Meet Our Members
Mona Tekchandani (’96) and her husband, Vikram Krishnan joined as Stanford Live members within the last year.
Meet Our Members: An Interview with Mona Tekchandani and Vikram Krishnan
From time to time we ask our members to share their thoughts on their connection to Stanford Live. We recently sat down with Mona Tekchandani (’96) and her husband, Vikram Krishnan, who joined us as members in the past year. Mona was previously Associate Director, Engagement & Outreach in Stanford’s Office of Development and recently became Senior Associate Director for Stanford Impact Labs.
Thank you both for taking the time to speak with us. How did your interest in the arts begin?
Mona: I would say that for both of us, our interest in the arts has been lifelong. I used to be an Indian classical dancer when I was growing up in Michigan.
Vikram: And I learned classical violin in the South Indian Carnatic musical tradition. We’ve both, from a very young age, had families that encouraged the performance arts and have viewed that as an important part of our lives.
Mona: As I’ve grown and matured, it’s been really interesting to think a little about how the arts can help reveal others’ stories and how they can also help to bridge communities. So I think that what propelled us to become members this year was that recognition of how the arts can make us a better society. It’s not just something that’s an interesting and fun pastime—the value of the arts is so much more important in the days and times we’re in right now. That’s what triggered the interest this year to step up in a way that we hadn’t before.
You both attended schools that have great arts programs, Stanford and Dartmouth. Do you have some favorite college arts experiences?
Mona: I took a musical theater class when I was at Stanford, a symphony course, and a class on dance. I took them in different years and had this really wonderful undergraduate experience, being able to connect in that way and have a lot of friends in the arts. I had friends who did Gaieties [student-written musical performances], I had friends who were artists, who are still artists, like [playwright] Geoff Sobelle. We were always going to some free or reduced-cost show, and it was lovely that that was available. Also with the Stanford in Washington program, having access to the arts on this grand scale was amazing.
Vikram: Mona grew up in the U.S., whereas I grew up in India, and I moved to the U.S. for Dartmouth. It was actually the first time I’d left the country. So my exposure to the arts was relatively more constrained to Indian art forms. And when I moved to the U.S., being exposed to a much broader range of Western art forms besides Hollywood movies and music was a fairly sizable increase in my own exposure to the arts.
Also, in contrast to Stanford, where I went to school was not in a larger urban or suburban setting but in an extremely rural area. So the fact that Dartmouth was able to be a beacon for dance troupes and musicians to come out from Boston, from Montreal, to perform in what felt like the middle of nowhere was pretty incredible. The Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth managed to attract headline acts that you would never expect to otherwise see in a small town by the side of the Connecticut River in rural New Hampshire.
How are you getting your arts fix these days?
Mona: We watch a lot of arts-related webinars and a lot of recorded things like PBS’ Great Performances. I watched a few of [Stanford Live’s] Backstage Pass conversations that Chris Lorway did. I felt like that was such an interesting way to get live insights from artists. I thought that was wonderful. Colin Quinn was really fun, and we’re looking forward to Zakir Hussain in the winter quarter.
Vikram: So I’m going to out you here—you’ve started taking dance lessons again.
Mona: I did! It was with an instructor I used to dance with about 10 years ago, and she had moved away but was able to refashion her courses to be online as well, which has been so nice.
Vikram: A lot of instructors are trying to make the best of what is a very difficult set of circumstances. If you’re a teacher in the arts, this is not an easy time, right? So I’m very proud of the fact that Mona’s been supporting this instructor.
Mona: I will say, watching Chris’ discussion about the opening of the new season is actually what got me so excited. Because I feel like we’re all having to pivot, but being able to pivot so mightily and remain supporting artists during this time, that was just so moving that I gave [to Stanford Live] during that talk.
Mona, you’ve spent quite a lot of time working in development and in the philanthropic world. How has that influenced the way the two of you approach your own philanthropic giving?
Mona: I think that we’ve always had a pretty keen sense of personal responsibility, but being involved in development has helped us understand how we need to go from the appreciation of things to the support, whether it’s local, small organizations here in San Francisco or other larger organizations. It’s helped us recognize that through our giving, we can help promote better outcomes. And I think it’s made us more actively give than maybe we would have in the past.
And you have this very exciting new role as Senior Associate Director for Stanford Impact Labs. Can you talk a bit about your work?
Mona: Oh, I’m so excited! Thank you for that. Stanford Impact Labs aims to shorten the distance between the great work that’s happening at the university with research in the social sciences and the actual impact [that has] on people’s lives. So can we operationalize and make research become real for governments of all sizes, small, local, all the way up to federal government? And can we help nonprofit organizations in their mission-driven work through the research solutions that are happening every day on university campuses? That idea of infusing the university world with society at large is what drove me to apply for this role in Stanford Impact Labs, but it’s kind of a testament to the value I think that universities need to play in society as a whole, whether that is with the arts, with government, with even athletics and supporting physical fitness and mental fitness.
We need universities now more than ever, throughout the country and throughout the world. And I feel like helping people understand how universities play that special role in the ecosystems of our lives is a great challenge for Stanford going forward, but the university is really putting in concerted effort, so I’m really excited.
Do you have any thoughts on the role universities can play in the arts?
Mona: Absolutely. Everything from helping create those spaces for artists who are in development to helping people understand that the arts is a part of every education. It’s a part of STEM education, just the same way that it’s part of a well-rounded liberal arts education.
I mean, I grew up right near Michigan State University, my parents were immigrants, first generation. And having the Wharton Center for Performing Arts was such a part of our lives. Having access to free performances from students, with my sweet immigrant parents having access to that art, I feel like it gave us a family outing all the time. I think that the other place that arts and universities are so important is, again, as we try to find ways to build hope and build society back together. The [Stanford Live] mission for this year really spoke to me because in a year we’re not able to travel, [university arts programs can] help uncover those stories and create safe spaces for those stories. I think it’s remarkable what universities can do with the arts.
Vikram: I feel that in many communities, especially those that are a little more rural—and perhaps I’m reflecting again on my experience at Dartmouth—none of those performances would actually show up in a place like Hanover, New Hampshire, unless Dartmouth was there. So in many situations, universities play a convening role, in informing what types of access society actually has to the arts. Even in urban environments, I feel like the biggest role universities play is in changing the affordability, in having that access to and also different ranges of performing arts.
Not every kid in a relatively underprivileged community aspires to go see a show at the Kennedy Center or Lincoln Center, or that’s not even part of what they could potentially contemplate. But universities sometimes expose them to that aspect of life and joy and entertainment and also allow that kind of affordability that’s much more relevant to those types of communities. So I would argue universities have a key role, not just in ensuring more equitable access to the arts but also in performing a gateway function, if you will, for people who otherwise might not have been exposed to the arts as a result of a lot of different circumstances. Universities play a role in helping open horizons to a broader range of artistic influences in people’s lives.
Mona: We think a lot about how representation matters quite a lot. So to the extent that we can help encourage other people to think about supporting the arts in this time, I hope that this helps to become that catalyst for other individuals as well.