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Q&A with BIG ARTS staffer Natalie Cunningham

By Staff | May 15, 2009

Natalie Cunningham is a young, beautiful Indiana college graduate who worked hard to become the program coordinator of BIG ARTS on Sanibel.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised outside of Indianapolis, town called Lebanon, Indiana; a born and bred Hoosier, proudly.

We hear you are the Program Coordinator for BIG ARTS. Can you tell us what that’s like?

It’s an incredible, rewarding job – I am sharing with youth and adults my passion for the arts. From presenting an artist on our stage, to preparing an exhibit on the walls of Phillips Gallery, to planning a fun-filled, free day to the community of Sanibel and Captiva, I don’t know how else to explain that I love what I do and enjoy providing these events to this community.

What are some of your tasks associated with your position?

As Program Coordinator, I am the liaison between the program committees and the staff. BIG ARTS was established by wonderful volunteers who wanted to provide arts to this community and still to this day, volunteers continue to help make BIG ARTS the success it is. Program committees each year review materials of various artists and then decide on programs for the season. My main job then is to make sure the details of each performance and exhibit are executed, to assure continuity between programs and balance in the overall BIG ARTS schedule and professional presentation. This includes reviewing contracts, housing/hosting, performance tech needs with the Tech Director and Hospitality Coordinator and work closely with Marketing to ensure alignment of programming and marketing goals. I also coordinate a summer arts camp for children, including a volunteer apprentice program for youth and teens including selection, training and evaluation of contracted instructors.

What is your favorite part of your job at BIG ARTS?

I have a job I love to do and am thankful for a career I am passionate about. So seeing smiles on faces after a good performance or workshop, having our patrons question art and what it meant to them, is also a very special, rare thing that only the arts can evoke in someone. It is also neat to present performers and artists to the community that may not otherwise come down to the area and providing a variety of arts to the community such as visual, performing, literary, film, lectures, etc.

How did you get involved with BIG ARTS?

I learned about BIG ARTS while I was getting my Masters in Arts Administration at IU. Our director of the Arts Administration program also sat on the Board of BIG ARTS at the time and asked a couple of us students whether we would like to intern at an up and coming non profit on an island in Florida hard to say no to especially with Indiana winters.

After a few colleagues interned prior to me, I came down in the spring in 2004 for four months, the heart of BIG ARTS season. I learned so much in every aspect of how a nonprofit arts organization functions and knew this was the career I wanted to follow.

I enjoyed my experience and felt like I was part of the BIG ARTS team from the beginning and really wasn’t ready to leave. I then went back to Indiana as I had planned to get a job up there but then I got a call in the summer from BIG ARTS offering me to come back in the fall as a full time employee.

As I was considering what the best thing for me was, I could not help think of how I felt working at BIG ARTS and knew that coming back, I could grow and learn the most from them as my first job as an arts administrator and as young adult. I then packed my bags and car to the limit, and traveled to the next journey in my life and the rest is history.

Where did you go to study about art?

I received my Bachelor of Music Education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and my Masters in Arts Administration at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.

Growing up I was in the performing arts, taking dance for over 15 years and playing trumpet beginning in sixth-grade, which was also my focus instrument at Miami University. I also enjoyed my visual arts classes in elementary and middle school, but did not further study than just the general classes. So one of the neatest aspects since beginning at BIG ARTS I have come to appreciate more the world of visual arts and have enhanced my love of the performing arts.

What do you appreciate the most about art?

I love that the word “art” involves creating and I have always considered myself a creative person. I appreciate the arts because you can express yourself and it can take you to a place of fantasy and reality at the same time and provide an opportunity for reflection in your life. The arts and cultural activity in general fosters, encourages and enhances civic engagement and dialogue.

What are some future programs you are hoping to bring to the community through BIG ARTS?

Since coming to BIG ARTS, I have felt I have brought a lot more family programming than what was established and would like to continue to do so. I also would like to present more world music and dance performers, continue to provide various forms of dance and also lectures that would include educational and arts speakers as well.

What is your family life like?

My family is still living in Indiana so I try and visit as often as I can and they try to visit me as well. I have a younger brother who will be getting married this July and I am very excited to share this special day with him. I have a great family that I love and wish that they were closer, but, I have to say that I also have a great extended family down here in Sanibel and Fort Myers with my friends that I appreciate and love having as part of my life.

What are your interests when you are not working at BIG ARTS?

I enjoy spending time with friends, reading a great book, cooking my favorite meals or trying a new recipe, visiting the beach, watching movies, traveling and visiting new places, and rarely turn down a wine tasting.

What do you enjoy most about Sanibel?

Knowing that I work on an island that is naturally beautiful, being close to the beach and being a part of a great community that supports arts and culture and wildlife preservation.

You are young and successful in your career at BIG ARTS. What advice would you give to other young people?

Don’t give up it takes patience to achieve a career that you wake up to every day and know this is what you were meant to do. Try to become involved in as much as possible that is similar to what you are interested in having a career in by doing internships, practicumswhether they pay or not. Hands-on experience is what will help you become successful in what you do. To have faith that you are put on this earth for a purpose and whatever that purpose is, to always put a 110 percent in making that happen.