Shortly after joining the Vermont Arts Council’s staff in early 1997, I became aware that the position also came with a perk: a seat on the board of the New England Foundation for the Arts.
This vibrant regional arts organization (one of six across the country) serves its six namesake states with a particular emphasis on touring, dance, jazz, and now theater. At the time it was under the leadership of Sam Miller and it wasn’t until I had attended a few meetings of the six NE state arts agency directors as well as the full board, that I became aware of a quiet, thoughtful presence in our midst: the deputy director, Rebecca Blunk.
Although ill for most of the past year, her passing last weekend was sudden and unexpected. The email I received left me feeling sick to my stomach. No. Not her.
Much will be written about Rebecca’s accomplishments at NEFA, which she led starting in 2004, all of which are considerable and impactful. What I admired most about her though, had very little to do with her programming expertise, her managerial skill, or her quiet and deft management of a diverse and high-powered regional board of directors. What I admired about her most was her willingness to be vulnerable.
So many in our field enjoy posturing; pretending to be knowledgeable in the face of the unknowable, taking a stand on an issue even though all the facts are not yet in, or deciding that it’s better to be wrong with gusto than be right with a whimper. Rebecca, as long as I knew her, never did any of these things. If she didn’t know the answer she said so. If she felt more information was needed, she would delay a decision. And as far as I can tell, I never knew her to be wrong about anything. But I did catch her one day in a moment of deep inner turmoil. I don’t even remember the issue, just that someone was giving her a hard time for something NEFA was alleged to have done.
“I just don’t understand how…” she tailed off, struggling to maintain her composure.
“…people could be such jerks?” I offered, trying to elicit a smile.
“No, …people could so completely misunderstand what we are trying to accomplish,” she finished.
Brought almost to tears, Rebecca refused to make it a personal issue, to turn that person into the proverbial bad guy. That was her way, and I loved her for it. Rest in peace.