Man of the Month August 2013: Greg Cameron

August 1, 2013
Today's Chicago Woman
Carrie Williams


When Greg Cameron signed up for a non-credit ballet class at Illinois State University many years ago, he never imagined that some day he’d work for a renowned ballet company. “I wanted to be a special education teacher but ended up getting degrees in German and Art History,” he reflects. As for the ballet class, it was just something fun to do. “I loved musical theater but couldn’t sing or dance. So when my brother’s football coach suggested he take ballet for flexibility, I thought why not? There are things I’ve done in my life I haven’t talked about or even remembered until there was a reason to. Until I started working at the Joffrey, no one really knew I took ballet – not even my parents.”
Upon graduating college, Mr. Cameron began his career at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and subsequently worked in the arts for over 30 years, namely as COO of WTTW/WFMT and directing foundation/corporate relations at both the Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Joining Joffrey as executive director in July, he says the transition was easy. “Visual art tells stories with paintings, sculptures and photography, while WTTW tells stories via documentary,” he explains. “I’ve landed in this space that ties all of these pieces together with live performance, costumes, lighting and narratives.”
Mr. Cameron’s first priority as Joffrey’s executive director is to revamp fundraising efforts, something he knows a lot about from his days at the Art Institute and MCA along with his board work for non-profits like the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School (YWLCS), The Renaissance Society and Arts Alliance. On the YWLCS Mr. Cameron says, “Currently I’m the only man on the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School Board. Women are amazing, but my goal is to have more men join because the 350 young women at that school need to know there are men – middle aged white men who are very different than them – who care. And if you only have women as mentors and role models, when you suddenly step out into the world you’re going to feel a little lost. Plus, I grew up in a culture that valued diversity. Being part of a club of all men has no appeal to me. I want to be around people who are diverse.”
Mr. Cameron grew up in a family with women that were leaders. “My mother had three boys by the time she was 24 and went on to get a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD,” he explains. “My grandmothers were, although they were housewives, very different in the way that they thought about the role women played. So I certainly grew up in an environment where women were mighty. And the slogan down at YWLCS is ‘No excuses, just results.’ And here at the Joffrey I’ve found myself saying that already. It’s like, let’s make sure we get things done that need to get done today and then plan for the future. And we’ll be working to create a strategic plan, because without a road map you get lost.”
So where will this new road map lead Mr. Cameron and the Joffrey? “Artistically, Joffrey has never been in a better place,” he shares. “The growth in the academy and sold-out performances show how the arts can generate revenue. But a lot of people haven’t been asked to donate. And Pierre [Lockett], who runs community engagement programs, keeps us out there in the community. But the missing link is all of this is relationship building with donors. Since we’re an international organization, we’re going to invite local, national and international donors to be a part of the Joffrey. We’ve got a great team of people in development, but if we don’t ask New York, Los Angeles and beyond to help we can’t give them opportunity to say yes.” It’s evident Mr. Cameron’s unwavering passion and commitment to supporting artists will continue to move Chicago’s cultural community – and the Joffrey – forward into a very bright future.