Shari Jackson is the Executive Director of The Norman Music Alliance, Inc, producer of Norman Music Festival and The Depot, a gallery/venue in the Historic Santa Fe Depot in Norman. She has spent over 20 years working in nonprofit arts in Norman as an administrator, director and event producer. Jackson is a sixth generation Oklahoman, a native Normanite, mother of JJ, lover of ALL good music and aspiring cat lady planning on fronting a punk band in her 60’s.
How did you get started?
I grew up in Norman and it started at Eisenhower Elementary School. Every morning we had ‘morning exercises,’ a school-wide assembly where the words to songs were projected on the wall and we sang and danced together for a half-hour to EVERY kind of music you can imagine…before we went to class! It was a very special school at an extraordinary time. Music started my every school day and those years definitely shaped who I became. I taught myself piano while begging for lessons, sang ALL the time and ended up participating in choirs, theatre productions, bands, pianist for choirs and church productions, a wedding singer duo (lol) and anything else I could to stay connected to the arts.
Did you always want a career in the music industry?
I don’t know that I ever had the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I started college majoring in music and vocal performance, but ended up with a Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics…long story. I was a little lost and unsure, and I think that’s what kept me coming back to music, I always felt most like myself there. Interestingly, I got started professionally in the arts industry when I ran away to Taiwan just after finishing that degree in math. I lived in Taiwan for almost 10 years, and while I was there, I found a role with a company that was expanding and touring children’s theatre. In that role, I got to write, arrange music, produce, perform, tour and direct – the experience was invaluable, instructive and happens so rarely for a young artist. I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity. Since moving back to Oklahoma, and for the last 20 years, I have worked in the arts for Sooner Theatre, Cimarron Opera, The Depot, and Norman Music Festival. I have been able to direct, perform, help develop organizations to support artists and musicians and hopefully in some small way, in my little corner of the world, to help knit the arts community together to support an arts economy that can keep talent here in Oklahoma.
Most Recent Successes / Placements / Accomplishments / Projects? Career highlight?
The comeback of the Norman Music Festival in 2022. An extremely dedicated group of humans put together Oklahoma’s largest independent music festival in 90 days, had fun doing it, paid EVERY band, and invited over 100,000 of our closest friends to enjoy the show. We’re unbelievably proud of NMF 2022. To have taken two years off and be able to come back bigger and better…….we could all just quit now and be happy. (but we won’t – see you in 2023!)
What is your favorite Oklahoma music venue, music store or recording studio?
Networking and connecting with others who share your dream or vision is a vital aspect to the music industry. Can you share which Oklahoma organizations (if any) have contributed to your success and are there Oklahoma organization you would recommend other connect with? To help further their craft or promotion?
I can’t recommend one organization over another. I think it’s important to connect with other artists, venues, organizations, studios, festivals, etc. in as many authentic ways as you can. To seek participating and keep showing up.
How can we follow you? Best place to purchase and listen to your music (if applicable)?
As a behind-the-scenes human, I don’t have much of a social media presence. But I’m on Facebook and Twitter. Just search for my name!
Advice for someone interested in working in the music industry.
When I work with young artists, whether it’s opera, musical theatre or a gigging band, I encourage everyone to think critically about how they’re going to stay afloat while working on a career. Music as primary income might be the goal, but it might take a while. The question I always ask: “What can you do to support your performing habit?” Think honestly about how you can use your talents and skills to support you and also leave time for creativity and artistry.
What are some of the benefits of having a music career in Oklahoma?
I think the greatest thing about music in Oklahoma is the sense of community. Watching musicians, studios, etc. support each other and be open to collaboration is beautiful.
Favorite quote (if applicable)
There is a mixture of good and bad in everything and everyone. The trick is to figure out the ratio and act accordingly.