How Sandra Bassett, CEO of the West Valley Arts Council, balances art and business

For 20 years, musician and arts leader Sandra Bassett worked in sales management for corporate America.

Heineken, Dr. Pepper, Walmart, K-Mart and Frito Lays were among the accounts she managed. Although she thrived in the business world, she retained a love for music and performed on the side.

Now she is living her dream as an artistic leader and musician in the Valley.

In April 2020, Bassett took over as CEO and President of the West Valley Arts Council. As a vocalist and instrumental musician, Bassett has performed throughout the Valley for the past 20 years performing Motown, Gospel, Jazz and R&B music at venues such as The Nash and Westside Blues & Jazz.

But not giving up on business is one of the best decisions she’s ever made, Bassett said.

“Here I am now, I’m still doing business and I’m still making music,” Bassett said. “It didn’t stop. Just because you hold a position in corporate America doesn’t mean you have to give up those things that come naturally to you and those that bring you joy. It’s who I am.”

“Now I am increasingly fortunate to have the opportunity at the West Valley Arts Council where I had the opportunity to use my MBA skills and serve the needs of the community. music, so I understand how artists work and what different cities are looking for, so I’m able to use my skills to fill in the gaps.

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Bassett discovered music growing up in Detroit

Bassett, who grew up in Detroit, still remembers the day his family bought a piano. Both of his parents played the instrument.

“I remember sitting next to him on the piano bench as he sat there and played tunes and said, ‘Daddy, teach me, teach me,'” Bassett said. “At the age of five, I had the choice of going to ballet lessons or taking the piano. And because I loved spending time with my father at the piano, I chose piano lessons .

Thus began Bassett’s love of music. But even then, she had business acumen.

Bassett — an entrepreneur since age 5 — would sneak to the candy store a block from school to buy 100 penny candies. The next day at school, she was selling this candy for a penny, she laughs.

It was in Detroit that Bassett learned to create something out of nothing. Memories of her mother making clothes for the whole family make her smile. So does the memory of her father who graduated from college when she was 5 years old.

Bassett’s primary instrument was initially the piano, but she also learned trumpet, flute, clarinet, French horn, and eventually bassoon. She was playing seven instruments by the time she arrived in high school in addition to singing.

Her high school music teacher asked her where she was going to college, and Bassett told her she planned to enlist in the Air Force.

“He said why? I said because I didn’t know how to apply for the college process,” Bassett said. “‘And I don’t think my family can afford it.’ And he said, ‘We’ll settle this.’ »

Kentucky State University offered Bassett a full music scholarship — an offer she nearly turned down.

“I went up to the conductor and said, ‘Dr. Liddell, I really want to come to your music program, but I don’t want to major in music, I want to major in business. “, said Bassett.

She asked if she could still have the music scholarship — she offered to play in any bands and ensembles the school needed her for — but she wanted to be a business major.

“He asked why and I said, ‘Music won’t be able to give me the lifestyle that I want,” Bassett said with a laugh. “And he said OK.”

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Bassett keeps the arts business in mind

Business and music continued to intersect in college, where Bassett served as music minister at her church while working as an appliance saleswoman at Sears.

After college, Bassett began his business career working in national sales account management, broker management, and key account management. In 2010, Bassett moved to the valley to work as an account manager for Hostess.

“I had no family. I had no friends, but I had a job. And sunshine,” she said.

Shortly after arriving, she joined a band at South Mountain Community College and performed across the valley. During the day, she continued to manage accounts for top companies.

At night, she put on a black dress as she performed at venues in the Phoenix Metro.

After the 2008 recession and the failure of several businesses, Bassett pursued music full-time while working as an adjunct teacher at Benedictine College in Mesa and a high school music teacher while continuing to perform in the Valley. She also traveled to Kyoto, Japan to perform at an upscale business club for six weeks over two years.

During those two and a half years, Bassett found a new appreciation and love for the arts and learned about the strength and resilience of local artists. It’s something she carried into her role at the West Valley Arts Council: a desire to keep artists’ jobs.

“I was getting calls saying, ‘Hey, come play for me for free, but we’ll give you exposure,'” Bassett said. “And I had to let them know, ‘I’m sorry. I have equipment costs. I have to play for rehearsals. Then I have to load my gear, drive to your location, install, run, disassemble, start all over again. And I need gas, money and food. It gave me a deeper insight and appreciation of what my fellow artists go through every day for their craft.

“It gave me a platform when I came to this position to say please don’t contact my organization asking me to give you artists for free so you can go out and earn some revenue from it. .I won’t because I appreciate the arts.”

“I’ll give him the credit”

At West Valley Arts, Bassett created Imprint which seeks to highlight African American, Native and Latino communities through performances, art exhibits and workshops.

An ongoing initiative, Gallery 37, works with high school students to create public art installations in the West Valley community. Through Gallery 37, high school students build portfolios and prepare for careers in art.

God was preparing Bassett for her new role as president and CEO of the West Valley Arts Council, she smiles. She will always give him the credit.

“Our gifts are something he gives to each of us,” Bassett said. “We have to act on it and use it, and even when we are at our lowest, if we keep reaching out to help someone else and not be self-centered, it will continue to bless us. .

“I have to operate in there because I’ve seen it in my life when I’ve had that amount of time without Corporate America. I kept doing the work. I kept using my skills and I will give credit for where I am now.”

Sandra Bassett at The Nash

Details: Saturday, February 19 at 7:30 p.m. The Nash, 110 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix. Tickets $25-39. 602-795-0464,

Contact the reporter at [email protected] Follow her on Instagram @sofia.krusmark

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