CMC Selects Director

February 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — After serving as the founding director for the Community Media Center of Santa Rosa, Calif., Laurie Cirivello is coming to Grand Rapids to lead the center she used as a model for her organization.

“Grand Rapids has always been sort of an inspiration for a lot of people in community media,” she said.

As the new executive director of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, Cirivello said she is excited to bring her experience in community media to the area and become part of the community.

Cirivello, who will begin her new position April 1, said though the communities are different, the Community Media Center of Santa Rosa and the Grand Rapids center have similar approaches.

“It has sort of a diverse approach to service and is philosophically very well aligned with how I direct community media,” she said of Grand Rapids. “It’s really committed to facilitating the free exchange of ideas within the community. That’s very evident in the structure of the Grand Rapids center.”

Mark Smith, chairman of the center’s board of trustees, said Cirivello’s technical skills as well as her passion for community media helped her stand out from other candidates. Smith said the board was also looking for someone who could connect with the community and members of the center.

“It’s a unique skill to have to be able to manage the kind of creative people that focus their energies in a community media center,” he said. “It’s a real skill to try to manage them in a fashion that doesn’t squelch their creativity.”

Cirivello is only the second person to have the position of executive director at GRCMC, which includes GRTV Cable Channel 25, radio station WYCE, nonprofit information technology provider GrandNet, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information and Democracy, the Mobile Learning Lab for Information Education, Catalyst Radio, and the recently acquired Wealthy Street Theatre. She is succeeding the late Dirk Koning, founding director of the media center, who died in February 2005 of complications from corrective heart surgery. Cirivello said she knew Koning and is approaching the position as carrying on his legacy, but with her own style.

“To be honest, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have to take a few breaths to consider what it would be like to fill his shoes,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill his shoes. … (I’m) taking my strengths and using them to bring it forth into a new era. I had a great, immense respect for his commitment, his passion, his knowledge, his bigger-than-life personality, and I expect that the legacy he built will live on.”

Cirivello said she has been honest with herself about the challenges and is ready to bring her experience and passion for community media to the position.

Smith said the search for a new executive director has taken just under a year, with GRTV director Chuck Peterson stepping in as acting executive director in the interim.

“The immediate reaction (after Koning’s death) was to find someone as close as we can to Dirk and put them in that position,” Smith said. Upon more reflection, Smith said the board decided to take time to re-evaluate the position that had originated with Koning.

“We needed to take the opportunity to say, ‘Well, he’s not here, what do we now need in that position, as opposed to what the position was when Dirk was in it.’ I’m glad we took the time to re-evaluate the position and then find the perfect candidate for that position,” he said. “I think Dirk Koning’s legacy of community media is in good hands with Laurie.”

Describing herself as a “close-to-home type of person,” Cirivello said she would like to build partnerships in the Grand Rapids area and inspire the community.

“My approach is one that’s a little bit more creating a place that is a beacon to others,” she said.

Cirivello has always worked in non-commercial media, starting at the Ohio State University station, WOSU.

“I’ve always sort of been in the public sector/non-commercial/nonprofit environment,” she said. “The idea of selling the product doesn’t do it for me. I just like being involved in the more message-intense aspect of media.”

She said she is most proud of the community partnerships she has built during her time in Santa Rosa.

“We consider ourselves here to be the support system of the work of the community,” she said. “Communication is something that is so basic to the health and well-being of communities and neighborhoods, and it shouldn’t just be left to a structure that requires commercialism.”

Cirivello, who grew up in Traverse City, said she is excited to return to her home state and become a part of the Grand Rapids community.

Peterson said Cirivello is well-regarded in the industry and was the staff and the board’s first choice for the position.

“We think that she’s the right person for the job,” he said. “She gets us. She understands the legacy of Dirk, and she’s doing it for absolutely the right reasons.”

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