“Why I do what I do” is an interesting question and one not easily summarized, because it is really in my case the summation of 57+ years of life experience and all that it brings to the table in the work that we do.
So perhaps to start to answer that question, a reflection on those 57+ years might give me (and hopefully you, the reader) a little perspective on how I came to do what I do.
Early in my life—let’s say six years of age—I had the good fortune of having a father who was a scientist, a theoretical particle physicist to be exact, who, along with my mother, a singer, had a profound love and appreciation of the arts (and the sciences). And we lived in Chicago! That meant that when I was asked what I would like to do on my birthday, I requested—and my father delivered—lawn seats at Ravinia to see the New York City Ballet perform Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo. Or he would take me to the Second City comedy troupe’s school where I took improvisational workshops for kids. It also meant that we spent countless hours at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, and the Art Institute of Chicago. This all set the stage.
I continued my artistic pursuits by studying the piano and singing my first opera as a boy soprano in Britten’s Noah’s Flood. I was also really good in math and built my own stereo in high school. Through college and graduate school, I pursued my theatrical leanings; after graduating from the Yale School of Drama with an MFA, I made a living as a sometimes-employed actor (I never waited tables) but also had the good fortune to work for the Ford Foundation in New York. My experience there and a growing need to set down the trunks that I did not enjoy moving from city to city (as a performer) offered me a real global view of the power of “intentional” philanthropy. I went back to school to NYU to study nonprofit management and earned an MPA, with the intention of entering this world.
Instead, I went to work in management positions in the business world, started and sold my own business, and finally yearned to get back to my roots in a community-based organization that was impacting the fabric of a community and opening up new horizons for the people who lived there—especially the young people. I had the good fortune to join the Da Vinci Science Center in a role that was not defined by the typical “Development Director” job description but that instead asked me to dig deeply into the well of my work experiences. Those experiences—and the diversity of them I have suggested in my rambling life history—had prepared me to participate in the launch and building of a cultural institution that is becoming one of the sparks of opportunity that got me going early in my life. My work and the work of my colleagues at the center and other cultural institutions in the Lehigh Valley are all about opening up possibilities for the region’s citizens and the transformations that can occur in those encounters.
Bill McGlinn is Director of Development and Community Relations at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown.
DaVinci Science Center Photo from twg1942 via Flickr