Aug. 20, 2012
Alumna rises to top of International Bluegrass Music Association
By Ben Lawson, media assistant
Having dedicated nearly two decades to the promotion of bluegrass music, a Northwest Missouri State University alumna has stepped into a leadership role in the international bluegrass music world.
Nancy Cardwell, a 1980 graduate with a degree in English, was recently appointed executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). IBMA is an international trade association for bluegrass music with members in 50 states and 30 countries that was organized to help industry representatives and fans can work together to promote bluegrass music.
As executive director, Cardwell manages the day-to-day operations of IBMA; helps plan the annual World of Bluegrass conference, awards show and festival; oversees marketing and financial management as well as membership, international, youth and leadership programs; works with the board of directors; and writes for IBMA publications.
“My role in IMBA is this amazing combination of things that I like to do and that I happen to be good at,” Cardwell said. “I’ve been blessed. Like any job, there are things about it that are difficult and challenging. Overall, it’s great that I get to work in an area of the music industry that I have lived and breathed my whole life, that I love, and that I care about. I get to try to help people who are trying to make a living playing this music, and I get to help more people hear it.”
Cardwell was raised in Springfield and began performing with her father’s country band at age 7. She would sing and play the mandolin with her younger brother and sister. In high school she spent her weekends playing shows at campsites, Silver Dollar City, local festivals, coon hunts and Sunday school picnics with her family.
“I was a teenager in the 1970s,” Cardwell said. “At a time when a lot of my friends were rebelling against their parents and getting into trouble, I was hanging out with my parents and playing bluegrass music and getting paid for it. It was a thing that our family liked to do together. It was just a lot of fun.”
Now, Cardwell has been with IBMA for 17 years, including a stint as the special projects director. Previously, she taught English and Spanish at schools in Bolivar and Seymour and was a field executive for Dogwood Trails Girl Scout Council, based in Springfield. She also toured with an all-girl bluegrass group based in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., called The Wildwood Girls and worked as a musician and journalist in Branson.
Cardwell said her time at Northwest helped prepare her for a career in the professional world. Her time in the classroom and as a resident advisor in Hudson Hall taught her to communicate effectively, a skill she has used in every field she’s worked. She also developed important organizational skills.
“A lot of what I have learned about organizing projects and working with committees and boards and things like that dates back to my experience as a RA,” Cardwell said. “You’re organizing things and forced to work in a group, which is how my job goes now.”
Northwest also gave her the opportunity to explore other cultures and learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds. Cardwell said this is especially important in her work with IBMA because it has members in Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and several countries in central and western Europe.
As a Northwest student, she built friendships with Taiwanese students who lived on her floor in Hudson and walked in the Chinese New Year’s parade at Northwest.
“I have always been intrigued by people and places that are different than where I grew up,” Cardwell said. “I certainly get that chance to utilize that attitude in my job here because bluegrass fans and IBMA members are from all around the world.”
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