Cynthia St. Clair has spent her life connecting people with information that she hopes will make their lives better. For a long time that information was medical; now it’s musical. To her, they’re equally valuable. “They both heal in different ways,” she says.
St. Clair, the director of marketing and public information at the School of Music, is being honored with a Distinguished Staff Award after 27 years of service to the University, 24 of them consecutive. She’s worked in several different departments, but every job has been about information.
“I have a passion for information,” she says. “Google is my idea of the most wonderful thing in the world.”
Yet, upon her graduation from college with a degree in English, St. Clair was unclear what she wanted to do. So she walked into the personnel office of the College of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, N.J., where she was then living, and said, “I like people and I like to write.” They pointed her toward public relations, and that’s what she’s done ever since.
Her first job at the UW was as a temporary secretary in the Rehabilitation Medicine Department. But it wasn’t long until her boss discovered she could write, and that led to a writer/editor position. After three years she left the University, but she returned in 1983 — first to Harborview and then to the UW Medical Center, in each case producing publications — some for doctors and some for the lay public.
“I really loved all those jobs,” St. Clair says. “I thought I would just spend my entire career doing medical public information.
“But in 1999, it happened that I had posted a job opening for another writer in our office, and while I was checking on it, I noticed there was an opening in the School of Music. Purely on a whim, I decided to apply for it.”
The job attracted her, St. Clair explained, because she loves music. She played the flute in school and has continued to sing in choirs as an adult. But she didn’t know much about the School of Music.
“When I took the job I wasn’t even aware that the school did concerts,” she says. “I’d been working at the University all this time and I thought, this is a little gem and I didn’t even know about it. Wouldn’t it be great if more people knew about it? So it was like finding a treasure and then wanting to tell everybody about it.”
And tell them about it she has, as the letters supporting her award nomination show:
“Cynthia’s genuine love of music is reflected in how she captures the energy, talent and inspired commitment of our students and faculty, and guests artists,” writes School of Music Director Robin McCabe. “Whether she is writing about Bach, Brubeck or the music of Bali, Cynthia is able to present our message to a growing and appreciative public who comprise our audiences.”
And Music Professor Timothy Salzman adds, “Cynthia’s creative outreach to the Seattle arts community has resulted in an increased profile for the School of Music in the competitively busy local Seattle arts scene.”
St. Clair has served the School of Music with photography as well as writing. As a one-person department with a small budget, she explains, she can’t hire professionals, yet she saw there were many things in the school begging to be photographed. So she brought in her own camera and started taking pictures. In time the school bought a digital camera and her photographs began appearing in other publications besides her own.
In her letter, Ethnomusicology Archivist Laurel Sercombe notes that St. Clair’s photos “capture moments of real music-making that convey, better than any narrative, what goes on here in the School of Music.”
But writer and photographer are only two of the many hats that St. Clair wears in her job. She notes some of the others — long- and short-term planner, media liaison, crisis communicator, graphic design reviewer, data collector and much more.
“The best thing about working at the University,” she says, “is that I always learn something — daily, really, with every job I’ve had here. It’s just endlessly rich with opportunities to learn.”