Learning to Slow Down and Program “With” a Rural Cultural Community: In Conversation with Marie Bobin

Marie Bobin (Photo: Yulia Gervits).Marie Bobin is a member of the first MMIAM cohort, completing the program in 2014. She entered the program with 10 years of broad arts management experience in the United Kingdom and the United States. Marie is now living in the high desert of San Bernardino County in Southern California and working as an independent arts management consultant with an interesting range of clients. Laura Adlers interviewed Marie to learn about the challenges and opportunities that come with working in a rural cultural community.

 

What was your experience in arts management prior to applying to the program?

Prior to applying to the program, I had 10 years of experience working as an arts administrator. I started my career in the UK as the development producer for the Finborough Theatre, an Off West End venue premiering new works by emerging playwrights. When I returned to the US, I gained valuable museum experience working for the J.Paul Getty Museum’s education and registrar departments before being appointed Director of Operations and Events for the Jules Verne Film Festival’s US branch of operations.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies in international arts management?

Having been raised in a bi-cultural setting, I have always had a keen interest in intercultural communication. The arts’ ability to bridge cultural divides and to promote cross-cultural understanding is what first led me to pursue a B.A in Theatre Studies. With a decade of experience behind me, I realized I needed a stronger foundation in cultural policy and a broader international perspective in order to realize the kinds of projects I wanted to develop. The MMIAM program allowed me to gain policy perspective on a global scale and to learn not only from some of the best academics in the field but also from my cohort’s broad expertise.

Where are you currently working and what are your primary responsibilities?

After graduating from the MMIAM program, I was fortunate to work for the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles as the program specialist and later as the creative producer for the programs department. Our team was responsible for producing and programming film, theater, literary, and music festivals and events. I am grateful for this chapter in my career, working for an institution guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger and fostering human connection through cultural programs that celebrate discovery and hope while helping to build a more just society.

Arts Connection Mixer. Photo: Bill Green.

Arts Connection Mixer. Photo: Bill Green.

After moving to the high desert of San Bernardino County in Southern California, bordered by Joshua Tree National Park, I started working as a freelance producer and cultural programmer. Working as a consultant has given me the opportunity to work with a wide variety of organizations and to collaborate with a dynamic group of cultural organizers.

What kinds of projects are you working on right now?

The first organization I started working with when I moved to the area, and continue to work with to this day, is Harrison House Music, Arts & Ecology, a residency and performance program for international artists and environmental activists based in the late American composer Lou Harrison’s desert retreat in Joshua Tree. The residency program awards great minds with the time to create and share their best work in a historic and inspiring setting.

I am also working with the Palm Springs Dance Festival. Now in its third year, the festival producers approached me to help broaden their programming with a dance film series. Our aim for the inaugural Dance on Film program was two-fold: 1) to lower the perceived barrier to entry and introduce new audiences to dance via the medium of film, and 2) to showcase the cross-cultural and intergenerational power of dance. I am thrilled with the line-up, which meets these goals and I can’t wait to share it with our new and returning audiences.

Looking ahead, I recently completed a National Endowment for the Arts grant proposal to produce a month-long NEA Big Read program in the high desert in the Fall of 2019. Although the grant awards will not be determinded until April, the grant process itself was an enriching experience. Working with Arts Connection, the Arts Council of San Bernardino, we were able to bring together 25 partner organizations to participate in two dozen programs. It’s a huge community effort which will help promote literacy and the arts while creating opportunities for residents to gather, connect, and participate in free cultural programs throughout the region.

What is one of the greatest challenges you face as an arts manager in your cultural community? How are you addressing these challenges?

As a producer working in a rural or non-metropolitan community for the first time, I have had to make a conscious effort to slow down and spend time truly understanding the needs of my community and how my skills can support those needs. Whether one is working in a rural or urban setting, it is crucial to distinguish between programming “at” a community versus programming “with” a community. It’s for this reason that I decided the NEA Big Read would be a valuable first large-scale community-wide program that would help showcase some of the vibrant work local artists and organizations are already engaged in.

What did you gain personally and professionally from studying in four different countries with students from around the world?

The program’s theoretical coursework in every arts management discipline, coupled with field work and lectures by international arts leaders, provided me with a strong foundation in cultural management. It also gifted me a family of colleagues from whom I continue to learn and with whom I am hoping to plan future collaborations.

Marie-B-italy-Photo-Daniela-Alzate

The members of the first MMIAM cohort in Milan, Italy.

How did your studies in international arts management change your perspective of arts management practices in your home country?

It was truly daunting to understand on a micro level how our European and Latin-American colleagues don’t face the same continous struggle in needing to defend and promote the value of the arts. There is a deeper intrinsic understanding of the “why” in other countries around the world, as well as a stronger integration of arts education in national curricula. It’s for this reason that I strongly believe in and continue to produce intergenerational events, giving the next generation a chance to experience the arts at a young age.

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