The Artful Life Questionnaire: Xavier Boudreaux (Washington, DC)

By Paulette Beete

What we know for sure: We all have a story, and engaging with the arts helps all of us to tell our own stories on our own terms. We also know that there are ways to engage with the arts other than in formal cultural venues, and that sometimes it is more about the process of art making than it is about the end product. We also know that living an artful life, which is to say, living a life in which the arts and arts engagement are a priority means different things to different people based on their own interests, their communities, and many other factors, including equitable access. The Artful Life Questionnaire celebrates the diversity of ways we can make the arts a part of our lives, and, hopefully, inspires and encourages us to live our own unique versions of an artful life. In today’s edition of the questionnaire, we’re speaking with Xavier Boudreaux, a musician who works with us as our Jazz Specialist.

photo of three women and one man standing in front of NEA Jazz Masters signage

(from l-r) Music and Opera Director Ann Meier Baker, NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, Jazz Specialist Xavier Boudreaux, and Senior Deputy Chair Ascala Tsegaye Siske at the 2024 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert. Photo by Jati Lindsay


NEA: Please introduce yourself.

XAVIER BOUDREAUX: Hello! My name is Xavier Boudreaux and I’ve been with the NEA for almost five years now; I joined in 2019 shortly before the COVID-19 lockdown. I originally joined the NEA with the Visual Arts Division, supporting the Media Arts and Design/Creative Placemaking teams as an Assistant Grants Management Specialist and was fortunate enough to transition over to the Performing Arts Division in my current role as Jazz Specialist with the Music team last May (’23). I was born to two United States Marines who had somewhat limited but memorable arts experiences in their lives; my mother with dance and my father with visual art/painting. In fact, my middle name, Delacroix, was given to me by my father due to his intrigue on the works of French artist Eugene Delacroix. I began studying music when I was 12 years old as a trumpet player in middle school. I became very rapidly obsessed with the joy I experienced when making music and the curiosity I had with the mechanics of musical instruments. I, at no behest of my parents, began an exploratory journey of learning and playing multiple wind instruments. I eventually settled on flute and acquired my Bachelor’s degree in Music at Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in Music Performance from Syracuse University. I also hold a Master’s in Arts Management from American University.

NEA: Do you have a current art practice or a way of regularly engaging with the arts?

BOUDREAUX: I’m constantly listening to music whenever I can—various genres and styles. I try not to limit myself even though I, of course, have my musical preferences. I may not consider myself to be an artist per se, but certainly a forever musician and a curious instrumentalist, so I like to tinker. I have a keyboard at my apartment—I’m terrible at piano—but it’s nice to have to sit down every know and then and try to challenge myself. I’m also slowly getting into collecting instruments; emphasis on SLOWLY as I fear the habit could become expensive quickly. I recently acquired two metal clarinets from probably around the 1940’s that have been a great addition to my musical assemblage. One was in decent condition, so I plan to eventually give it a thorough clean and replace the pads and see how it plays! The other was a bit rougher in condition, but it has been shaping up to be a wonderful decorative item and superb eucalyptus plant holder. My mom has also helped to feed this new habit by creating her own tradition in bringing me home small gift shop flutes when she returns from her various vacations—I currently have four of these. I’d like to eventually acquire a theremin, an ocarina, and a didgeridoo, among many others.

NEA: What are five words that come to mind when you think about the idea of living an artful life?

BOUDREAUX: Curiosity, Joy, Provocative, Restorative, Nexus

NEA: Pick just one of those words and expand on how you see it as part of living an artful life.

BOUDREAUX: Nexus—kind of a strange term, huh? A Nexus is a central link or core to an intersection of other connections. I believe art has the ability to make the strongest connections among people. And if we view art as a central part of our lives, we afford ourselves the opportunity to continue to connect to one another, build common ground, and create sustainable futures that empower, uplift, and protect everyone.  

NEA: Where do you currently live, and what are some of the ways that your community tells its story through the arts or through creative expression?

BOUDREAUX: I currently live in Washington, DC. I’ve lived in the area for eight and a half years, and the last five and a half have been in the Petworth neighborhood. Visually, DC expresses itself through murals all around the city on various businesses, residences, and other buildings. Petworth has an annual porchfest that started a few years ago. Inspired by other porchfests in DC like the one in Adams Morgan and others around the U.S, it’s a really great way to walk around the neighborhood, get to see and meet some of the residents, and hear the music of the community. Hopefully it will build to be as big as AdMo’s porchfest.

NEA: How do you think that living an artful life can improve the well-being of your community?

BOUDREAUX: Art and creativity have the power to connect, and I think that’s one of the most important things that anyone seeks in life: connection. The stronger the connection, the stronger the community.

NEA: Is there a particular place in your neighborhood that is a creative touchstone for you?

BOUDREAUX: Not particularly. While I certainly like to engage with my neighborhood when events take place like the aforementioned porchfest or DC Open Streets on Georgia Ave, I like the idea of keeping myself open to being creatively invigorated by multiple spaces, places, people, etc.

NEA: What’s your favorite informal way or space to engage with arts and culture?

BOUDREAUX: Related to the above question, Malcolm X Park or Meridian Hill Park, while not in my neighborhood, is but a short bike ride or one Metro stop and a 10-minute walk away to just sit and possibly catch a drum circle or other performers or just people to engage or connect with. In fact, I attended a performance, completely by accident, of the Washington Concert Opera’s Opera Outside program on a random Sunday afternoon when I went to just read and relax on the park field. It was a great performance!

NEA: Can you share an arts experience or moment of arts engagement that has had an identifiable impact on your life?

BOUDREAUX: I have so many of varying degrees of impact, so I’ll share three relatively short ones. In high school, I performed as part of a small jazz combo with a few senior classmates of mine from our jazz band program with our student teacher as our bassist at our local Barnes and Noble in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We set up in the café of the bookstore and just played off several standard jazz charts from our “REAL” books of jazz standards for about a two-hour slot. I don’t remember if it was a paid gig, but it was my first public performance experience aside from the standard school-affiliated concerts or performances.

I was in marching band all throughout high school and college and was fortunate to serve as drum major in both bands. But my first time marching and performing as drum major in college in the Spartan Marching Band was an experience I will never forget. The whistles, the big hat, the baton, the running and strutting downfield that eventually lead to the big stadium crowd pleasing backbend. Never. Gets. Old. Unfortunately, I do though, so don’t ask me to do it anymore. I’ll just send you a YouTube clip of my better, more flexible years.

Lastly, in graduate school at Syracuse University, I had the distinct honor of winning the school-wide concerto competition. It afforded me the opportunity to perform as a soloist with the Syracuse University Orchestra. And while I don’t remember the whole performance itself as I, and I’m sure many people who perform do this, kind of blacked out, the experience of the journey from choosing the piece to the competition to performing it on stage with a full orchestra accompaniment was an unforgettable and challenging journey that I continue to relish in the incredible accomplishment.