GMC Director expands campus culture

Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center Executive Director Jacob Yarrow presents the student body and the surrounding community with a fresh, poignant mission statement. 

It is to “present the most compelling artists of our time, investigate ideas, and to provide access to diverse artistic experiences that educate, connect, and inspire Sonoma State University and North Bay communities.”

Yarrow, along with the rest of his supporting and tenacious staff, are hard at work with making sure they can adhere to this statement, while being able to incorporate new and entertaining experiences for students and community residents alike. 

Executive Director Jacob Yarrow seeks to diversify the acts that perform at the Green Music Center. STAR // Emily Kowalski

Executive Director Jacob Yarrow seeks to diversify the acts that perform at the Green Music Center. STAR // Emily Kowalski

Stepping into such a high role of leadership can often be intimidating, especially when arriving to such a well-renowned complex that has served the performances of highly respected musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Smokey Robinson. Luckily, Yarrow’s past experience has allowed him to easily transition into such a critical role. 

“When I walked in here, I moved here from Iowa City, Iowa. So, the knowledge of how Sonoma County works – what people in Sonoma County care about –  varies from community to community,” Yarrow said. “The local cultures and local communities are intersectional, but there are also lots of different communities in any place.”

Having previously served as an executive director at Garth Newel Music Center in Virginia, with a background as a music teacher and a touring musician, Yarrow is no stranger to the world of performing arts and music education. However, having only been here for almost two years, Yarrow is hard at work to understanding what attracts Sonoma State students and a more contemporary audience to make the Green Music Center a worthwhile experience across all demographics. 

“It takes a long time to get a place into your bones that way and to really understand the people and the culture of a specific place,” he said. Paying attention to local news, having discussions with faculty and students and going to community and campus events provide him with feedback for making sure he can meet the demands of what students and the surrounding community can resonate with. 

Yarrow understands that not everyone listens to classical music or connects with the energetic nature of a summer concert, so he aims to provide as many diverse experiences as possible so that everyone can recognize the beauty and joy that the Green Music Center has to offer. 

This includes an array of classical music and jazz concerts to contemporary cultural music groups, such as a high-octane Mexican fiddling group named the Villalobos Brothers, who are playing near the end of this April. Stand-up comedians, live podcasts and speaker-based presentations will also make more of a presence for the future since there has been success with these particular mediums in the past. 

“I guess I always think of wanting more impact rather than more necessary activity. I want the Green Music Center to be more impactful and more engaged with our campus community and Sonoma County. I want it to be a place where people are really excited to go,” Yarrow said. 

Rather than seeing a musician or performing artist that a student or community member may already know, Yarrow wants anyone who visits the complex to experience different genres and performances that they may not be familiar with. 

Yarrow believes the cohesiveness of the Green Music Center’s positive reputation comes from the top-notch artists that are carefully considered for the followings months to come. However, he also realizes that certain performances cater to smaller and bigger crowds and different generations. That being said, the Green Music Center is hard at work with Associated Students to have upcoming performances and shows that are for a student-oriented audience as well. 

Furthermore, Yarrow would like to have more celebrities come to the complex and will continue to work to do so, but the outcome can be expensive since celebrities can have quite the price tag. Even if a concert or performance with a famous musician or musical group ends up having a massive turnout, ticket sales in some instances may not be enough to reach a profit after paying the celebrity. 

Yarrow also does not want to move away from a non-profit, mission-based approach because competing with very large, commercialized entities would not make financial sense, since the Green Music Center has only so much space and reaches out to a more community and student-based audience. It would be too difficult to compete with other larger venues in the Bay Area.

Regardless of the spatial constraints, the Green Music Center’s financial stability is doing great. The complex receives half of its programming funds from donations and half from ticket sales. 

Yarrow has been pleased with ticket sales and they have already met their ticket sales goal for the school year of just over $1.5 million.

Along with the critical and financial success of the venue over the past few years, Yarrow continues to hope that students, university classes and visiting artists continue to inspire and serve as catalysts for the learning and inspiration of many others who visit the complex in the future. 

“We have such a multiplicity of constituents that we want to listen to broadly and deeply,” Yarrow said. “I’m really interested in the conversation of what we can be and what we could be, and I think that’s the conversation I’m trying to have every day with whoever will have it with me.”