and put yourself out there. You can be an artist AND pursue other interests."

Learn more about Carlos García León and Jaime Sharp in their professional bios below. 

Carlos García León

Carlos García León

Carlos García León (he/they) is a queer, non-binary, Latine, Mexican-Statesian who currently serves as individual giving manager at Cincinnati Opera. García León hopes to bring about a community-centric approach to the fundraising field and work toward positive change in the arts through philanthropy. García León earned their Bachelor of Music in bassoon performance with a communications minor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and went on to the University of Cincinnati to earn a Master of Arts in arts administration and a Master of Business Administration. In addition, they are a spoken word artist who performs at local open mics and has had their written work published in local and national zines and. García León was born in Atlixco in Puebla, Mexico, and had a passion for music early on. However, their drive for cultural equity, decolonizing the arts, and social justice developed over the years through experiences in various music organizations. García León continues learning and working to fight for cultural equity and justice in their work and the arts field.

Jaime Sharp

Jaime Sharp

Originally hailing from Orlando, FL, Jaime Sharp is a performer and administrator focused on developing welcoming and inclusive spaces for artists to thrive regardless of identity. She was one of three candidates selected for the Opera Leaders of Color inaugural cohort with OPERA America, and will be mentored by Priti Gandhi, Artistic Director of Portland Opera. Sharp is also the President and General Director of Opera NexGen, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hear Us, Hear Them Ensemble, and the Administrative Assistant of the Black Opera Alliance (BOA). She has interned in the Marketing Department at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) and the University Musical Society (UMS). Additionally, Sharp has programmed a number of recitals centered around works from the African Diaspora, including at the Chautauqua Institution virtual festival during Summer 2020.

Sharp is a mezzo-soprano currently in her Masters at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) under tutelage of Thomas Baresel. At CCM, she serves as a Graduate Assistant in the Marketing and Communications Office and the Vice President of the Graduate Student Association.

Sharp has sung with a number of companies including; the Chautauqua Music Festival, Michigan Opera Theatre, Detroit Song Collective, Opera MODO, and the Janiec Opera Company at the Brevard Music Center. Recently, Sharp was a semi-finalist in the 2021 Orpheus Vocal Competition, and the inaugural Perfect Day Music Foundation Voice Competition. She won the 2019-20 Buffalo/Toronto District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and went on to receive the Audience Choice Award at the Great Lakes Regional Finals. She was a finalist in the 2019 Opera MODO Aria Competition and the 2018-2019 University of Michigan Concerto Competition. She also received the Hilda Harris Mezzo-Soprano award at the 2018 George Shirley Vocal Competition.

Sharp is an affiliate of: the Black Opera Alliance, Black Administrators of Opera, Black Women in Opera, Arts Administrators of Color, Women of Color in the Arts, National Association of Negro Musicians, OPERA America, Racial Justice Opera Network, Sigma Alpha Iota Alumnae Network, BIPOC Arts, the University of Cincinnati Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Black Student Association.

Sharp holds a Bachelors in Vocal Performance from the University of Michigan where she studied with renowned tenors Stanford Olsen and George Shirley. She was awarded the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Sigma Alpha Iota International Service award and Ruby Sword of Honor for her dedication to the community, in addition to the Steven M. Schwartzberg Scholarship and Friends of Opera Undergraduate Scholarship for academic and artistic excellence.

Learn more on her professional website.

About OPERA America's Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color

This new initiative exists to advance racial equity in the field by pairing BIPOC professionals with executive-level leaders who can support them in achieving their career goals.

The yearlong program will provide mentees with guidance and support from BIPOC arts administrators and establish action plans for professional growth and long-term career trajectories. The pairs will come together for remote and in-person mentoring sessions over the next 12 months, including at Opera Conference 2022 in Minneapolis next May.

The program was established in 2021 as part of OPERA America’s sustained effort to eradicate racism and ensure equity throughout the field. It was designed by members of OPERA America’s Racial Justice Opera Network steering committee. It responds to the industry’s desire to correct practices of exclusion toward Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, North African, and Native American administrators, who face many systemic barriers that can adversely impact professional advancement.

The Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color is the latest addition to a series of OPERA America programs for increasing racial equity in the field. The initiative joins the IDEA Opera Grants (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) supported by the Charles and Cerise Jacobs Charitable Foundation and the IDEA Opera Residencies supported by the Katherine S. and Axel G. Rosin Fund of The Scherman Foundation.

Other OPERA America programs focused on the advancement of opera administrators include the Leadership Intensive and the Mentorship Program for Women Administrators. To learn more about leadership development programs at OPERA America, visit operaamerica.org/LeadDev.