New Canaan’s John Kao Headed to American Academy in Rome for Residency [Q&A]


Though he’s a relatively new resident of New Canaan, John Kao—a former Harvard Business School professor and current Turing Fellow at Yale’s Center for Collaborative and New Media—made himself known to locals with a presentation on jazz last month. This month, the best-selling author and Tony-nominated producer of film and stage is headed to the American Academy in Rome for a monthlong residency.

We put some questions to Kao about his early impressions of New Canaan, the residency in Rome and plans for the visit.

Here’s our exchange.


New Canaanite: Before we talk about your upcoming residency at the American Academy in Rome, please give our readers a little background on yourself. How would you describe what you do professionally? How did you come to live in New Canaan?

John Kao

John Kao:The Economist called me Mr. Creativity. I’ve always been a bit of a free agent – startup entrepreneur, trusted advisor, rogue academic. After 20 years of toiling in the digital vineyards of San Francisco, it was time to return to my roots in the northeast. I grew up in the New York City area and got over-educated at Yale. So New Canaan seemed geographically favorable and has turned out to be a home base that has exceeded my wildest expectations.

How did you come to apply for a residency at the Academy, when does it start, how long is it and what will you be doing there?

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to do one or two wild and unexpected things. To spend a month in residence at the American Academy in Rome as a visiting artist/scholar sounded like a great mini-sabbatical as well as an opportunity to reframe and restore creative energies. I’ll be part of a community of exceptional artists and scholars while installed in an apartment overlooking the “eternal city.

The residency at the Academy puts you on the Janiculum Hill in Rome. What are you expecting in terms of your day-to-day during the three weeks there? How much free time will you have?

One of the great privileges of this residency is freedom to use the time as one sees fit. There are no work or product requirements. I plan to write, work on one of my tech startups and play the piano while exploring all that Rome and the Academy have to offer.

What are your early impressions of New Canaan?

I knew I was going to like New Canaan, but I’ve been surprised by how deeply I’ve become rooted here since my arrival last summer. New Canaan is a perfect creative oasis for me that supports my creative projects. It’s an ideal base from which to sally forth towards to academic spires of Yale and the skyscrapers of Manhattan. I’ve enjoyed getting to know people here while exploring New Canaan’s rich cultural heritage. There’s the kind of community here that was lacking for me in California. Call me old-fashioned if you like but community is important to me. I plan to stay here…indefinitely.

You gave a presentation jazz music at First Presbyterian Church recently, an event organized by the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society. What are some of the other ways you’re seeking to get involved in the local community?

New Canaan has a rather exceptional history as a gathering place for creative people. These have included not only artists and architects, but business innovators as well. In addition to enlarging my circle of acquaintance, I have a specific idea about catalyzing a gathering of today’s creative community here that would be something of a regular salon. I’m also looking for additional opportunities to bring my entrepreneurship and innovation expertise such as it is for the benefit of this community.

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