A Week in the Life

The world of nonprofit organizations isn’t particularly mysterious, but one thing I’ve found in my role as president of ISC is that a lot of people don’t necessarily understand what I do from day to day. The truth is you might get a different answer depending on when you catch me, because there’s not really any such thing as a typical day with my job, which involves anything from giving a TEDx talk to meeting some of the many visitors who stop by the Center every day.

That said, there are of course some constants: I raise money and develop partnerships that strengthen ISC’s work and broaden its reach. And I travel…a lot. Recently I spent a week in Washington D.C., so I thought it might be interesting for people to hear about my “field work” as the head of an arts organization. A week in the life, if you will.

I started my week with the rest of the working world on Monday, meeting with friends of ISC at the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest research and museum institution, and an ISC affiliate. (Our relationship with these great folks were established and nurtured by ISC founder Jimmy Neil Smith.) I met Under Secretary Richard Kurin and his team at Smithsonian castle. I also met with colleagues at the Folk and Traditional Arts division at the National Endowment of the Arts. The NEA actually helps fund our work at ISC through its Artworks program, but on this particular day I was there to talk about best practices and interdisciplinary approaches for leaders, as well as the state of folk arts across the nation. When I was finished I had a chance to say a quick hello to the team that oversees Poetry Out Loud, which was a nice bonus.

On Tuesday, I was scheduled to lead a session at the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s annual conference. I got to hear the opening remarks by Charles F. Bolden, Jr., a former astronaut who’s the current Administrator of NASA. He has a pretty interesting perspective on earth, I think, having seen it from space four times. His speech was as inspiring as you might expect. My session examined ways that people can use storytelling as a tool that facilitates creative collaborations amongst different groups working together toward peace. I also had a chance to catch up with some of my fellow Rotary Peace fellows, many of whom are based in the District.

Wednesday was a big day. I delivered a keynote address in honor of the 40th anniversary celebration of the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress—the event my trip had been planned around. It went incredibly well, and I feel lucky to have received such a warm welcome.

The week closed out with a series of opportunities to talk shop with old friends and colleagues (as well as a few new faces). Though it wasn’t originally on my agenda, I ended up attending the annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums, which is the largest gathering of museum professionals in the world. I was invited by my former mentor, Joanne Orr, who heads museums and galleries in Scotland, where I used to work. (She was speaking at the conference.) I also had the opportunity to connect with fellow folklorists, storytelling groups, and catch up with old friends for dinner and a concert.

It’s been another incredibly busy season of travel, but we’re closing in on my last formal talk in August before I join the rest of my team in Jonesborough to get stuck in with Festival planning. Thankfully, I myself won’t have to travel far, though many of the other participants will; the project, which is sponsored by the U.S. State Department, will bring together ambassadors selected by U.S. embassies from four Middle Eastern countries to talk about storytelling-based approaches to strengthening positive ties and long-term friendships amongst our respective nations. I feel incredibly fortunate to use this and other opportunities to share our mission to build a better world through storytelling. Watch this space for more details.

By Kiran Singh Sirah