Cynthia Marvin

Professor of Practice in Arts Administration

Cynthia Marvin has been active in the arts community – as an artist, designer, arts administrator, volunteer, and board member – for more than thirty years. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she was accepted into the North Carolina Arts Council Community Arts Internship program. Upon completion of the program, she became director of an arts council in western North Carolina and worked in arts management for ten years. In 1996, she earned a master of architecture degree from the College of Design at North Carolina State University. Her architecture clients have included Fortune 500 companies, prize-winning scientists, and leading research universities. She has designed approximately 1.2 million square feet of technically complex facilities totaling more than half a billion dollars, including the largest proteomics facility in the world and one of the largest vaccine manufacturing facilities in the world. She was also an integral member of an international design team on the University of Toronto Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, which won fifteen design awards and was selected as one of the best new buildings in the world in 2006.


A Conversation with Cynthia Marvin


Where are you from?

I grew up in Winston-Salem. I left Winston-Salem for eighteen years, but my family was still here, so it was still “home” to me.

What were your reasons for choosing to teach at Salem?

There are two main reasons. First, I took a class in arts management (from Grace Rohrer) at Salem College 27 years ago and it changed the trajectory of my life. The class helped me win an internship with the North Carolina Arts Council. That internship led to several years of working in arts management.

The second reason is because I have an interest in women’s education. I left the world of arts management after nine years and went to graduate school to earn a master of architecture degree. Working in the field of architecture I am often the only woman in a room of ten or twenty people. I want young women to know that if they are the only female in a business meeting they can and should contribute to the conversation. In fact, they can even lead the conversation.

What is your role within the community?

I try to stay involved with arts and non-profit groups in the community. Right now I am working on a video series about local artists. The series is funded by a grant from the Winston-Salem Arts Council.

How do you connect your “full-time” work/experiences into the classroom?

I was only four years out of college when I became executive director of an Arts Council. Although I had learned a lot during my NC Arts Council Internship, I realized that there was so much that I didn’t know. I learned by doing. I feel that I can help students learn from the things I did right and also help them learn from the mistakes I made.

Tell us about your global experiences.

When I was in graduate school I had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester. I also spent a few weeks traveling and completing an independent study in Europe. I can say without hesitation that there is no substitute for traveling and studying in another country. I saw the most amazing places and met the most awesome people. It was magical.

What are your areas of special interest?

I have three main interests: 1) My primary interest is in creativity. Sir Ken Robinson explains in his famous TED Talk that “schools kill creativity.” One of my overriding goals is to find ways to nurture creativity in others. 2) I love the theory and practice of placemaking, both the physical and the virtual. My definition of placemaking includes architecture, public art, urban design, web design, exhibit design and much more. 3) Lastly, I am fascinated by entrepreneurship education and its potential application to arts and non-profit management education. I recently completed a MOOC on tech entrepreneurship at Stanford University. It was terrific! (I am also co-founder of a tech start-up.)

What words of advice would you give to arts management students?

I have the same advice to all students, no matter their major. Find things you are passionate about and follow your passion.

Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?

I find a new favorite quote at least once a month through people I follow on Twitter. I like just about anything that has to do with creativity.

“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” - Pablo Picasso

What do you do for fun?

I paint and I read. One of my favorite reads is Fast Company magazine.


  • Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Master of Architecture, College of Design at North Carolina State University