December 15, 2020
As 2020 comes to a close, we wanted to introduce some of our newest staff members. Both Susan Comstock and Michelle Navarrete started working in July. Like many staff members, Susan and Michelle are both artists—Susan is a visual artist and jewelry maker and Michelle is an actor and singer. We are very happy to have these amazing women onboard.
As the Finance Manager, Susan is a key member of the finance team, partnering with the executive team to manage the financial activities of the organization, Michelle is the Older Adult Choir Coordinator and works with the thirteen older adult choirs in partnership with senior centers throughout San Francisco.
Susan Comstock, Finance Manager
How has your time been at CMC so far?
CMC is a top-notch, quality workplace. Everyone is so nice! Overall, I’m impressed with the strength of the programs and love of everyone who supports the work. The management team is supportive. Julie has a great way of making staff feel at home. I feel supported in my work and appreciated. My 15 year old son started piano lessons in August too. He’s studying with Evelyn Davis and getting so much out of the connection with her. He’s self-motivated and practicing on his own!
I hear that you come to CMC with a background in finance at other nonprofits. Tell me about some of the other work you’ve done.
I learned book-keeping through on-the-job experience. I’ve worked in for-profit companies and also in the nonprofit world. When I worked at the Foundation for the People of Burma, I learned about nonprofit finance. I started the audit committee at that organization and eventually worked in a management role. It was a steep learning curve and also deeply gratifying. I would hear about the program impacts through letters from kids. Hearing about the changes in people’s lives and knowing that finance numbers support a qualitative change in people’s lives was very rewarding. I also work in HR (human resources), which really rounds out the finance role since you get to know people. It’s been really enjoyable to have direct contact with the CMC faculty in the on-boarding process, etc.
What drew you to finance?
I take pride in both finance and human resource management. Finance is a critical tool for strategy and decision-making. If my contribution helps the organization run smoother through better and greater ease in reporting, it makes the job of reporting to the major stakeholders easier for the executive team. This helps the organization meet its mission effectively. Effective human resources management helps make an employee’s work life easier, which is really important for the health of any organization.
Do you have an interest in music? Any other interests or hobbies you’d care to share?
I grew up around music. My step-mom played international folk music and someone in my house was always playing guitar, or mandolin, or piano. Everyone in my family plays an instrument. I think musicians are our teachers. Music informs our generation about what’s happening in the world and how to live well. It is the most accessible art form. As Bob Marley says, music makes you feel no pain. It’s a language that everyone can speak. It’s essential, soothing, uplifting, and spiritual.
I have a background in jewelry, mostly metal-smithing and lost-wax casting, which I still do. I am a creative person and have taken classes recently in stone carving and screen printing. I also enjoy spending time with my son, which we’ve been doing a lot during the lockdown.
Michelle Navarrete, Older Adult Choir Coordinator
How has your time been at CMC so far?
CMC offers so much to the community. There is such love and care from CMC. Everyone who works here really cares about their department, what they do, what CMC offers for the greater community. That love and that heart is felt throughout the music center programs. It’s a great organization to work for. Sitting in on the older adult choirs and classes has been great. Beth (Beth Wilmurt) has been doing these pop-in choirs. She had a Children’s Chorus member pop into one of her older adult choirs to sing a song. That kind of level of giving and consideration is really sweet, especially during this time.
You come to CMC with a background of working for other nonprofits. Tell me about some of the other work you’ve done.
I worked at SFMOMA in Membership. I learned a lot of coordinator skills in Membership. Membership was its own team within the bigger community of SFMOMA. I really enjoyed being part of that team and serving the community of members. We made sure member needs were met and also made the program accessible and affordable as much as possible. Our Membership team really worked to keep the member community strong and accessible.
What drew you to working as the Older Adult Choir Coordinator?
Music means so much to me. I sang in choirs in high school and college. I’ve done a lot of musical theater. Knowing the connecting-quality of music and how music brings people together and what it feels like, as a singer, really drew me to the position. Especially at a time when shelter-in-place is happening, music and art are what we need right now. Working to make music accessible is really important to me. Music is healing and this really drew me to the position. On Zoom you can’t sing together. But, the happiness you see with the Older Adult Choir members, even when they’re muted. You see them singing and smiling. You can just tell that the people are getting so much from this program.
Tell me about your work as a singer and theater artist.
My first love is performance as an actor and singer. I come from a Theater Arts background. I just finished a Zoom play called Corazon of a Latina by Linda Amayo-Hassan . It felt so good to be creative again. The technology piece was nerve racking. The play was great. It was a story I felt really proud to be part of. It was a new, collaborative play. The playwright interviewed us and created these characters and stories. I feel passionately about telling our (BIPOC, Latinx, LGBTQ) stories that haven’t been told before. There is a movement to have our stories told, and I want to be part of that movement. We need to develop healthy ways of telling our stories by us. It felt really good to do this play. There is a lot of critique coming up right now in white American theater. People want our stories to be told. I hope we push forward in these things.
I’ve also been working with YBCA doing COVID safety education as an SF Arts Ambassador out in different communities and neighborhoods in the city. My actor friend and I dress up like the two Friedas (Las dos Fridas) with masks and stand six-feet apart. We’re promoting wearing masks, social distance, washing hands, and other COVID safety. The program employs performing artists that have lost work.