Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Director of Artistic Programming for ArtsEmerson Ronee Penoi takes on the role of interim Executive Director for ArtsEmerson and the Office of the Arts

Ronee Penoi

Director of Artistic Programming for ArtsEmerson Ronee Penoi’s perception of the artistic field changed when she realized artistic recognition wasn’t a meritocracy where access to resources was dependent on quality of work. Since then, she has dedicated her career to helping artists navigate inequity in the industry. 

President Jay Bernhardt announced in an email statement on Nov. 14 that Penoi has agreed to serve as interim executive director for ArtsEmerson and the Office of the Arts in addition to her current role. Penoi started her new role on Nov. 16 following the departure of former Executive Director of ArtsEmerson and Vice President of the Office of the Arts David Howse

Bernhardt also requested Jamie Gahlon serve as interim senior director of the Office of the Arts in addition to her role as associate vice president of ArtsEmerson upon her arrival from maternity leave.

“I am confident that Ronee and Jamie will bring strong and consistent leadership to our important work and maintain Emerson’s artistic and civic engagement within our community,” Bernhardt said in the statement.

Prior to coming to campus two years ago, Penoi spent just over two years working at Arena Stage in 2008 under the leadership of former Director of Artistic Programming for ArtsEmerson David Dower. Within the arts field, Penoi experienced the presence of inequity regarding how accessibility to resources was dependent on an artist’s racial and economic background. 

“Folks with access to generational wealth tend to do better. Folks who don’t have to deal with systemic racial prejudices can do better. The same issues that are affecting our society are also affecting the arts field,” Penoi said. “Being mixed-race, being indigenous and white, I got bit by the producing bug out of a place of wanting to make sure the incredible artists I was getting to know had the opportunities they deserved.”

Penoi continued working with artists as an independent producer for Octopus Theatricals for five years in Washington D.C. Through the organization, she collaborated with artists to help them develop and tour their theatrical projects “from idea, all the way to completion.”

“[I worked] at a number of different theaters thinking about artists who are often coloring outside the lines, how they can be more rigorously supported as they’re often the ones bringing the stories that we sometimes most need to hear,” Penoi said. 

Through her role as an independent producer for Octopus Theatricals, Penoi collaborated with ArtsEmerson, allowing her to see how the organization operated and the values it was founded on. Penoi took an interest in ArtsEmerson’s emphasis on forming long-term relationships with not only the artist but the audience as well.  

“When this position was open, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought about being a director, but knowing the deep seeded values ArtsEmerson had around a culture of care around racial justice [and] climate justice, it felt like this was a wonderful place where I could put down roots,” Penoi said. “Something being an independent producer didn’t offer me was the opportunity to be thinking about who was on the other side of the work on stage.” 

As director of artistic programming at Emerson, Penoi oversees the programming of artistic projects that come to the stage through ArtsEmerson. Penoi views ArtsEmerson as the “front porch” of the college since the organization aims to engage in civic discourse and transformation in Boston. 

“We like to say that while the art is the prompt, the conversation galvanized by the art is the point,” Penoi said. 

Penoi also works with the ArtsEmerson team that spans seven departments to curate engagement activities and expand the organization’s outreach and partnerships. 

“What that means for us is some rigorous work, going beyond diversity to thinking about inclusion and belonging and thinking about who the work that we do is for,” Penoi said. “This is part of a longer legacy of ArtsEmerson that I’m only one small part of. This is work that started long before I came into the role.” 

Penoi’s commitment to cultivating relationships within ArtsEmerson and the Office of the Arts and with the Boston community culminated in September when ArtsEmerson partnered with the City of Boston for the Little Amal Project. Penoi and event planner Ellen Kaye collaborated as project managers for the project that featured a 12-foot puppet on a 10-year-old Syrian refugee that took a 6,000-mile tour to spread awareness about displaced children. 

“That was a project that, in order to go through, required the support of many different external partners,” Penoi said. “If I had to sum up my goals, it’s really transparency and clarity around the mission and impact of the Office of the Arts and a deepening of relationships and laying the foundation for some future exciting work to happen.”

As interim executive director for ArtsEmerson and the Office of the Arts, Penoi is ensuring what Howse put in place is maintained until a permanent placement is established. She plans to engage with faculty and staff partners across the college while overseeing the Office of the Arts, including strategic planning alongside Bernhardt. 

“I want to deepen and continue the work to make the mission and operations of the Office of the Arts transparent to focus on the broader college,” Penoi said. “I look forward to sharing more about the work we do, especially as new projects are being added to help tell the story of why we’re doing the work that we do.

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About the Contributor
Bridget Frawley, Staff Writer
Bridget Frawley (she/her) is a freshman journalism major from Jupiter, Florida. When she is not writing for the news section, she is a morning anchor for Mornings with George Knight of WERS 88.9 FM. She also loves reading, going on long walks, and thrifting.

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