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Faculty Spotlight: Joel Luks

A Q&A with M.A. in Arts Leadership adjunct professor, arts and entertainment marketing professional, and certified Zumba instructor, Joel Luks.

Q: Please provide your educational history. 

A: Joel Luks is a communications consultant with expertise in content marketing and social media strategy. He works with a wide range of clients—from global brands to mid-size enterprises to solo entrepreneurs—to create integrated marketing strategies that connect entities with target markets. As principal and director of brand marketing for Texas-based, integrated communications firm CKP, Luks has supported the agency’s growth from a small operation to a robust, experienced team winning 50+ awards in digital marketing, multimedia content, public relations, research, corporate social responsibility and event promotion from institutions such as the American Marketing Association, Public Relations Society of America and Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. 

Luks is also an adjunct professor for the University of Houston’s Master of Arts Leadership Program as part of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts, where he teaches marketing and communications to the next generation of arts and entertainment professionals. As part of the MBA-type degree, he also mentors and coaches degree candidates through their capstone practical projects that serve as launching pads into creative careers. As an educator and thought leader, Luks has been a keynote speaker and has led classes, panels and hands-on workshops for Rice University, Eastman School of Music, University of St. Thomas, University of Houston-Downtown, Sales and Marketing Executives Association (SME) Digital Forum Puerto Rico, MassChallenge, Da Camera of Houston, Young Audiences of Houston and Fresh Arts, among others. 

Before joining CKP, Luks was the arts and entertainment editor, classical music critic and video strategist for CultureMap Houston, a lifestyle digital publication that quickly gained marketshare and expanded across the Lonestar State. He is also a regular contributor to Houston’s CBS affiliate through special content partnerships, first with CultureMap and today with 365 Things to Do in Houston, a digital resource that reveals the city’s hidden gems. In his editorial role, Luks published more than 500 articles and produced more than 450 segments for online platforms and broadcast. Luks’ innovative and unapologetic reporting style and strategic management of social media engagement helped the publication reach record-breaking traffic numbers. 

Luks earned a Bachelor of Music and a Performer’s Certificate in flute from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester (’99), studying with Bonita Boyd and graduating magna cum laude. As a recipient of a Catherine Filene Shouse Fellowship, Luks was part of the inaugural Arts Leadership Program cohort. Through the then-experimental program, he gained professional skills and experience in arts-in-education, community engagement, marketing and public relations, volunteer management, audience participation and nonprofit management.  

Luks continued his music studies at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, completing his Master of Music degree under the tutelage of Leone Buyse. At Rice, Luks launched a community relations program bringing underserved elementary school children to Rice and curating programs with strong curriculum connections that extended classroom learning. Additionally, Luks worked with community organizations, senior citizen homes and the Texas Medical Center to underwrite enriching music programs for diverse audiences. Luks was a fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Chautauqua Institution School of Music, American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and American Russian Young Artists Orchestra. 

Luks is passionate about the importance of the arts in society, education and sustainability. He has served on the boards of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Urban Harvest and Fresh Arts. In his free time, Luks is an avid yogi and a certified Zumba instructor.  

Q: What are some fond memories from your journey in the arts? 

A: I wouldn’t describe participating in master classes with esteemed artists as something that I was fond of in the moment, but I do look back at and talk about the experience with fondness because of what came out of such a vulnerable and nerve-wracking process. The master class format is an opportunity for community learning and coaching, but being judged and critiqued in front of a group of your colleagues, some of whom might end up also being your “competitors,” isn’t easy. Your weaknesses and vulnerabilities are often exposed as we strive to find a balance between artistic excellence and technical prowess. We have an expectation of perfection that cannot be reached. It doesn’t exist. My naivete as an emerging classical musician led me to believe that there was an intangible measurable that could be attained. And I had to grow out of that.  

An education in the arts is unique in that you have to build grit to endure high pressure situations to end up whole on the other side. Learning to accept constructive feedback without getting defensive is part of that equation. I didn’t like it back then, but I’m fond of how it has informed and inspired my life as a marketer, communicator, strategist, and teacher.  

Q: Describe one thing that has surprised you during your career in higher education. 

A: I didn’t pursue a career in marketing and communications; it found me. I didn’t set to become a higher education teacher and practicum coach; it happened organically. While my original path was focused on orchestral performance and chamber music, those formative years prepared me for much more. The study of music, unbeknownst to me, opened my eyes to understand my own aesthetics for learning, while, at the same time, recognizing the unique learning modes of students in a classroom setting.  

As a student, I had a set process when learning new repertoire: I listened to recordings; researched performance practice; analyzed the score, structure, and harmonic framework; understood the work within the composer’s own development as well as within artistic practice; paid attention to the clues in the music; and then created my own interpretation. In essence, I used data to make informed decisions that hopefully would create a connection with listeners. 

When I first started teaching, it surprised me how my music process could be adapted to preparing for a lecture. Moreover, my measure of success for music is the same as in the classroom, whether a student is engaged and inspired, and whether they learned something about the subject and something about themselves. 

Q: What accomplishments in your career do you feel most proud of? 

A: During my time as an arts and culture reporter and editor, I produced a large body of work, including features, previews, and reviews, that told the stories of Houston creatives and organizations large and small. Houston’s visual and performing arts offerings, especially those that fall outside the traditional definition of fine arts, are beautifully colorful but hard to find. Having the platform to connect readers with art makers was a responsibility I took very seriously, and one allowed me to meet talented, passionate people who not only had something to say, but used their voices for good.   

Sure, there were fabulous interviews with the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Rita Moreno, Idina Menzel, Matthew Morrison, Rob Lowe, and Kristin Chenoweth as they passed through Houston. But what I loved most was, for example, learning about a Chinese orchestra led by a former People’s Army musician, meeting Karenni refugees using weaving for survival, and listening to an old school gospel quintet rehearse in the Fifth Ward. 

And then there’s this. To this day it tickles me that I was trusted by University of Houston’s Fleurette Fernando and Sixto Wagan with the announcement of the then new Master of Arts degree with a concentration in Arts Leadership. Who knew I would later be a part of it? 

QWhat specific skills or ideas, which you have cultivated in your area of expertise, do you find valuable in your career now?  

A: I haven’t had the most straight forward career. My curriculum vitae feels like a tapestry sown together by disjointed personalities with an identity problem. Nothing made sense in the moment. But somehow my experience in arts-in-education, program management, music education, performance, sales and marketing, digital journalism, social media, and content creation seem to make sense in retrospect.  

But if there’s anything my journey has revealed over and over for me, it is this: Being an expert and knowledgeable about a subject is great, but what’s even more important is the ability to distill a potential problem down to its basic elements before trying to prescribe a path to resolution. That’s usually about asking the right questions from the right people. There’s always information about the information about the information, which is never revealed without due diligence, perseverance, and patience.  

Q: What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor? 

A: Realizing you are there for the students’ benefit, not your own. My job is not to produce an army of marketing ninjas and communicators out in the world to make sure the arts sector more competitive with the for-profit industries. Instead, instructors must focus on one thing: Focus on each student’s journey and leave being better off having known each other.  

Nowadays that means being clear, flexible, and compassionate. Often, we’re training students for a world that doesn’t exist yet. 

Q: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments? 

A: This has nothing to do with my life in the arts, marketing, or journalism, but it’s something that will forever remind me that there’s always something to learn. Maybe you can call it a professional accomplishment? 

I took time to get my life in order and work on my fitness and health, which include getting certified as a Zumba instructor. While pandemic life has made it difficult to lead community-based work outs, I hope to return to doing so when it’s safe. A few students have been brave and survived through my intense and boisterous classes. 

Q: What advice would you have for incoming students who are focusing on a career in the arts? 

A: A life in the arts isn’t about you. A life in the arts is about service. Be prepared to be challenged, to be taken apart, to be questioned, to feel as though you’re not making progress even when you are, to be frustrated and confused, to wonder if you have a place in it, to think of giving up and wonder if the world needs you. But just when you’re not paying attention, you’ll look back and realize it was all worth it. That you’re not the same person you were. That you made a difference. That you made someone smile. That you made someone’s life better.  

And that indeed you’re needed now more than ever.  

Quote: There’s something about the spirit of creativity, collaboration, and transformation that’s evident at every level of the Arts Leadership Program, bridging academic learning and real-world experience. I’ve been challenged and inspired by my colleagues to teach with a people-first approach, encouraging all of us to be transparent, vulnerable, and willing to do what’s necessary to propel student learning and achievement beyond their dreams.