A few months ago, I presented my resignation from the position of Executive Director and President of the French Cultural Center. After eight wonderful years spent leading this prestigious institution, I can tell you the decision came with many mixed emotions.
The French Cultural Center is an institution I have loved since I was first acquainted with it when I was just seventeen years old. At the time, I was a college undergrad, looking to find some French literature beyond our college bookstore offerings. I could never have imagined I would be so lucky as to serve an entire community of French and Francophone culture lovers one day, in such a beautiful place.
This has been a dream job and one that has brought me great joy and a profound sense of accomplishment. I was able to do meaningful work with inspiring colleagues, trustees, and partners. When I look back, I can recognize that we have come a long way.
When I first took the helm in 2008 of "The French Library," as it was known at the time, I found a truly lovely institution, but one I felt might be just a bit too exclusive, or somewhat inaccessible to a younger demographic, without which we could not carry out our mission in the long term. I think we have done a good job of opening up and expanding the reach of the French Cultural Center to a more diverse, broader, and younger audience.
First, we brought back the Bastille Day Party to Marlborough Street, an iconic party in Boston which has only grown in popularity since its comeback in 2009.
In 2010, we made the decision to rebrand, because we are not just a French Library and Alliance Française, we are a true Cultural Center, with classes and a wide range of cultural activities. Changing our name to "French Cultural Center" was an important and successful step in helping the Boston community better understand us, and discover who we are and what we do.
We have always been devoted to serving our families, for children are the future of Francophonie. It is incredibly rewarding to see that in the last few years, our children programs have been booming, with our summer program bringing record numbers of registrations every year.
In the same spirit of furthering our mission and bringing French learning to all who may benefit from it, we also deepened our efforts in some of Boston's most underserved public schools, integrating a free French learning program into their curriculum. It has been a true milestone for us to see our Accent on Success program recognized for its excellence, and most especially, to see the children in their French classes participating actively, delighted to discover a new language and culture.
Of course, if we are first known for excellence in French language education, I hope we are also becoming famous for our joie de vivre, for our desire to constantly ask questions and try to answer them, and we do this best through the many cultural events we have been able to bring to Boston. The Mosaïque Cultural Fund, founded in 2011, has allowed us to further expand all cultural programs and bring some exceptional cultural experiences to the city. Panel discussions and round-tables tackling the latest current events; social networking events; community gatherings; our famous and always creative annual "Bal," and so many other programs touching on every aspect of French and Francophone cultures. These happenings, soirées, conferences, tastings, concerts, films and more have punctuated my life these last eight years in a most enriching and delightful way. I like to think it has also brought some great joy, new knowledge and many friendships to our constituency.
It goes without saying that the list of people to thank for making all this possible is very long. My team has always been an enthusiastic, dynamic, and hard-working group of people. We have been very fortunate to regularly attract bright, interesting and interested team members to the Center. Being in a position where I could count on them to fulfill a certain vision of the French Cultural Center, and where I in turn could give them opportunities to learn and develop new skills, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my mandate.
I worked with two very dedicated Chairmen and about two dozen trustees over the years and I have always held great admiration and respect for their commitment to helping us succeed, and for their generosity in funding us as well as in advising us. It has been a true privilege to work with such an accomplished group of supporters.
As a representative of the French-American community in Boston, I have had countless opportunities to share my passion and enthusiasm for French literature, art, film, design, music, and every day I have come away feeling as if Boston must surely be the most francophile American city in the country. I was able to forge many new friendships, and to share much of what the truly diverse Francophone world has to offer. It has been a true honor to serve this community in this capacity.
Of course, I will never forget that it was through the Center that my husband Jeff and I met, and because of this, it will always hold a very special, cherished place in my heart.
To remain always relevant, always vibrant in a competitive cultural environment, a cultural institution such as ours needs to regularly renew itself, and for me, the time has also come to devote myself to new, personal endeavors. My colleague and dear friend Barbara Bouquegneau has kindly accepted to take over leadership responsibilities, and I know that under her guidance, the Center is in great hands.
I want to end this farewell letter by saying that for me, this is definitely an "Au Revoir," and not an "Adieu!" I look forward to experiencing our beloved institution from a new angle, as a member and supporter, and to watch it continue to build these most crucial bridges of cross-cultural understanding in our part of the world.
Catheline van den Branden