Posted: December 01, 2010
Executive Edge: Maureen McDonald
Denver chamber foundation exec helps business learn from other citiesLynn Bronikowski
Maureen McDonald has felt the vibe of Miami and its rich arts scene. She has learned from an abundance of Fortune 500 companies in Minneapolis. She experienced Portland's affinity for the environment and witnessed a unique program in Phoenix to solve problems.
She's done it all over three-day whirlwind trips to such diverse cities as executive director of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation - a job she's held since 2000.
In addition to overseeing Leadership Denver - the 11-month program for professionals interested in assuming leadership roles in Denver - she heads up the Leadership Exchange, which for 21 years has taken a delegation of business and civic leaders to different cities where they discuss innovations and best practices with an eye toward bringing some of the ideas home to Denver.
"I love the scope of this position and the variety of working on something different every day," said McDonald, a Denver native. "When we went to San Diego, we visited a high-tech high school, and that gave us the momentum for getting the Denver School of Science and Technology going."
During a trip to Phoenix, the delegation visited the Decision Theater at Arizona State University - a world-class research facility where decision makers come together to review data and study an issue.
"The Decision Theater has a 360-degree screen, and you take whatever problem you are wrestling with in your community and put it up on the screen and come up with solutions," McDonald said. "Metro State is now designing such a structure on the Auraria Campus."
During a trip to Miami Beach, a delegation visited Art Basel Miami Beach, the sister event of Switzerland's Art Basel, one of the most prestigious art shows in the world.
"We learned a great deal about the commerce of art, and out of that came the Biennial of the Americas, which Denver hosted last summer," said McDonald, who oversees a staff of eight, dozens of volunteers and seven leadership development programs. In April, the leadership-exchange program will offer a two-day excursion to Colorado Springs.
McDonald, 51, grew up in Park Hill, the youngest of six. Her father was in the insurance industry and active in the community.
"My mom was a feminist and a scholar who wanted to make a choice to work outside the home as a professor," said McDonald, who graduated from Bishop Mauchbauff
She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis with a focus on comparative arts and literature.
"I thought I'd be a museum curator, but when I graduated in 1981 and funding for the arts went south, I started working in institutional advancement in the field of education," said McDonald, whose career includes directing the alumnae and development teams at St. Mary's Academy and the University of Colorado at Denver and serving as director of community affairs for University Hospital.
"I loved being part of an educational institution," McDonald said. "And my role now is still about lifelong learning and getting adults excited about learning."
McDonald keeps her hand in the arts by writing poetry and as a member of the Spirituals Project Choir - a group that aims to keep the African-American spirituals alive as an art form.
"I love to sing - it's very universal," she said. "The whole concept of self-expression, whether it be the written word or music, is very meaningful to me."
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.