by Matt Meade
Spring sunlight shined as we walked through Midtown Manhattan to our first site visit at the offices of Kevin McCullum’s theatrical and media producing company. Alchemation is unique and fresh — just like Kevin’s approach to life and leadership. As an orphaned child from Hawaii who transitioned from actor to producer, Kevin stressed how his childhood shaped him and eventually guided his career. He expressed his philosophy: “Lives with passion. Dies with hope. Builds families against all odds.” He explained the power of stories in American history and the importance of personal connection in a world filled with distorted social media networks. He encouraged rising leaders like us to lean into our story because our philosophy makes us unique. Kevin’s inspiration served as a frame for the rest of my week as I couldn’t get his distinct energy out of my mind.
That same spirit was in the brisk morning air the moment I stepped out of the Atlantic Ave subway station in Brooklyn. We were greeted by the passionate archivist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Louie Fleck, who went on to give us an in-depth tour of the intricate space. As we spoke to several staff members and Vice President of Development, Bill Kramer, it was refreshing to hear an organizational commitment to Brooklyn’s diverse community. Education programs, discounted tickets, a young patron’s initiative, and local partnerships from a historic organization like this gave me hope for inner-city culture. I was shocked to learn that Brooklyn has nearly the same population as Chicago and I noticed many cultural similarities between the two. The hard-working hustle of Flatbush reminded me of Chicago’s south and west sides. I felt relaxed and at home and my time there helped conceptualize my story even further, which I’ve been crafting since we came back.
The opportunity to experience an industry immersion trip and meet with professionals of this scope immediately drew my attention when applying to the MSLCE program. I was excited to gain insight from an iconic city where cultural institutions thrive, with the goal of finding a career in special event planning and programming after graduation. This once in a lifetime experience sharpened my career perspective and cultivated my personal growth. Many people encouraged us to share our story, above all else, which left an impact on me and was important for taking the next steps in my career.
Born and raised in Chicago, I am committed to leadership, cultural diversity, and artistic expression. I believe that if we want our community to succeed, we need to provide high-quality affordable programming to the people that shape Chicago. Alchemation, BAM and other institutions like Local Projects, Pomegranate Arts and New Inc., where we also visited, are prime examples of this. They push boundaries of what creative industries could be and foster innovative work that creates a conversation. I will bring this same level of inspiration and community engagement to Chicago’s cultural scene and continue to incorporate this into the future of my career.