Business & Arts NL board co-chair, founder of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, vice-chair of the Newfoundland & Labrador Film Development Corporation, founder of the MUN Cinema Series, board chair of the Winterset in Summer Literary Festival – Noreen Golfman’s passion for the arts (and film) shines through.
Considering her involvement with the arts community, and as someone who comes from the world of academia (Golfman is professor emeritus with the Department of English at Memorial University, where she was previously also provost and vice-president (academic)), Golfman may not immediately come to mind when you think of the word “businessperson.” But through her work championing the local creative community, she has also “created opportunities for artists, while also strengthening the relationship between artists and the economic well-being of the broader community,” writes Atlantic Business Magazine in their latest issue. “The festivals and arts organizations she’s led have brought business to hotels and restaurants while granting artists access to larger audiences.”
It’s little wonder, then, that the magazine has included her in their list of “Atlantic Canada’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Business in 2023.”
We chatted with our co-chair about this honour, her enthusiasm for the arts (particularly film), and why building a strong arts community is worth the effort.
Business & Arts NL: Congratulations on being recognized as one of Atlantic Business Magazine’s “25 Most Powerful Women in Business.” How did you feel when you discovered you were included, and what does this recognition mean to you?
Noreen Golfman: I was quite surprised. I am not a business woman in any conventional definition of the term. I have been a career academic. But then I considered the magazine was acknowledging my not-for-profit activities through the years, and most recently my experience as co-chair of Business & Arts NL, and so I surrendered to their broader nuancing of the award. It means a lot because so much of the volunteer work people do in arts communities is both invisible and undervalued.
Business & Arts NL: One of your many contributions to the cultural sector include your role as founding director of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, the second-longest running women’s film festival in the world, celebrating 34 years this year. What are you most proud of regarding your work with the SJIWFF?
NG: There’s a lot I am proud of but what comes to mind is slowly building a foundational staff of superb women who could run the country if given the chance. Giving them and so many filmmakers a chance to make and showcase their work in a vibrant, community-based event was a big humbling pleasure. Related to all this is the opportunity to work with a team of board volunteers, women whom I had taught in film courses or came to know through sharing opinions about films and curating programs—that’s an opportunity I seized with gusto. Many of those women have become dear forever friends. It’s always about the quality of human relations, isn’t it, getting stuff done.
Business & Arts NL: Your passion for film is obvious, having also started the MUN Cinema Series. Is there a film, local or otherwise, that you’ve seen as part of this series, or the SJIWFF, that has stuck in your mind months/years later, that you’d recommend everyone to see?
NG: There are too many to mention. Curating a festival or MUN Cinema is profoundly satisfying because I get to screen some of the finest films—national and international—to have been made. If I scan the programs of MUN Cinema over the last thirty years or so I can scarcely identify one or two I didn’t like. And I have been able to bring features made by Iranian filmmakers in the last few years—all astonishing accomplishments when you think of the environments they are working in.
Business & Arts NL: As someone who has invested so much time and energy into building a strong and vibrant arts community here in the province, why do you believe this work is important, not only for the economy and business community, but society overall?
NG: We are so lucky to inhabit a place, a province, where art of all kinds flourishes, and where you can’t go very far downtown in St John’s without bumping into a writer or musician you’d like to have dinner with. We are all better for it. Study after study has shown the deep impact that the arts have on our social and economic well-being, even if underappreciated or at times taken for granted. Tourists come here for the landscape, sure, but also for what they know to be a throbbing cultural scene. We can always do better to show off our creativity—and reward our artists more generously.
Business & Arts NL: What’s one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received, and what advice would you give to those who want to help bolster the arts in NL?
NG: My father, who was a very funny guy, always reminded me to keep a sense of humour. That turned out to be an important bit of advice. For those who want to bolster the arts in NL my advice is to do it—don’t just pay lip service. Our artists and arts organizations are pathetically undervalued.