A Q & A with Dr. Natalie Graham of Segerstrom Center for the Arts | Newport Mesa Moms

Meet Dr. Natalie Graham, the new Vice President of Community Engagement for Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  We asked her all about her plans for upcoming community events, her background prior to joining the Segerstrom team, and why she thinks the Arts are so important.

We are so excited to hear that you have been appointed as the new Vice President of Community Engagement for Segerstrom Center for the Arts. What is your immediate vision for the Center? Long-term goals?

My specific short term and long-term vision is going to be shaped by conversations with, and learning from, our community. Our institutions are made better every time when we make space to listen, and when we develop in partnership with those around us. Orange County is an incredibly diverse and dynamic place, so I’m thrilled to develop and strengthen relationships with community partners and artists here.

Can you tell us a little about where were you were working and what your focus was prior to joining the Segerstrom team?

Before coming here, I was the founding director of the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation and the chair of African American Studies at Cal State, Fullerton. My focus in the last two years there was to help foster and facilitate learning communities and spaces for conversation, creativity, and connection. As a member of the African American Studies Department, I believed that transforming our communities for the better is rooted in understanding. That belief hasn’t changed. We have to understand each other to live and thrive together with meaningful connection. The arts and education play a central role in that understanding. So, it feels like a very organic transition.

I understand that you have worked with the Center before as an artistic curator and consultant. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? Did you have a favorite event?

Working with the Community Development team to curate and celebrate Juneteenth on the day that it became a national holiday was incredibly meaningful. The Segerstrom Center showed a commitment to sincere understanding, appreciation, and growth that was inspiring and refreshing.

The relatively new Julianne and George Argyros Plaza has been an amazing addition to Segerstrom Center for the Arts by making the arts even more accessible to the community. Are you looking to expand upon these events?

Absolutely! Accessibility is a core value of the Community Engagement. We are developing and expanding programing there and throughout Orange County.

Summer Jazz, Photo by Doug Grifford

I have fond memories of attending performances at Segerstrom at a very young age with my mother. I have been enamored with musicals ever since. Where did your passion for the arts stem from?

My family and community were also central to my passion and practice of the arts. My mother was a nurse and postal carrier, but she was also a poet and a pianist. So, just by virtue of her practice, she instilled in me the idea that creative arts were part of how to respond to the world around me, just another form of expression. I sang in church and community choirs for as far back as I can remember, so that reinforced the idea that the arts were just part of our expressive world.

Do you have a personal favorite art form?

It’s hard to just pick one, but if I had to choose one, I would say dance. I love dancing as it allows me to enjoy music, another favorite.

Silent Disco, Photo by Stan Sholik

With the intensity of the news and events going on around us, how do you see the role of art in our lives? Why do you think it is so important to expose our children to the arts.

Art can play so many roles, but I think the one that has been most clear in my experience is the way that arts provide a platform for us to joyfully express ourselves and experiment with new ideas. It helps us to imagine new ways to see ourselves, each other, and the world around us. It helps us share and connect, joyously. We certainly can use connection and joy right now.

Than you Dr. Graham! 

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