“The Road to Fulfillment Began at RIC,” said Jeffrey Cotnoir ’08
Jeffrey Cotnoir ’08 didn’t run away from home to join the circus – he did the 21st-century equivalent. He became a stilt walker at the Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando, Fla. Dance also led him to his current position – administrator of leadership and gifts at Parsons The School of Design.
“I was 18 – fresh out of high school – when I was hired by Disney World,” said Cotnoir. “It was a fantastic experience. We rehearsed new shows in the theme park at night and performed in the parade during the day. I was even trained to ride a horse while doing choreography.”
“After two years, I began thinking about what I wanted to be when I grow up,” he said. He also missed his family back home in rural Burrillville. At 20, Cotnoir enrolled at RIC and auditioned for the RIC Dance Company. Based on his skill as a dancer, he was also awarded the Helen Forman Talent Scholarship.
“I took the scholarship more seriously than I had anything else up to that point,” he said. “I wanted to prove that I was worthy of such a gift.”
Majoring in dance performance, Cotnoir said that the core of the curriculum, taught by Professor of Dance Angelica Vessella and Professor of Theatre Bill Wilson, was discipline, teamwork, self-awareness and creative problem solving. “These lessons left a lasting impression on me,” he said.
Cotnoir also began to train in the administrative end of the performing arts by taking on a marketing internship at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket.
Upon graduation, Wilson suggested that Cotnoir enroll in the MFA program in theatre management at Wayne State University (Wilson’s alma mater).
“Because of Bill’s guidance, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the program on a full scholarship,” Cotnoir said.
There he learned the importance of fundraising, marketing and managing the arts. Later, he was made managing director of Detroit’s iconic Hilberry Theatre followed by a management position at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Eventually, Cotnoir began to look for opportunities in New York. “It’s been a childhood dream of mine to live in New York. Everything in New York seems brighter than the rest of the world,” he said.
Today Cotnoir is living that dream, working for Parsons The New School for Design in Greenwich Village as the director of leadership giving.
“It is extremely rewarding to work with people who make philanthropic gifts in honor of the education and experience they received as a student,” he said. “I travel regularly up and down the east coast to meet with alumni who are prominent designers and artists, and I continue to be amazed at the situations I find myself in. One day I could be meeting the president of a New York university and the next a world-renowned clothing designer or photographer in Miami. It never gets old.”
The challenge of fundraising, he said, is establishing meaningful long-distance, long-term relationships. “You have 300 new friends across the country that you must get to know and meet with on a regular basis,” he said. “When I feel overwhelmed, I revisit the lessons I learned at RIC – discipline, self-awareness, teamwork and creative problem solving.”
When he’s not working, Cotnoir enjoys helping out his uncle, a theatrical set designer and technical director, at a school in New York City. He and his partner Jason Cabral ’07, a former theatre major, also enjoy The Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park. They were recently married in June 2014 and would like to open their own performing arts space outside of the city.
As for dance, Cotnoir is not averse to pulling out the old dancing shoes. He said, “A dancer’s career is typically very short. You have to be realistic with yourself and know when to gracefully move on to life’s next performance. Of course, this doesn’t mean the appreciation of, and participation in, dance ends. I still get the urge to join in when I see people dancing on the subway platform.”