Joeliene Magoto is not one to back down from a challenge. As the chief advancement officer of The Corning Museum of Glass, it’s her job to develop the Museum’s nascent fundraising efforts into the reliable philanthropy that fuels innovation. We recently caught up with her to chat about how she makes the most of her time, the importance of continued innovation, and how the Museum has changed during the pandemic.
There’s a famous Shakespeare quote, “Let every man be master of his time.” How do you make the most of your time?
This is a work in progress for me, but recently I have made more time to cook, get back to making art, work out or walk, and be present with family. I schedule meetings with myself to block time for writing, contacting donors, or developing strategies. It helps me make the best use of my day.
Speaking of Shakespeare, you previously worked at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company as the director of development. Can you tell us a bit about what that experience taught you?
That was my first experience working for a theater and with a company of actors. I had the opportunity to exercise some new creative muscles and learn new strategies by observing actors’ work firsthand. I also got to see how creative choices can change a narrative’s trajectory.
What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?
I am not sure I can claim a favorite, as I have not yet seen all 38 plays in Shakespeare’s canon. However, my favorite performance by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company was The Tempest. It’s believed to be the last play Shakespeare wrote alone, and it was the last one CSC performed before moving to the new theater—which had been funded by the capital campaign I ran. It was symbolic on so many levels, and the play contains one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, / As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air; / And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, / The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, / And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
—Prospero, in William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1.
Which role would you play and why?
I would play the spirit Ariel, because she is an artist, a master of disguise, and earns her freedom in the end.
Can you describe your role at The Corning Museum of Glass?
I lead the advancement team and the philanthropy efforts. Fundraising is still a new business for the Museum. The team has only been in place for five years and, much like a start-up entrepreneurial business, we are still in building mode—creating the infrastructure, systems, and processes to do our work efficiently and effectively. We are building a culture of philanthropy and working to grow our base of supporters and provide more financial sustainability to the Museum.
What are some of the challenges?
Engaging donors and developing a compelling case for support, when the Museum appears to have it all, has been one of my biggest challenges. Corning Incorporated founded the Museum in 1951 as a gift to the nation. Since then, the company has been the Museum’s largest benefactor. The Museum earns the rest of its annual operating revenue from admissions, gift shop sales, e-commerce, the café, facility rentals, tuition, and hot glass rental fees. Contributed income currently makes up a very small portion of the annual operating budget.
Another challenge is location. The advancement team is cultivating a community of supporters from around the world, and it is not always easy for patrons and supporters to make it to the Museum. We were just about to launch a series of programs and events to get donors back to the Museum more often when the pandemic hit. We were also planning several trips to regional locations that are hot spots for glass collecting, which we put on hold because of COVID. Even though we were able to host virtual programs for donors, there is nothing that compares to seeing art up close and in person, and being with donors when they are having that experience is not something that can be replicated over a screen.
Has there ever been a challenge in your life that you struggled to overcome?
In my opinion, life is about overcoming challenges. Some are small and some are big, but facing the unknown and coming up with solutions is how we grow. I believe we learn more about ourselves as we take on challenges, especially those that are hardest to overcome. Some of my biggest breakthroughs and greatest learnings have come from failing to meet or conquer a challenge.
How did you manage to come out on top?
Determination has always been part of my DNA. I might not always come out on top, but I usually keep at a challenge until I get to some resolution. When I have come out on top, it’s usually because of grit and perseverance. I don’t believe in quitting, but I do believe that some projects or strategies shouldn’t be continued if they aren’t meeting the objective. There is determination and courage in deciding to stop a project. Sometimes that is what it takes to come out on top.
The City of Corning has a long history of innovation, from Corning Glass Works to Thomas Edison. What part does the Museum play in keeping that tradition of innovation alive?
The Museum keeps the tradition of innovation alive by supporting artists in their work, hosting artists for residencies, and supporting artists in realizing new ways to achieve their creative vision. It is, in many ways, a breeding ground, an incubator, and a platform for artistic innovations. The Museum’s curators, conservators, exhibition designers, educators, librarians, and hot glass demonstration artists also keep innovation alive in the work they do every day. It is common for staff to make new discoveries, to invent a new way of working with glass or to research and reveal a new story about glass and how it was used or made in the past. During the pandemic, a group of staff invented a tool to allow glass blowers to blow without using their mouth since they had to be masked. The design for the “alternative inflation device” was shared worldwide and created in a way that it could be easily replicated and put to use in any hot shop setting.
What are some of your favorite innovations on display at the Museum?
I consider every work of art an innovation and creation from the artist. Artists invent ideas and ways to express ideas in a fresh or creative way. Some of my favorite pieces are Fred Wilson’s I Saw Othello’s Visage in His Mind, and Liza Lou’s Continuous Mile.
You recently worked with Block Club on a campaign to drum up excitement for the Museum’s future while paying homage to its storied history. What are you most excited about going forward?
I am excited to see unrealized potential unleashed. The Museum has the people, resources, support, and artists to take glass and artistic practice to new levels. I am excited to see what artists can do when given the expanded and more technologically advanced resources, space, and time they need to bring about new work.
To quote Thomas Edison, “Whoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” What does success look like to you in light of these changing times?
Success comes in small moments—reaching a milestone, having the will to continue pursuing a purpose, and changing lives. It’s making incremental progress and net gains, which might mean two steps back but four steps forward.
How has the Museum changed coming out of the first two years of the pandemic?
The Museum has become more lean and conscientious about resources. It has become more human capital centric and is investing more in its biggest asset: people, whether it’s the staff, the artists in residence, or those awarded opportunities to join the permanent collection. The Museum has also become more visitor-centric and has made many changes to protect the health and safety of everyone.
In what way have you changed over the last two years?
I have a greater appreciation for in-person interactions and the importance of human interaction in developing relationships—which is critically important to philanthropy.
Finally, what do you want your legacy to be, both professionally and personally?
I want to be known as someone who lived a full life and loved living it in a deep and meaningful way. I want to be remembered for living creatively and maximizing my creative talents. Giving back and giving through creative pursuits is also important to me.