Tiffanie Guffroy was a member of MMIAM’s third cohort. Born and raised in France, Tiffanie has been living and working in Quebec for a decade. She is currently General Co-Coordinator at Exeko in Montréal. Tiffanie has also recently become a mother. In celebration of Women’s History Month (March in USA), Brittany Johnson spoke with Tiffanie about her career and her newest title: mom.
Let’s start with the basics, tell me about yourself and how you became interested in the arts.
The arts and me, it is a long story! I played a little pea (yes) as a first theater role, then le petit prince and this started it all! When I was 18, some friends and I put some energy into creating a play for deaf people. How naive we were! Well intended, but naive. In the years that followed, we became more invested in this initiative, starting with trying to understand better the community we wanted to serve. To my memory, it was the first time that I did an arts project using arts and culture as a tool for connecting people that would not be served otherwise. Now that I think about it, it makes sense with where I am now.
I completed a master’s degree in political sciences, with a major in cultural strategies in the development of territories, from a neighborhood to a European scale. I explored different ways of using the arts and culture, the most exciting one was to use arts and culture for peace building, in a diplomatic project called Ulysse 2009 that I ran in six different Mediterranean countries.
How did this lead you to joining the MMIAM and to working at Exeko?
Each professional step after that was a discovery, but I was not satisfied with the limited opportunities and limited consideration I had in the arts sector in France. For instance, when I was a Project Coordinator, many people thought I was the Director’s assistant or the intern. Difficult to be a young woman and professional in some old-rooted institutions! I moved to Canada, where people seemed to be given more opportunities, where careers seemed to be flexible, and where a more positive vision of work was possible. Right from the beginning, I was offered great opportunities, and I entered the National Theatre School where I learned about the Canadian cultural sector, about the “two solitudes” (French and English communities throughout the country), about fundraising with heart, about positive management, and about how theatre could engage communities.
But still, after a couple of years, I was looking for more meaning, and applied for one (and only one) program: the MMIAM. Funny story (well, funny now), I was supposed to be part of the first cohort but had some immigration issues. François Colbert offered me a spot in the second cohort, but then I lost a close family member and was not in the right shape. François never gave up on me, however, and starting MMIAM with the third cohort ended up being the right fit!
As I was looking for meaning, it came on a Thursday morning in Milano as I was looking for the subject of my master thesis. The revelation appeared obvious: I could not go on and live the same way, that is to have a steady job related to the arts as a business or an economic activity that left social engagement on the side. Enough with the “bums and sits,” the marketing, etc. I decided to focus my career on arts and culture as a tool for well-being: the well-being of people, of communities, of society. Arts for a better world. Utopic, isn’t it? Well, we sometimes need dreamers, too. When I graduated and came back to Montreal, I stuck to my idea and turned down a few opportunities. When I entered Exeko for the first time, I was not sure. It was not a cultural institution but a not-for-profit using culture. But the minute I talked with the passionate people that were present, I knew I was going to be there for a while. We lead cultural projects, and also do innovative and meaningful research on how the cultural sector can be inclusive. But I can tell you more about that in a future article!
Can you tell me about what you do at Exeko?
First, let me tell you what Exeko is! Exeko is an organization that uses arts, culture and philosophy for the social inclusion of marginalized communities. We work with homeless people, Indigenous communities, youth at risk, and immigrants, with an open approach of treating them as an equal, seeing their potential more than their problems. It seems simple, but it changes everything. I can let people dig in: www.exeko.org.
I entered as the Fundraising Coordinator, became Fundraising Director and Deputy CEO, and recently became General Co-Coordinator. I am currently working with my team on reframing the organization for a post-pandemic society: how to work (even more) collaboratively, how to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in our practices, internal as much as external, how to remain pertinent when society changes so quickly.
Recently, you became a mom, congratulations! Can you describe how this has changed your relationship to working?
Thank you! It has changed my relationship to life, you mean! I want to recognize that all women have their own experience of becoming a mother. For me, it was like adding an amazing third dimension to my life. I was very lucky that in Quebec, you can take as much as one year of maternity and parental leave. I am also very lucky to have a healthy and calm baby that is eating well and (now) sleeping 12 hours a night. But still, going back to work was kind of a shock, especially because that was when our CEO decided that it was time for him to leave, and I took over the head of the organization, with a one-year-old toddler. But I grew, and I am learning!
I now have more limits than I had before. A limit in the time I spend on my organization each day. A limit in the mental load I am able to take. A limit in my patience, maybe? But a stronger attachment to my values, too. And, as meaningful as my job is, as engaged as I am, I would resign tomorrow if my job was interfering with my child’s education.
Also, I understand better the shift the professional world needs regarding work/family conciliation, and the way mothers are seen in the workplace. I am very grateful to work in a place that already had good HR policies in that respect, to be in a leadership position where I can implement or experiment even more propositions, and more than anything to have a very welcoming and understanding team.
Finally, my life has changed so much that I am questioning professional choices for the future: is a career that important? Don’t get me wrong, I will not leave my career aside, but how can I shape it so that I have a work-life balance?
As I mentioned earlier, my title is General Co-Coordinator, and I chose it this way. “Co” because I would not have taken this job on my own, the pressure would have been unbearable in my circumstances. “Coordinator” because I am convinced that the experts are my team members, and that I am just making things go round. I want to leave space for employees to take leads and for more collaboration without imposing my views. I do not dream of having more power, I just hope that I am serving my team and the communities we are working for, too. Becoming a mother detached me of personal ambition.
What has surprised you most in the working mom situation?
First, that we are not prepared for the implications of going back to work. Expecting, birthing, baby feeding, surviving through the first months are often subjects of conversations, because they are the common experiences. But going back to work is not so much a subject, I find, especially being a leader and a young mother. Probably because from there, women live all sorts of situations. I had little to no comparison to refer to. For instance, and even more because of remote work, I can change a diaper, kiss my baby goodbye and go online with my board or with a ministry official within a few minutes. Or maybe I underestimated the implications? I think that there is a lack of recognition for women accumulating these diverse roles and still being committed, creative and collaborative. I see it now when I think of my colleagues who are also moms.
Then, what I definitely underestimate and am still working on is the redefinition of some parts of my identity. You have not entirely changed, but you are not exactly who you were before. It took me exchanging with women on my board or former colleagues that have older/adult children to grasp the depth of that.
Finally, full of my twenty-first century ideals, I was surprised to realize that gender inequalities remain as far as taking care of the baby is concerned, even though my partner is teaching early childhood education and is very involved. But we are not there yet. Never mind, we will try to raise a child with values so that the next generation will go on improving on that aspect.
What resources do you wish existed?
I would definitely gather more resources about being a working mom, sharing experiences, etc. But my baby was born during the pandemic, so many resources like workshops and sharing circles were canceled. Your question will stay with me, I wonder if I could create something?
Is there an artistic medium (museums, theatre, etc.) you’re most excited about sharing with your son?
I love this question. Everything! I am really looking forward to sharing this with him, and I don’t want to wait until he is older. I visited Montreal’s museums during my maternity leave. I remember once at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, it was a Riopelle exhibit, and my son in his stroller was saying ‘oh waouh!’ as he saw colorful pieces and was making some weird mouth sounds when he was bored. As it was during the day, visitors were mostly older persons, who were annoyed or amused according to the cases. I will always remember breastfeeding him in a cozy corner and visiting the same exhibit twice in a row in order to keep walking because he was asleep. All in all, the offer for babies is of course limited, but I have found a classical concert (bébé musique, Laval Symphonic Orchestra), and a theatre festival (Petits bonheurs). I cannot tell you if he appreciated it because the pandemic had everything postponed here in Quebec. But I do not miss any occasions: public art at the fountain we often pass by, paintings and photographs in the corridor of the medical center for his visits to the doctor…I am probably having more fun than him!
Is there something I should have asked but didn’t?
Not really, and I am glad that you chose this subject. I hope that in a couple of years, it will be natural to ask these questions to a working dad, too!
*Headshot photo: courtesy of SDA Bocconi.