Juggling Motherhood and a Career in the Arts

February 09, 2016
Woman standing by a display of different kinds of flutes and similar instruments.

AAUW American Dissertation Fellow and classically trained flutist Jessica Valiente poses with her collection of flutes, recorders, and variations of the instrument from around the world.


For more stories about women’s successes and challenges in the arts, read the Winter 2016 issue of AAUW Outlook magazine.

Jessica Valiente, an accomplished flutist, band leader for Los MasValientes, and a devoted mother, received an AAUW American Dissertation Fellowship for the 2014–15 grant cycle. At the time, she was in the process of completing her dissertation for a doctor of musical arts degree, and she used the award to cover child care expenses for her three daughters. “Without the AAUW fellowship I would not have had the time to complete my dissertation because I would not have had anyone to help me with the kids,” she noted.

But Valiente did finish, and even though she now has her degree, the hard work isn’t over. Like many women, she contends with juggling the daily responsibilities of a demanding career and motherhood. Between homeschooling her three daughters, who are musical performers themselves, and working on her career as a performer and band leader, Valiente has her hands full.

She’s also interested in a future in academia; she explains that she’s working on building a media package that will make her competitive for the limited tenure track positions that are available in her field — positions that too often go to male musicians. For any woman trying to establish a career in the male-dominated music industry, especially if she is also managing a household, life can be exhausting.

“It is still true that women in my field are held to a higher standard than men,” Valiente acknowledges. “If you want to be accepted and hired you are going to have to prove yourself. … You have to be extremely good at [what you do].” And while it would seem that Valiente doesn’t have the hours in the day needed to devote to her music, she makes time: She practices between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. each night. The thought of managing such a long and full day would have many running for the hills, but Valiente adds that you have to be okay with prioritizing and not crossing everything off of your to-do list in a single day.

Her advice to young women interested in pursuing a similar career path is simple: “Never assume that you don’t have the right to be doing what you are doing, and never apologize for [it]!” She adds, “If no one is presenting you with your niche, make your niche.”

She also points out that the performing arts scene is changing now. Younger people who are becoming very successful as musicians are the innovators; they are the ones who are willing to take advantage of the recent digital and social media revolutions and create new ways of engaging with their performance art. As one of few Latin American female band leaders in the United States, Valiente understands firsthand the importance of forging your own path if one has not already been carved out for you.

This post was written by AAUW Program Associate Theon Gruber Ford.


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