Art? Activism? Entrepreneurship? For Jade Zaroff, an interest in all did not mean choosing just one. Through leaps of faith and with unwavering passion, the US-based artist took her love for the arts into a new light to create change onstage. Just 23 years of age, Zaroff shows us what it means to find one's path by seeing possibility in even the smallest windows of opportunity.
Founder and President of Entertainment for Change (EFC), Jade went from working on a university gala to building her own non-profit. In the last few years, the college graduate has encouraged artists to highlight some of the world’s most crucial issues through performance. Zaroff talks to Simone Bhagat, Contributing Editor, Creative Sparq, about her journey, the formative life lessons she’s picked up along the way from influencers and the hustle of the artistic world.
What does your nonprofit, Entertainment for Change do?
Entertainment for Change (EFC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that produces artistic competitions inspired by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as set forth by the United Nations in 2015. We engage talented artists of the next generation to educate and reflect these goals in their performance pieces – thus, empowering our audience to incorporate these transformative goals into their day-to-day lives.
What inspired you to create Entertainment for Change? How did you go about it?
While I was changing my major as a sophomore at Emerson, I was channelling a lot of my energy into my position as an “Eco Rep” on campus — a student who was hired to inspire environmental awareness via peer-to-peer education. With support from the school, including Emerson’s wonderful President of the college, Lee Pelton, I had an incredible opportunity to pursue my vision for the “Emerson Green Gala”.
This was an event I had created & produced with the mission to celebrate Earth Day through various forms of artistic expression. They sponsored me for another year, and I decided to scale it by making it into a competition — awarding the winning students $1000 for the best live performance piece and film that brought forth environmentally conscious content.
The Green Gala now runs as an annual event at the college, for which I am incredibly grateful! While all of this was happening, I had been developing a business plan in my entrepreneurship minor. I kept thinking ‘I LOVE the green gala...and the world needs change… and I want to pursue both entertainment & entrepreneurship.
Thus, I founded a nonprofit and Entertainment for Change [EFC] was born. When I had entered college as a freshman musical theatre major, I had never imagined that this is what I would end up doing!
What are the social causes you are most passionate about right now? What are the causes you would like to address through EFC?
My passion for the environment and our planet is something that has been ingrained in me since I was a child. That being said, my little brother is gay, I am a woman, my cousins have bi-racial children, and my love for travel to broaden my cultural perspective, infuses my drive for many social causes. Let's face it, we have a lot to change. Just look at the 17 SDGs and every single human is more passionate about one than the other due to personal connections. However, my answer to this question would be that I live my life with compassion, listen to everyone’s story, and stay heart-centered in both my personal and professional world.
We haven’t really NOT addressed a cause. We just haven’t had traction as a competition, yet. My mission is to support the causes that the artist’s themselves feel inspired to support. To support those who are confident and brave enough to use their voice to move our world forward is something I deeply respect.
What kind of projects are you working on currently and what is your creative process as you plan them?
We currently have a couple of exciting partnerships brewing — fundraising cabaret at Yotel’s GreenRoom42 on 9/10, picnics to engage kids in arts activism, and performances at the United Nations for the Avenue Altruism Awards! We are also in planning mode for our first nationwide competition projected for EARTH DAY 2020 at a space called “The Arc” in Long Island City.
My process is to mindfully take it day by day, while still having clarity around my vision for the future of the organization. Because there are multiple projects happening at the same time, I find it important to constantly stay aligned with our mission and stay on top of priorities within a flexible timeline. I get really excited when I manifest big visions, but sometimes I have to remind myself that I won’t get there until I send that ONE email sitting in my Drafts box. So I make daily to-do lists that I know will ultimately get me to my goal.
What does creativity mean to you in the context of your work?
A little over a year ago, the first slogan for EFC was “connecting creativity”. (Now it is AMPLIFYING ARTISTIC ACTIVISM). This original slogan was inspired by my drive to do just that - connect the dots on how I believe “creativity” is infused into absolutely everything we do as humans.
I believe that creativity brings forth our truest, most vulnerable and most authentic selves. Creativity is at the core of every choice we make, and my work inspires artists to tap into how we can use our creative drive (and talents) to change the world.
What are the 3 traits / skillsets you use the most in your work as an artist and entrepreneur?
Passion, persistence, and organization.
I believe passion is contagious! Whether it be networking with people I’ve never met, to working with people I’ve known for 10+ years, passion is something that translates and resonates — so my self-awareness around my level of passion and love for my work serves me in absolutely everything I do.
Persistence is so important because it is easy to give up. Almost seems too easy sometimes. The radio silence from a big foundation doesn’t mean your organization is destined to fail. It just means there’s another foundation just waiting for that same email. That is how I choose to look at life — optimistic and hopeful.
Be organized! BE ORGANIZED. Thank goodness for my organization, that’s all I have to say about that!
How did culture and environment at home, school and work influence your career choices?
I am so grateful to have parents who support me and care so deeply about my happiness! My dad was front and center at every theatre production I was in while growing up, and my mom is my greatest inspiration in encouraging me to pursue EFC as an entrepreneur. Just as I trademarked “Entertainment for Change,” she trademarked “EcoFashion” in the 90s — stating that “it’s not if, but when” regarding sustainable fashion. That is exactly how I feel about art making an impact and being the driving force towards positive change. As a young woman growing up, I watched her closely and quickly learned to believe that if you put love into your work, anything is possible.
At school, I always enjoyed the kind of projects where leadership was a primary part of the position because I love inspiring people to do and be the best version of themselves.
At work, it's all about Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration! I love environments where everyone is transparent and own their skill sets and strengths with confidence.
How do you see yourself - as an artist, a problem solver, something else? And in the context of that definition, how do you see your work influencing society?
I always tell people how happy I am to be have grown up as a total “theatre kid/thespian”, so I am truly able to see it from the perspective of the artist when working on EFC. My genuine love for EFC allows me to ride the wave of this journey I am on, which helps center me in order to rationally and calmly solve the problems that come up. I take it day by day, as I have endlessly repeated.
I tell people “I freelance my life” when they ask “what I do.” I tell them I align myself with work that serves others. Whether that be auditioning for voice over commercials, spending the day with the most adorable 3 year old named Roman, or taking calls and meeting with others who are driven by creating positive impact at “The Assemblage” — a spiritual co-working space — my role in life changes depending on what I am doing in that present moment.
How has technology changed the way you work and what are the opportunities / challenges that it presents for EFC?
I grew up in a generation that was experiencing the Razor flip phone for the first time in middle school. Facebook was introduced to me quite young, and our homework was posted online before we even got home from school. Opportunities allow us to pursue an online database of content and film events in a way that reach more people quickly.
However, a challenge I personally work through is the lack of live performance art in a world driven by technology. I don’t love the idea of our reliability on over-stimulation to provide us with temporary satisfaction. That’s why Entertainment for Change will prioritize social media engagement and provide a platform for online content, as an extension of the live show.
Fast forward 20-30 years, how do you see technology changing what you do?
I don’t see it necessarily changing what I do as much as enhancing the level of scalability. I have a love/dislike relationship with technology. I enjoy looking straight ahead and not down — in order to truly see the world around me for what it is via my own perspective, and not the opinions of my Facebook friend Jolene who I haven’t even seen in years or talk show host #33, on my phone. That being said, I do see the value in ideas spreading quickly and communication being extremely accessible.
Where do you find your creative inspiration?
Everywhere! Traveling, learning by actively working on a nonprofit, skydiving, riding a Citibike around New York, getting a tattoo with my grandma, and hanging out in the #greenmoregirls apartment I live in with my mom - all stories inspire me.
These moments shape my necessity and passion to be creative by learning lessons and feeling inspired by life itself. That’s why I love art so much — because it is the ability to share a story from a vulnerable place, resonating with others on a deeper soul level.
That guy that yelled at you to recycle doesn’t get you to stop and actually do it, but the young girl dressed as a whale singing live in front of you with a beautiful scenic design of what the Earth will look like for your kids if we continue on this path - that may just inspire you to use a metal straw!
About The Interviewer
Mumbai-born, Singapore-raised, Simone has been dancing for 17 years, training in ballet, jazz, hip hop and contemporary dance. She currently lives in New York studying theatre at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a minor in business at The Stern School of Business. Also trained in music and singing, Simone teaches dance to children in Singapore through her entrepreneurial venture, The W E R K Dance Company.
This feature is part of the Young Sparqs interviews - showcasing the work and passions of people under 30 years of age.