Using Your Voice for Social Impact

Interview with Carla Dirlikov Canales

Wyatt Adams

Today we had the chance to interview Carla Dirlikov Canales, an opera singer who enjoys helping others through art. She has created projects and initiatives that help impoverished communities express themselves through art. She has sung at Carnegie Hall, and she is very intelligent and insightful. Two points stood out to me from our interview with her. 

The first is that she said that whenever she does something, she gives it her all, nothing less than 100%. To do so, she finds it necessary to compartmentalize. When she is doing her music, she focuses on that alone and doesn’t allow herself to become distracted. She even tells her friends that she is focusing on music and doesn’t want to be distracted. I think this is good advice, since I am a minimalist. Ever since a project in fifth grade, I have put the bare minimum into school. I have been told by everyone that I need to put more effort into my schoolwork, but I still haven’t done that. After hearing Carla tell us about how she works and the things that she has accomplished as a result, I feel inspired to start putting in the extra work to succeed. 

The second thing that Carla said that struck me is that in order to succeed you must be stubborn and not give up. Again, people tell me that in order to do well in life I have to go all-out and not give up. When she made this point the first time, I wasn’t moved by what she said, but when she repeated the idea that being stubborn can lead to great results, I realized that if I am persistent enough I really can accomplish anything. She talked about how in order for her to go to college she needed a full ride scholarship. She was offered a scholarship because she is Hispanic, but she didn’t want it. Instead of giving up, she called the person in charge of the scholarship and asked why she didn’t get an academic scholarship, and the person told her that she scored a 27 on the ACT but needed a 28 for a full-ride scholarship. She then re-took the ACT, got a better score, and got the full ride scholarship. I found this story inspiring because she was only a teenager at the time. I’m hoping to keep these two ideas in my mind as I move forward in life.

Logan Shaw

Today, we interviewed Carla Dirlikov Canales, who is an opera singer who focuses on the arts to spread awareness about cultural and social issues. I was really impressed by how much she has accomplished. She has starred in international productions, started projects such as the Canales Project, and she speaks five languages fluently. She also works with the government on the “Turnaround Arts” program, which aims to “turn around” failing schools by getting students involved in the arts. She believes that education in the arts is important to society because it helps to develop a person’s imagination, and imagination is necessary for social change. 

Carla emphasizes that if you persevere anything is possible. She shared an anecdote to illustrate her point. She said that the only way she could get into college was to get a full ride scholarship, and at first she didn’t get one. She then called the college and remained on hold with the admission department for hours. She finally got through to someone and asked what she could have done to get a full-ride scholarship. They told her that if she scored one more point on the ACT she could have received a full ride. She retook the exam and earned the scholarship, allowing her to attend college. 

Carla urged us to connect with her, as having adult mentorship has been a key to her success, and she wants to help others succeed as well. She genuinely wants us to reach out to her, and she gave us her email address and phone number. It was very cool how much she wants to support us throughout our journeys into the future.

Sophia Manzur

Today we interviewed Carla Dirlikov Canales, the founder of the Canales Project,  an organization that celebrates culture and community through art. Carla is also a professional opera singer who performs internationally and has performed at the National Gallery of Art, the Public Theater, and the Kennedy Center. I was especially excited to interview Carla because, like her, I am an artist and Mestiza. Not only do I relate to Carla on a personal level, but I see her as an iconic figure because, like her, I hope to use art to bring communities together. 

I asked Carla the following question: “You created The Canales Project for people to share their personal experiences with culture and identity through music and conversation. At times, dealing with the tensions that can arise when one is raised in different distinct cultural environments can make one feel as though they are living ‘between two worlds.’ Being Mestiza, I struggle with feeling connected to my Mexican roots because I have grown up surrounded by a completely different culture. What can those who feel lost regarding their cultural identity learn from your project?” Carla responded that she has always felt like she was lost in her cultural identity. Her mother is Mexican, and her father is Bulgarian. Carla spoke about having to learn two completely different cultures in addition to American culture. She wants to help those who also struggle to find their own cultural identity. She says that she uses her art as a platform for others to achieve their personal goals. 

During the summer of 2022, I attended California State Summer School for the Arts, a theater arts program. On my first day there, my acting studio teacher asked us if we are in love with theater and why. At first I responded that of course I am in love with the arts because I have an indescribably great feeling when I perform. Upon reflection, however, I realized that I didn’t really understand why I have this great feeling when I perform. What Carla said about why she loves the arts helped me identify why I have this feeling. Carla said that all humans have emotions, and art is a way for us to express them. No matter what differences we have, we are able to connect with one another through the arts. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than being able to express yourself with others as part of a loving community. 

Although I live “between two worlds” and have had difficulty finding my own identity, when I’m dancing, singing, writing poetry, or acting, those two worlds coexist in harmony. When I immerse myself in my art, I am authentic and true to myself in a way that better allows others to see me not as belonging to one world or the other but simply as me. I am grateful to Carla for helping me understand myself and my motivations better.