Maya Angelou, art, and collaboration


I am pleased as punch to introduce you to the incredibly talented Robyn Williams! I have known her for almost a decade and even own one of her fabulous encaustic pieces of art.

Robyn has worked in the public assembly facility management field for more than thirty years in Texas, North Carolina and Oregon-where she is currently Executive Director for Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. Portland’5 consists of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Keller Auditorium, the Newmark, Winningstad and Brunish Theatres.


Robyn has been a member and past president of the International Association of Venue Managers. She was a 15 year instructor and Past Chair of the Board of Regents for IAVM’s Venue Management School.

She is a Certified Facilities Executive and currently serves on the IAVM Foundation Board of Trustees. In 2007, Robyn was voted one of the “ Top Five Women of Influence” by Venues Today magazine. She is a visual artist and past president of Portland Open Studios.

Please meet Robyn Williams!

How do you approach negotiation? Can you describe a successful outcome / ‘lesson learned’ experience?

I try to assess what a “win/win” looks like and work towards that end. If you think it’s only about what you want I don’t think you’ll be very successful in the long run and will likely get the reputation for being inflexible. Honestly, isn’t management just a series of negotiations?

Where do you see that women can help each other more?  Where did you receive the most help from women in your career?

I think older women who have been around for a while have a responsibility to support and mentor younger women. Women networks can be hugely helpful. In the early days of my career I became friends with a woman who had her own headhunter agency. She recruited me for my current job here in Portland. I think it’s still very much a “who you know” world. We need to continue to welcome other women to our network table.

What three women have been the most inspirational for you and why?

My mom. She came from a generation where women were encouraged to be in the background and never speak up about anything. “Raise the kids and tend to the house.” Yet there came a point in her life where she said “I don’t really need this” and took the giant leap to get a divorce and strike out on her own with 4 kids. That was VERY brave and very hard work. What a role model for my siblings and I!

Author, Maya Angelou. Her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was really an eye opener for a 17 year old white girl in small town Missouri. I really didn’t know what poverty, abuse and racism really looked like. I deeply admired how she came through so much diversity and became the strong, vibrant, articulate woman that she is. I’ve been a follower of hers ever since.

Michelle Obama has really been inspiring to me over the past 8 years. She totally reshaped what a First Lady looks like in my opinion. She was so approachable, self deprecating, joyful and willing to get out there and be silly and still be firm, commanding and steadfast in the ideals she embraces. I really felt like she was the “people’s First Lady”. I can’t wait to see what she will do in the future!

What is your favorite self-care activity?

I’m a visual artist in addition to my full time job so get a tremendous joy out of working in my studio. Just the smell of it when I first walk in is a huge “ahhh” for me.

Tell us about your strongest leadership skill?

I’m a collaborator. I really like surrounding myself with smart, interesting, diverse people around a particular task or initiative. I don’t actually think I’m all that clever but I seem to have an ability to bring together people that are really talented and collaborate well together to create great things. Their brilliance lifts me up.

What kind of activities do you pursue as a volunteer in your community and why?

I seek volunteer work that places me in more diverse communities than my own white middle class world. Currently, I’m part of the Civic Scholars program at the City Club of Portland where I’m an ambassador for a group of high school kids that come from the most diverse schools in our region. It’s all about how they can get involved in the community to create change. I like seeing Portland through their eyes. I’m hoping to do some work in the future with the Portland Mercado. That is such a terrific project and I would love the opportunity to get into that neighborhood and get to know it better.

Can you describe one of your favorite collaborations and why it was so great?

Our collaboration with Portland Public Schools to bring Title I school kids to a student performance of Black Violin at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. We found out these schools were often left behind because transportation costs were too prohibitive to bus the kids downtown. We took on all the costs and brought more than 2500 students to that performance. We had kids who had never been on a field trip and never been downtown-let alone Schnitzer Concert Hall. I loved welcoming them to THEIR theater! This launched our education program. I have never been prouder of anything else in my entire 30 year career.

What is your favorite inspirational quote and why?

“I’m learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.” –Eartha Kitt.    I’m a lifelong learner and love learning new things. “Know it alls” make me crazy. I think this quote is truly a marvelous way to live.

Learn more about Robyn here:


robyns-camera-076   robyn-in-studio   68705_125398570851648_2012555_n

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