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Meet Lisa Bianconi of L.A. Cultural Exchange

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Bianconi.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
A few years after college I quit my PR job and moved to Rome with no friends, no job, no home, and just 10 weeks of really bad college Italian. I didn’t care because I wanted to make my own study, live, work abroad experience.

Leaving everything to go into the unknown was thrilling, scary, and just incredible. This experience abroad continues to give me the confidence to just take a risk and do what makes me happy. I ask myself, “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is yes, I continue.  Three years and two countries later, I had many magical movie moments mainly because of the wonderful friends that treated me like their own family. I will always appreciate the love and care I received while living in Rome and Barcelona. My takeaway is to just stop talking and do it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Maybe the best thing ever!

When I moved back to Los Angeles, my mother and I combined our backgrounds and opened an arts marketing firm. We own and operate the NoHo Arts District website, www.nohoartsdistrict.com, so we are actively involved in the arts communities of Los Angeles. We started a young artists exchange program called L.A. Cultural Exchange because it was a natural extension of what our family company does and it happened gradually, calmly, and with a lot of hard work. It was important to me to create a program that takes care of our young artists just like I was taken care of while living abroad.

Over the years we’ve seen many young dancers and actors come to L.A. and not have the support and guidance they need to succeed and enjoy our great city. But the idea of L.A. Cultural Exchange came about in 2010. I volunteered to be a host family for a fabulous German student and the experience was simply beautiful. But what I saw was these young high school students in a big city with little help in terms of training in their chosen art field. I thought that the under 18 student was the most vulnerable and could use the most help in taking advantage of what our city has to offer. So we decided to start a boutique “exchange” program for performing and visual young artists only in Los Angeles, and only 12 at a time.

Oh my, let the drama begin!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It’s been a smooth, rough, bumpy, slippery, fun, crazy, enlightening, joyous and everything in between road. The idea of having a boutique exchange agency for young artists is rewarding hard work. It’s a great program for the students but also their parents because our students are loved and only 1 of 12 instead of a nameless face in a sea of hundreds of exchange students. They get a small and personalized program. But our program brings us joy. It’s a real treat to see a nervous young dancer transform into a confident, vibrant dancer who commands the stage.

But making the connections to agency partners to increase awareness of our program was challenging in the beginning because we only offer Los Angeles and only for young artists. But I must say that our agency partners who saw the benefits of our niche market have been awesome and forward thinking. We’re grateful for their support. In the midst of building our agency friends, we looked at our local partners and resources to create a solid art training program for a variety of art disciplines. We continue to hone our program and add new partners.

But we’re on a rough and bumpy patch now. The current political climate and the gun violence in other parts of the U.S. have scared many families from the rich tradition of sending their child for a study year abroad. We always tell families that L.A. really should be its own country because we are such a diverse and culturally, creatively and environmentally rich city. We may be huge but we are a kind and helpful city. I see this every day in the NoHo Arts District with our theatres, dance studios and local businesses. I see this with our host families and how they go the extra mile to care for their exchange student.

So all we can do during this uncivilized time is continue to do a caring, fun, arts-focused program, and of course vote. Our current motto is “We prefer to build young artists rather than build walls.”

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the L.A. Cultural Exchange story. Tell us more about the business.
L.A. Cultural Exchange is a program under our new entity, Artists Exchange Group, Inc. We’re excited to grow this.

We are an arts-focused exchange program in L.A. only and accept international high school students and now U.S. students because Los Angeles can seem like a foreign country to some! (Just how we like our city – rich with flavors, sounds and sights!) We do a semester and academic year program where our young artists live with an L.A. host family, attend high school and we create their training program plan.

We’ve added two new programs, Summer Dance in L.A. and Summer Act in L.A. (debuting in 2019), which are one full month in July of just dance and acting and living the L.A. life. We took our semester program as the model and condensed it into one intense month of fun. We did this because L.A. is the hip-hop/commercial capital so our summer program gives our dancers the opportunity to dance with choreographers they see on Instagram and Youtube who’ve choreographed and danced for everyone from Justin Timberlake to Jennifer Lopez.

Our acting program will give more actors the opportunity to train in what L.A. is world famous for – TV and film. But we are also a theatre town. Did you know that the NoHo Arts District has the highest concentration of theatre outside of NYC? But the programs also give the young dancers and actors the chance to live with an L.A. family to show that California is open, accepting and welcomes everyone as well as a “living/study abroad” experience but with high school replaced with dance or acting schools.

Next, we will open our program to dancers and then actors over 18 for short-term programs of one to three months. We want to give this demographic the chance to see if L.A. is the right place for them and if dance or acting is what they really want to pursue. They’ll be able to come experience Los Angeles in a warm, safe, structured program… that’s a ton of fun!

Some have asked why we “limit” ourselves to the arts. And after all these years my reaction is still a bit shocked and always the same: “We’re L.A. We’re an arts city, a city that thrives on the creative hustle!” Our company specializes in the arts because that’s the area we work in daily for the last 20 years and our lives have always been filled with dance, music, theatre and art since birth. So we offer our expertise, help and love. We are strict followers of the law of comparative advantage: you do what you do best and let others do what they do best. Or as we always say in the Bianconi family: “Do what you love, honey, because that’s what you know.”

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck, fate, destiny, proper timing, etc. are all a part of my life. Leaving Los Angeles for Rome then Barcelona was like pieces of a puzzle fitting together instantly, like magnets drawing all the pieces together effortlessly. It was my fate to live overseas with nothing and flourish.

But also deciding to return to Los Angeles and work in the arts was something natural, something written in the stars you could say. Then seeing a random ad looking for a host family and being lucky to have one of the most awesome German students (and then his fabulous brother two years later) as a part of my family set me on a path to start my own exchange program. All of these experiences helped create L.A. Cultural Exchange.

We can talk about luck but just taking an idea and doing it is the key. Who really cares if you fluster, flounder and then fail? It’s not the end of the world. (Cue the R.E.M. song.) You’ll be surprised what comes out of this “bad luck” – another idea that was even better than the one you “failed” at.

But it really is a matter of following your heart, as cheesy and played out as that may sound. If you have a passion for something then work in that area in some way, in any way you can. You may be surprised that you are really good at something in the field you’re interested in but maybe not in the capacity you originally wanted. I love to dance, and that is no secret. If I had a magic wand I would be a ballerina. But I don’t so I work a lot with young dancers. This brings me such joy.

But if fate, destiny, luck or whatever shined down on me, I wouldn’t turn down an offer to be a part of a 40+ dance troupe! (hint hint, Laurie Ann Gibson, Brian Friedman, Tessandra Chavez, Mandy Moore. Look those choreographers up!).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Art in Motion Brazil

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