As a teenager, Tara Jacob first fell in love with the fun, creativity, and community when she discovered in the circus at The Circus Space in London. Over the years, she founded the Circus Folk Unite! collective at Hampshire College, along with completing the 2012-2013 Professional Track program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts in Vermont. She is currently an instructor at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts, where she instills her love of circus in the youth of her community. Jacobs has recently been appointed the exceptional role of Executive Director of AYCO (American Youth Circus Organization), but prior to her promotion she served on the AYCO Board of Directors and worked as AYCO’s operations manager.
The intention of the interview below is to introduce Jacob and to share her passion for her new role in the circus community. This interview was conducted by Bronyn Mazlo, a member of AYCO’s teen group Hup Squad.
Bronyn Mazlo: How did you discover circus and what has your journey been like?
Tara Jacob: I first discovered circus as a teenager when an outreach program came to my school and taught us stilt walking, juggling, and acrobatics. I was totally hooked – it was so much fun! I moved and there wasn’t a circus school near me, but I did as much circus as I could; gymnastics classes to learn acrobatics, flying trapeze classes, and self-taught juggling. When I got to college, I started a circus club there: Circus Folk Unite! at Hampshire College in MA. I realized I wanted to do everything I could to spread circus arts to others. After college, I did the ProTrack program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts (NECCA), and started teaching youth and adults at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton. Then I began volunteering with AYCO/ACE (American Circus Educators), then served as a board member, and then came on as administrative staff. I am very excited to have been named executive director!
BM: How has circus impacted your life?
TJ: Doing circus makes me happy! It has also become my career, through teaching circus to others as a coach and helping to advocate for, support, and grow circus arts through my involvement in AYCO/ACE. It’s a part of who I am and how I interact with the world. Circus has also led me to many human connections with new friends and colleagues, and taught me to be tenacious and flexible at the same time.
BM: You became a part of the AYCO family in 2015. And you became the operations manager in 2017. How did those roles prepare you to be the executive director of AYCO?
TJ: I have really seen AYCO/ACE from all sides – as a member, event attendee, volunteer, board member, and staff person. I’m familiar with the work and history of the organization. This has given me a lot of insight, and being involved over several years, I’ve seen the organization evolve and grow. I’ve made strong connections with many of our community members and gotten an idea of the challenges we all face, and also know firsthand the passion and resilience of the circus education community.
BM: As an executive director, what are your responsibilities?
TJ: There’s always a lot to do! The executive director represents AYCO/ACE as a whole, balancing big picture visioning with micro tasks and planning. This means that among other responsibilities, I meet with the Board of Directors, do financial management like budgeting and reporting, manage staff members, supervise programs and communications, help produce events like AYCOfest, EdCon, and regional festivals, engage with board committees, and interface with our members, press and the public!
BM: What do you find to be the greatest challenges?
TJ: Running a non-profit like AYCO/ACE means that there is always a balance of what you want to do and what you can do with limited resources. Our events, programs, and the connections we support are important to the community. Though we always have big dreams, we need to take small steps and raise the support to keep going and growing.
BM: What’s the best thing about your job?
TJ: I love getting to talk to our members — the people and organizations all over the USA who are doing circus in so many different ways. It’s incredibly inspiring to hear about the variety and also the common threads through people’s experiences and the work they’re doing to spread circus arts.
BM: What do you think makes AYCO unique?
TJ: AYCO and ACE’s success is because we are for and by the community. As a non-profit, we have always been motivated by our mission to “promote the participation of youth in circus arts and support circus educators”. It is the passion and creativity of our members that keeps us going – especially youth circus members like you!
Related content: American Circus Educators Come Together From Across the United States to EdCon 2018!, Youth at the Center: Defining the Future of American Circus, AYCOFest 2019 – A Bright Future for Youth Circus in America.
All photos provided courtesy of Jenna Lowery, Circus Runaway Photography