By Peter Tormey
Christi Anne Hofland (’05) lives at the center of a volatile geopolitical drama. And she couldn’t be happier.
As director of the newly opened America House cultural center in Kyiv, Ukraine, Hofland combines her passions for arts-based international diplomacy and people-to-people engagement.
America House is an island of peace and inspiration in a nation facing its most prolonged crisis since its post-Soviet independence began. Drawn by a keen interest in the United States and a hunger for civil society development and reform, nearly 17,000 curious Ukrainians have visited America House since the U.S. Embassy opened it in May.
“Many Ukrainians see the U.S. as the country that possesses the democratic ideals they are striving for in their country,” Hofland says. Ukrainians also come to the center to develop their English language skills — a key to Ukraine’s economic development — and to access resources and training to develop their ideas.
“People also come to America House because it’s developing a reputation as a place that is warm, welcoming and fun. People come to sing, laugh and have some relief from the crisis that has affected every corner of their lives,” says Hofland, who majored in art with minors in entrepreneurship and dance. “We believe that conversations are key to innovation and change and we provide a platform for conversations to take place.”
Leaders of nongovernmental organizations in Ukraine have told Hofland how important it is for them to discuss issues with the Ukrainian people.
“Before America House, there wasn’t an ideal space for these conversations,” she says.
For Hofland, who earned a dual master’s degree in international studies and public administration from University of Washington, the work ideally blends her interests, experience and education.
“It’s all the things I love and all my experiences in education, culture and the arts applied to diplomacy and international relations in a country whose future I care deeply about,” Hofland shares. “People say you can’t get a job in the arts. It’s not true.”
Hofland finds herself at the vanguard of U.S. international diplomacy — an emerging space that fosters crucial connections among culture, identity, art, business and politics.
“This is a new model for American spaces abroad and there is a real need — especially considering what’s going on in Ukraine. It demonstrates how diplomacy and people-to-people engagement can be so effective.”
Foreign Studies Fascination
Hofland’s fascination with international studies began at age 11 when she spent six months with her family in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where her father, John Hofland, was a Fulbright Scholar (before becoming director of Gonzaga’s theater program). The Gonzaga-in-Florence program allowed her to visit much of Western Europe and parts of Africa. Through a 10-month Fulbright Fellowship in Odessa, Ukraine, in 2008-09, she started a drawing program at a children’s hospital and taught methods of art pedagogy in schools, orphanages, children’s centers and universities.
Following her Fulbright and a two-year stint teaching English at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, which allowed her to tour widely in Europe and parts of Africa, her UW graduate studies offered further international experience and an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Hofland’s mentors are not surprised by her success. Norm Leatha, entrepreneur-in-residence in Gonzaga’s Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, remembers Hofland as a bright light who nimbly navigated the demanding business program while remaining thoroughly charismatic and engaging.
Leatha taught Hofland’s senior business incubation class, and remembers the “Experience Art” project she developed with another student that finished second in the annual business competition.
“Christi Anne always was the character because she was the artist,” says Leatha, who remembers praise Hofland received from a Spokane Arts Commission internship and a New Venture Lab project that helped the Spokane YMCA decide to maintain a downtown presence.
“She made a presentation that blew the socks off the YMCA board,” Leatha says. “Even before she graduated, she was just one of those outstanding people that everyone wants to be around because of her energy and personality.”
Fear of failure was never a problem for Christi Anne Hofland.
“Christi Anne has never been afraid to try something different. She would attack it, dive in and give it her all, which means she would usually accomplish it. That encouraged others around her to do the same,” Leatha says. “It was funny, Christi Anne didn’t have a huge interest in accounting and finance, but she could sure get people excited. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons she’s been so successful. She always has a big grin — as does everyone around her. I think she has leveraged her nonthreatening charm to inspire others to become engaged in her work.”
Karen Mobley, former arts director for the city of Spokane, directed one of Hofland’s internships.
“Christi Anne is, and always has appeared to be, fearless. She was a brave young woman when she agreed to intern with us and to be one of the lead volunteers on the mural that we did at Browne Street next to the House of Charity with the homeless and indigent residents of downtown Spokane,” Mobley said. “Her loving nature, her intelligence and her persistence are remarkable. It has been wonderful to watch her grow from a theater and art student with interest in business and leadership to the new role she has on the world stage in Ukraine.”
During a visit to Gonzaga’s campus last spring, Hofland encouraged Hogan students to follow their bliss.
“Have passion, think outside the box, listen carefully, and then do what you want,” Hofland told students. “Along the way, adapt, persist, and have fun!”
It’s advice she lives by.