Alumni Tales | 02 Cecile Vulliemin

The Art and Science of  Building Bridges

Cécile wasn’t planning on going abroad. She wanted to work for a couple of years, save some money and then travel the world. Then her life took an unexpected twist. She moved to the East Coast, navigated her way through the vast waters of the North American art world and…found love, both in her job and her private life. 

“You know how these things work, when you’re in the cultural field”, Cécile tells me during our call. “It’s not like having a degree in Law or Medicine where there’s a clear career path. Working in the arts is sketchy – you have to create the job you want for yourself.” 

Originally, Cécile wanted to become an archeologist. In high school, her interest shifted to art history. “Art is a great reflection of the state of society and the people’s concerns at a certain point in time. It represents so many of the values I care about: diversity, openness, inclusivity, but also a variety of opinions, formats, media; Art and design shed a unique light on our issues, in a way science or economics never could.” 

After she finished her Master’s Degree in Museum Studies and Art History at the University of Neuchatel, Cécile worked here and there; at art festivals, museums, fairs and exhibitions. “I had a long list of experiences – but they were usually short-lived,” she explains. One summer evening, she was hanging out at a friend’s place, when he received a call for applications for an Arts Project Manager position at swissnex Boston. “It was a no-brainer. How often do you get this opportunity as a young art history graduate? It was impossible not to apply.” 

One thing led to another and after several phone calls, three interviews and a personal visit to Boston – Cécile landed the job. “In only two months, my life had changed 180 degrees”. She can’t help but smirk at the thought: “It was a total gut decision. The weeks before I left, I was very emotional. Yet, the minute I stepped through the doors in Cambridge, I knew I had made the right call.”

Arts vs. Science – A Tower Of Babel? 

Cécile entertained a vast network in the Swiss art and design world, which ultimately helped her land the job. She knew the right people and her way around the industry politics. She’s open-minded, full of ideas with an enthusiasm that sticks. Two different friends with ties to swissnex recommended her for the job. “This really is a story about the value of networks.”

Although Cécile never doubted her decision, she was frightened. “This was my first job with so much autonomy, responsibility and excitement.” It was full of ambiguity. “If everything is possible and the sky’s the limit – how can you decide which path to follow?” 

Communicating about art and design to an audience that’s not familiar with the topic can be strenuous at times. “Even in the team we had such a variety of backgrounds that I sometimes felt we didn’t speak the same language,” she admits. Although everyone was really receptive and open-minded for the arts world, Cécile invested a significant amount of her time in sharing her passion for the field with her partners and colleagues. When I asked her if she thought her mission was successful, she replied: “At some point, my colleagues started coming up to me with relevant ideas and suggestions for my projects. That’s when I realized that we’re all on the same page. Nobody doubted the essence of art and design for the mission of swissnex. It’s the interdisciplinarity that makes this job so attractive.” 

Finding this common ground was an enormous learning curve for Cécile and to this day, she benefits from the experience. At her current job at ECAL, the renowned Lausanne University of Art and Design, she’s in charge of developing and nurturing strategic partnerships. “You have to be curious and a relentless networker. I’m constantly bridging the gaps between different stakeholders. During my time at swissnex Boston, I gained profound insights into the Swiss academic system, which proved highly valuable for my current job.”

Sitting On The Fence

Luckily, Cécile wasn’t alone. She received an abundance of support from everyone on the team. When you work so closely with a small group of people, it’s inevitable that you develop strong ties, form friendships and sometimes even fall in love with your coworkers. “It’s a fun story. One of my colleagues, with whom I had been connected to learn more about the job during the interview process and who then shared with me the swissnex spirit but also his passion for it, actually became my boyfriend.” 

At that time, her boyfriend had already been with the company for some time and was looking for a new challenge. “He received this great job offer back in Switzerland and we decided to try a long-distance relationship”. He visited her in Boston, she traveled to Bern. Sometimes they met somewhere in the middle, on the Cape Verde islands or Iceland. “It helped our relationship immensely that we had shared the same environment, he knew what was driving me to stay.”

Fast forward, three years later, a job offer from ecal landed on her desk. It wasn’t an easy decision. “I could have stayed in this job forever,” Cécile admits. 

Time in Boston: December 2015 – August 2018

Position: Project Leader Arts x Science






Interview conducted & story written by Daniela Chiani (Content Manager, October 2018 – June 2019)

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