Global Conversations With: Maud Lyon, President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Peak Johnson, for GPA -- Maud Lyon has a passion for revitalizing Detroit's arts and culture sector, a passion that she will be bringing over to Philadelphia when she takes the helm as President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance next month.

Lyon will be coming from a position as executive director of CulturalSource, an eight-year-old institution comprised of 115 organizations serving the region as nonprofit enterprises for the arts and culture in Detroit.

What got you interested in advocacy work?

I’ve been doing arts and culture work for my whole career. I actually started in history museums, but I also worked for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I ran the city of Detroit’s 300th anniversary bicentennial in 2001, so I have a lot of experience in how arts and culture really bring a community alive and bring people together. It has a huge impact on civil life, how people are engaged and where they live, in education, the economy and so much more.

What interested you in taking a position here in Philadelphia?

Oh, I have been an admirer of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance for many years. In fact when we formed CultureSource in 2007 we actually modeled ourselves after the Culture Alliance. Our original name was the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan.

What I admire is that the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is a membership-based organization that really is looking out for the nonprofits that provide arts education, manage festivals and run museums. I love being able to support them in their work and help them get resources, help them to form collaborations and find ways to work together that are effective. I just have a great passion for that.

What inspires me is the people who work in this profession, I mean the level of dedication they have for the work in their community, their work with kids, their love of practical music, history or science, their dedication to that I just find incredibly inspiring.

What do you hope to bring to Philadelphia in your new role?

I think what I’ve learned in Detroit has been the power of collaboration and how unusual partners can work together towards common goals. Detroit is really good at that. What I’m looking forward to doing is meeting the organizations and understanding what their programs are, what their challenges are and really serving as that intermediary to help come up with new ways to drive and be sustainable. That, in a nutshell, is our job.

Why do you feel that arts education is so important?

That is a key way that children learn. The arts is all about expressing yourself, it’s about finding ways to communicate well. To have good reading comprehension, have a good grip over math and science, arts and culture helps you with all of those things. Arts and culture is just such an important avenue for how we as human beings absorb information and learn.

Do you have an idea of what you want to first accomplish once you’ve made your transition to Philadelphia?

It would be too premature to say that. I’ve got a lot to learn about the programs of the Cultural Alliance.

I will tell you though the two things that I am excited for coming up next spring. One is that the Philly Fun Pass is going to launch a community wide loyalty card for arts and culture. And the other is that we’re doing a mass study called “Cultural Across Communities.” I’m really excited about that because it puts the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance in a national leadership position to really address the issues of arts and culture, which is really a common challenge in cities across the nation.

Why do you think Philadelphians should try and get involved with the Philadelphia Arts and Cultural Alliance?

I think the first and foremost reason why someone would want to get involved in arts and cultural is because it’s fascinating and it’s a great way to connect with other people. Going to arts and culture events is a great thing for a family to be able to share or grandparents to be able to tell stories to their grandchildren about. If arts and culture didn’t exist we would still create because it’s so important to us as human beings. I think it’s a wonderful way for people to get to know a community. 

Image courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.