Q&A;: Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro

We love Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro for more than just her expert tips on what to do in Santa Fe. This mom of two recently moved her family from San Diego to New Mexico to take on her new role as the executive director of the annual Santa Fe International Folk Art Market—and she did it all with a smile and kick-ass attitude. “By making the move an adventure, we’ve set our daughters up for success,” she explains.

To prepare daughters Josefina, 13, and Gabriella, 11, for a new life in Santa Fe, McQueen-Ruggeiro and her husband, Phillip, take them to explore a different aspect of the Southwest state each weekend—with everything from skiing to visiting sandy white beaches. “Kids are naturally curious, and you don’t want to set them up to be fearful,” says McQueen-Ruggeiro. “We can’t know what’s down the road, but you have to let them know they will be fine as long as they have the open sense of adventure.” How cool is that?

Of course, life isn’t all fun and games for this audacious momma. The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, the largest event of its kind in the world, demands much of her attention. As a former representative at leading health organizations like the American Red Cross and Project Concern International, McQueen-Ruggeiro is not new to the struggles of a working mom—not that it makes them any easier. “You will always be giving too much in one place and not enough somewhere else,” she says. To manage the work-life balance, McQueen-Ruggeiro tries to keep in mind the positive impact she makes in the world, hoping that her girls will appreciate the importance of mom’s hard work. “I might miss a couple of my kids’ games to raise money for the artists and that’s okay,” she says. “Hopefully my kids will be stronger for it by seeing my work ethic.”

To beat what she calls the “working mom guilt,” McQueen-Ruggeiro reflects on her work and travel experience to consider the bigger picture. “Having worked in the developing world gives you perspective on how fortunate you are, how much your kids have, and how much love you really are giving them,” she says. Read on below to see what she has to say about teaching kids about art and flip through the slideshow to see her picks from the folk art market. —Rachel Wintermute (@rachel_wint)

Elizabeth Street: Has taking this job been a challenge, especially moving from the world of health care to the Folk Art Market?
Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro: Not really. It ties in so much of the work I’ve done before. Project Concern International had a holistic approach to health care that included things like economic development, sustainability—that sort of thing. That approach really ties into the broader mission of the Market of sustaining and empowering communities through buying and selling folk art. Plus, both jobs work with the developing world. In many ways, this is a dream job in that it ties in with so much of my background: Fundraising, art history, travel, and international studies. The thing about the Market is you have an amazing opportunity to buy art that is about culture and tradition, and when you as a consumer make a purchase, face to face with the person who made the work, you change a life for the better. My mom called me in tears after watching the trailer for the Silkies film [premiering at this year’s Market), and she said, “I just can’t believe what you do, but I’m also afraid.” I asked her why and she said, “You’re responsible for so many lives.” I told her that that’s why I’m so excited to have this job.

ES: How about incorporating art in your home? Can you talk a little about how you expose your kids to art and different cultures?
SM: I’m not an artist, but I am crafty. I just love including my daughters in craft projects, whatever they are. For my girls, I’ve always been interested in making sure their left and right brains are equally stimulated, especially as art programs are eliminated in schools, it’s important they learn how to express their emotions and create something beautiful. For me, art tells a story and teaches at the same time. We travel a great deal, and we always research a country and the art of that place before we go. We’ve always researched and studied the museum and artists of the countries we visited before we went. When my daughters saw the Mona Lisa, it was so exciting because they knew so much about it. It was so much fun to do with my girls.

ES: What about folk art? What makes it different?
SM: By definition, folk art is an expression of a community rather than a particular artist. It’s a tradition, the story behind the art; it’s history being passed down. Folk art is more tangible and utilitarian, and for a younger audience it’s very relatable. When we visited the Folk Art Museum—it’s embarrassing to admit, but we spent more time there than we did at the Louvre!

ES: Do you have any favorite pieces of folk art from the Market?
SM: All of it is so amazing, there’s so much to see, but a great example would be the wire baskets from South Africa. Weavers used phone wires and cables to make baskets—I love that they’re like pop art, and have the whimsy and inventive appropriation that you might see in contemporary art.

ES: How do you juggle your new responsibilities as executive director with being a mom of two? What’s the most challenging thing about being a full-time working mom?
SM: It’s a struggle. I recently attended the Women in the World Summit, and Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Sam’s Club, was speaking. She said the whole idea of work/family balance is a myth, and the whole audience laughed in understanding. For me, the balance comes through doing good work. I think that my kids see that I’m doing something that’s good for the world. But it’s always a struggle, and it makes me feel terrible that I can’t do what other moms do! But I don’t let myself get burdened by working mom guilt. First off, there are just too many expectations working mothers put on ourselves. I might miss a couple of my kids’ games to raise money for the artists and that’s okay. Hopefully my kids will be stronger for it by seeing my work ethic. I believe that having a strong work ethic is critical. Second, having worked in the developing world gives you perspective on how fortunate you are, how much your kids have, and how much love you really are giving them.

ES: How does that work in your family? Do you think you run your home the way you run your organizations?
SM: In some ways. It’s about trying to be fair in both worlds—about setting up expectations. Being a leader, you have to communicate, and that’s the case at home and at work. But your kids know your soft spots. They know guilt, which doesn’t work in the office.

ES: Is there a business philosophy that you try to incorporate into your own life?
SM: I only choose to do things where I would be making the kind of impact I want to make on the world—I would not be away for my daughters for any other reason. The higher calling is what I seek in a job, and that higher calling must be there. Otherwise I can’t justify being away from my girls.

ES: What did your family think of the move from San Diego to Santa Fe?
SM: It’s been challenging leaving old friends and starting a new school but by making the move an adventure, we’ve set our daughters up for success. We do something unique to experience New Mexico each weekend: Skiing, visiting white sands, going to see the wild mustangs. Kids are naturally curious, and you don’t want to set them up to be fearful. We can’t know what’s down the road, but you have to let them know they will be fine as long as they have the open sense of adventure.

ES: Will your kids be involved in the Market?
SM: Absolutely—to see what I do, to be part of what I commit so much time to. But we’re not quite sure exactly how they’ll be involved yet—it’s such a huge event, it’s hard to comprehend if you haven’t seen it. My oldest will be part of the Kids Passport Program. My younger (who is bilingual) might be helping out with translation. They’re very excited.

ES: What do you think of being called a Power Mom?
SM: When I first heard that I had to laugh—did anyone tell my family? Last I knew, I had no power! But seriously, if power means I can make a change in the world, then I’m excited. Being a Power Mom means having the power to change lives. We put all this pressure on our kids to be high achievers, but we ourselves have to set the example.

Nichola Hunt

Cocktail aficionado. Large dog breed lover. Fondness of summer dresses. Hater of pickles. Born in London, based in Bali.

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