They are the center of the many goodbye brunches, lunches, dinners, and drinks I have been having over the past week as I prepare to say goodbye to Ann Arbor (for a while, anyway). They make up the majority of our days as we interact with everyone from coworkers to loved ones to people we are meeting for the first time. They are even the basis for an HBO franchise that may or may not have recently extended one movie past its welcome.
Romantic or platonic, professional or personal, real or imagined – relationships are the basis of our existence as humans. We as individuals can certainly be defined by our own characteristics, but our unique personalities are also brought to light by our interactions with others. For example, in the arts, an audience member can learn a heck of a lot about a group of musicians just by watching them interact on stage; in music, a musician’s personality can’t help but bleed through his or her performance.
Over the past year, I have come to understand about a particular kind of relationship – that between an institution and its donors. Before working in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, I had never really understood what a professional relationship was like. Sure, I had been in professional situations before, but they mostly related to music – rehearsals, lessons, coachings, and performances. And they didn’t really feel professional in the shirt and tie sense. When working with other artists, sharing something as personal as your interpretation of, say, a piece of music, the line between friend and colleague can easily become a bit hazy.
Last summer, I found myself easily adapting to work in development – I was writing, I was interacting with different personalities, and I was working to support the arts. I began to understand what it meant to have professional relationships with my colleagues at the School. They were friends, mentors, and supervisors all at the same time, and I came to understand the limits of those roles. All was well, except for one nagging thought, buzzing around my head like an annoying mosquito.
“Development is about relationships. It’s about building relationships.” These are words I must have heard a hundred times through my first few weeks as a D-SIP intern. I understood – development is about people forming relationships with people who want to support a cause, organization, or institution. But it didn’t seem fair to me to call those bonds relationships – maybe that’s what they were, but they certainly didn’t seem real to me. How could you call something a real relationship when the ultimate goal of any interaction was money?
I sought out a colleague in my office and posed my question. I thought for sure she would be stumped, not for lack of intelligence or poise, but because, at the time, it seemed to me to be an unanswerable question. I was delighted to get an answer that satisfied me, one I hadn’t even considered.
“You’re misunderstanding the point,” she said. “You’re not building a relationship between the donor and yourself. You’re building a relationship between the donor and the School.”
I was dumbfounded. How could that be true? How could someone have a relationship with such an intangible idea? You can’t hug performances. You can’t talk to buildings. I understood the concept but couldn’t fully embrace it until I had experienced it myself.
Over the past year, I realized I had experienced that kind of relationship and that I continued to do so. The music festival I went to for three summers in high school marked the beginning of the “me” that exists today, and I still yearn for those memorable experiences. Last month, I interviewed for a job at an orchestra that would have involved working with its guest artists – I was informed that the position was crucial to building a relationship between those particular artists and the orchestra as an institutional whole.
And, as I prepare to say goodbye to Ann Arbor and the University until who knows when, I realize that, without knowing it, I somehow wound up forming a relationship with this place. It kicked me around in the unbearable winters, embraced me in the spring, and kept my mind in motion for the past four years. It was there for me in a time of my life where I needed to explore and discover, and it challenged me to find direction in the most unlikely places.
Yes, saying goodbye to this chapter of my life is hard. But, as with the people I met while at Michigan, some who remain in Ann Arbor and some who are scattered about the world, there will always be ways to keep in touch.
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