News | 3 October 2012

UCSC Alumna Thrives Promoting Arts and Humanities in Obama White House


Rachel Goslins

UC Santa Cruz alumna Rachel Goslins is executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

“I often say, only partly facetiously, that I have the best job in Washington D.C.,” notes UC Santa Cruz alumna Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, an advisory committee to the White House on cultural issues.

“I get to work with the White House, policymakers at the highest level of government, the private sector, and our Committee members–an incredible group of artists, actors, dancers, musicians, scholars, businesspeople and philanthropists–on a daily basis. All in service of supporting the essential role of culture and the arts and humanities in our country. What’s not to love?”

That committee includes First Lady Michelle Obama, “the honorary and fairly active Chairperson,” as well as artists such as Chuck Close, YoYo Ma, Edward Norton, Jhumpa Lahiri and Forest Whitaker.

They work primarily on special projects in the areas of arts and humanities education, cultural diplomacy and the creative economy, partnering with federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Department of State, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Goslins has some impressive credentials. She graduated from UCSC in 1991 with Crown College Honors and a B.A. in Literature, and went on to receive her J.D. from the UCLA School of Law in 1995.

After practicing law for seven years–first at a large law firm in New York and then as an international copyright attorney for the government–she decided to go back to school to study documentary film at NYU’s School of Continuing Education.

For the next eight years, she made documentary films and also worked in arts administration, helping to run a film festival and directing a project to get independent films onto on-line platforms for PBS and ITVS.

Rachel Goslins with First Lady Michelle Obama

Rachel Goslins (left) with First Lady Michelle Obama and students, painting a bench for an arts project.

Goslins’ current job came about when she was working with her husband on Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. She noted that her husband had gone to law school with the President.

“During the campaign, my husband was working as an adviser on technology issues, and, while that’s a great group of folks, I can only talk about the internet for so long,” said Goslins. “I found myself gravitating naturally to the arts policy group, an amazing bunch of people who were really thinking about the future of the arts in this country.”

“Notably, President Obama was the only candidate in the race to have an Arts Policy Committee, and to put out a Platform Statement on the arts.” Goslins added. “After the election, when they were looking for someone to run the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities–which was created by President Reagan in 1982–I was fortunate enough to be asked to take on that job.”

Goslins was originally drawn to UC Santa Cruz by the campus’s reputation in Marine Biology. “I had thought that I wanted to work on cetacean research and UCSC had one of the best programs in the country for that.”

But she soon realized that wasn’t exactly what she wanted, and headed off in a different direction, immersing herself in a wide variety of subjects and activities on campus.

“I loved my time at UCSC,” said Goslins. “What a fantastic experience and a fantastic time to be there, both academically and personally. On one hand, I loved the political science, psychology and sociology classes I took over the years, and the atmosphere of activism and social purpose that permeated the campus. And on the other, I was captivated by the opportunities to explore my creative side.”

She soon began taking creative writing and literature classes, and became very active in the theater program.

“One of my absolute favorite parts of those years was being involved in Shakespeare Santa Cruz every summer, getting to work in production, development, and on-stage with some of the most talented, fun and completely demented people I have ever met,” Goslins noted.

“So in a lot of ways, UCSC really prepared me for everything I have done since, allowing me to develop my intellectual and professional capabilities while also providing a great platform to explore my passion for the arts and creativity.”

Goslins said she has had the opportunity to meet with President Obama on a number of occasions during her time in Washington. But her favorite memory is probably the meeting she had with the President and White House senior staff in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing, right after her committee had published a major report: Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning Our Future Through Creative Schools.

“I remember we were all chatting as a group as we waited for him to come into the meeting, and I was in the middle of a sentence when the connecting door to the Oval Office opened, and he walked in,” Goslins recalled. “Boy, can that man occupy a room. He stayed for quite a while and then had to go to another meeting. After he left, the room was silent for a moment, and I heard myself saying, ‘Well, that’s clearly the most important person I’ve ever been interrupted by.'”

This article was written by Scott Rappaport.