Donna Weng Friedman is a multidisciplinary artist based in NYC. Taking her mother’s advice to find a “stable job,” Weng graduated from Princeton and became an assistant agent for ICM before recognizing music as her true passion and pursuing a Masters in Music from Julliard. After a traumatic encounter with racism in March of 2020, she decided to create change herself, and founded Heritage and Harmony to connect the community around her through music and stories Through this organization, Weng established “an educational role model program to help school-age girls of color find their artistic voice” and combined the voices of BIPOC artists to produce an EP (Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings) during the pandemic to raise funds for an anti-racism foundation. Weng is currently collaborating with Chun Wai Chan on a short film, Never Fade Away, which narrates her immigrant father’s life through dance (starring fellow Amazing Asian in the Arts, Xiaoxiao Cao!). Her advice to young artists? “... Be strong and resilient… Listen to people who you trust, but most of all, listen to your heart.” Read on to learn more about Donna Weng Friedman and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Donna Weng Friedman
Heritage: Chinese American
Current City: NYC
Current project: Never Fade Away , a short film about how a radio and a waltz changed my immigrant father’s life.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
I created Heritage and Harmony to bring people together through stories and music. The first program was in collaboration with WQXR, sharing the stories and music of leading classical musicians during COVID, when hate crimes against members of our AAPI community were rising. Since then, I have created Heritage and Harmony: Her Art, Her Voice with the National Women’s History Museum – an educational role model program to help school-age girls of color find their artistic voice. And I produced my pandemic EP Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings, featuring exclusively artists from our BIPOC community, where all proceeds go to a foundation that fights against racism.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
We all know that having a career in the arts is not easy, so I tell my students that they should pursue it for the right reasons, and to me the best reason is that you cannot live without it. But once you’ve made that commitment, have an open mind. Learn as much about yourself as you can, and learn as much about the world as well. With so much advancement in technology, possibilities are endless. But be strong and resilient – learn from your mistakes but do not let that bring you down. Listen to people who you trust, but most of all, listen to your heart.
How did you get your start?
I have had so many “starts” I’m not sure where to start : ) But I don’t think that where you start is as important as the journey itself.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you’d like to share?
Sometimes the most important moments are the times when you struggle the most, but you fight and overcome your darkest moments. For instance, when I was assaulted for being Asian in March 2020, I was traumatized, but that the incident, as horrible as it was, literally gave me the courage and strength to create Heritage and Harmony in the first place. I felt the need to do something to stand up for our AAPI community in my own small way, and after that, my passion for my music and my community have been forever intertwined.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
I find that the bigger the challenge, the more focused I become on overcoming it. So in the end, the challenge doesn’t even seem so big anymore : )
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
My mom was born and raised in Shanghai, into a very wealthy family. During the Cultural Revolution, her family lost everything. Her father was imprisoned and tortured. So when she came to this country with nothing, she wanted to make sure that her children would always have a stable life. So even though as a child prodigy I was winning every competition and performing all over the country, when it came to choosing a career, she was quite adamant about finding a stable job. And as a good Chinese daughter, I followed her advice. My first job after graduating from Princeton University was as an assistant agent for ICM – at that time one of the leading artist management companies. Unfortunately, they did not have room for me in the classical music department, so they gave me a job in the rock ‘n roll department. It was fun for a while, as I love rock music, but after months of covering 3am shows in dive bars, I had enough, so I went back to Juilliard to get my Masters in Music. After that, my mom suggested I get a real estate license – so I did that as well. I was not good at that – did not make a single sale! But I finally realized that my heart was aching to return to music. And when I did make a full commitment to music, my mom realized that I was doing what I was born to do.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
I don’t have any performance anxiety. I feel more comfortable on stage than anywhere else in the world. The connection I feel with the audience is what makes all the difference in the world. I don’t think that anyone should force themselves to perform if it makes them feel miserable. Especially now, when there are so many other ways of expressing yourself in the arts. Do what feels natural for yourself.
As a storyteller, how do you pick the stories you want to work on and what goes into putting a story together, whether on stage, page, or film?
It is a very organic process for me. And a very emotional one as well. I follow my heart- and my instincts have not failed me yet!
To find out more on Donna Weng Friedman, please visit her at:
Never Fade Away Teaser: https://youtu.be/fXxq8IZuSEU
Never Fade Away Tickets: heritageandharmony.org
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