By Nanda Olney
Dominique Cantwell is no stranger to the spotlight. Recently named an Island Treasure, she is known by many as the charming, dauntless executive director of Bainbridge Performing Arts. But her impact as a leader extends far beyond the theater. Cantwell has participated in arts funding and cultural planning on the island, served on the board of Bainbridge Youth Services, and still makes time to enjoy island life with her family. Here, we dig into her background and discuss what it means to be part of an art-conscious community.
You served on political campaigns early in your career. What most inspired you?
Seeing the influence that communities have in politics. I watched the news and participated in dinner table conversations about leadership and the world as I was growing up. Later, working at the European Union Center of California during college, I was inspired by leaders from around the globe and saw firsthand the impact they were having in their corners of the world. I saw that I could have an influence too, extending a hand to others.
You performed on stage from an early age. What was your most memorable role?
I played Prince John in a third-grade production of Robin Hood. That was formative because it got me to lean into humor and the sense that girls don’t have to play the ingenue to be successful in theater—or in life!
What made you turn your focus to nonprofit leadership?
It was a confluence of jobs and skills I already had. In high school, I was a lobbyist for the California Library Association. I had a passion for fundraising for things that mattered to my community and came to understand the needs of different organizations and how to communicate them. But really what it all comes down to is a sense of service. I love helping people.
In what ways are the arts integral to community?
Arts in general are a cornerstone of not just community but of civilization. The arts allow people with different outlooks and experiences to gather and share something through a common lens. Art doesn’t shape our perspective, but rather opens it. Through this opening, we learn compassion and empathy, and these are the unquantifiable characteristics that make successful, thriving communities.
In what ways do you and your family incorporate art and expression into daily life?
My husband grew up in the theater, my daughter is a performer, and while my son prefers to be backstage, we are constantly weaving creativity into all we do and how we see the world. Whenever we go on vacation, we take wacky family photos, complete with costumes and props. No matter the landscape, art always paints the color into it.
What are you most excited about regarding the future of BPA?
I’m excited to go back to producing again! If there’s a silver lining to recent events, it’s that what is most important to this community is being brightly defined for us. Additionally, I’m excited about changes our facility is likely to undergo in the future, and about ways we can engage, serve and inspire. There’s no telling what measure of that will be needed as we come out of the pandemic. BPA is prepared to do what it takes to provide cultural sustenance for this and future generations.from