In Fall 2022, The Block welcomed Ronnie Toca as Executive Assistant to the Director, serving as a partner to Block Director Lisa Corrin in the daily operations of her office. We sat down with Ronnie to learn more about his work and path to The Block.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you find your way to the Block?
I am from Havana, Cuba. I would not be where I am without calling attention to my ancestors (both known and unknown) who paved the path for me to experience the freedom they did not. I invoke them at every opportunity to shine a light on their glory.
From a young age, I loved music. I still remember when my dad gave me his yellow walkman and a tape cassette of Tchaikovsky’s greatest hits, replaying Marche Slave and Symphony No. 5 on manual repeat. My love for music comes from my father, an architect, violinist, and folk singer, and it produced a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music in clarinet performance. My interest primarily involves how sound continues to penetrate, disrupt, augment, and subdue how we experience the world. Currently, I’m finishing a Masters in Literature focusing on film studies and specializing in the intersection of sound and visual media. My love of cinema stems from my mother, a dentist, a matriarch, and an avid fan of telenovelas and the Cuban Film Festival.
Can you tell us about some of your previous work at Northwestern?
I managed the daily operations in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs at Northwestern and supported the Vice President in all endeavors. I also supported the Student Affairs Leadership Team in their work to support learning and development for students outside the classroom. My role expanded as my tenure in the office grew and I became an ex officio leadership team member. What I offered was a unique perspective given my experience as a first-generation, low-income immigrant student at other institutions.
What particularly interests you about working within the context of NU’s art museum?
Honestly, it’s the proximity to art. As an artist, it is vital to me to be in close quarters with art. How I manage and navigate this thing called “Life” is often inspired, challenged, and clarified by my encounters with pieces that bring up questions about my history and experience. These questions remain unanswered for the most part, but reflecting deepens my understanding of what I want to do in life. Art just brings me immense joy and fills my cup in ways I have forgotten it does.
What drew you to the Block Museum’s mission, exhibitions, and collection?
It’s ambition! I am in awe at some of the large projects and dialogues that are slowly coming to fruition. I also love that the Block is steadfast in its identity as a life-giving institution connecting students to art and ideas through an interdisciplinary philosophy. What a gift!
What museum exhibitions, programs, or cultural activities (outside the Block) have inspired you lately?
I often find my way back to works by Ana Mendieta. Ana, a Cuban immigrant like me, used art to convey how and what she felt as an exiled citizen of the island within a US context. Silueta, a body of 200 sculptures, captures her longing to return to Cuba by reconnecting to the earth. These sculptures are often carvings on terrestrial mediums that are perhaps a way to leave a mark, but only temporarily.
Sonically, I’m developing a research question around (but often jamming to) the slow + reverb movement on youtube. Youtube creators take songs and rhythmically slow them down, modulating the pitch and key it’s initially in to create a new kind of listening experience. The movement stems from the chopped and screwed movement in hip-hop from the 90s and affixes Japanese anime gifs as a visual companion to the song. It’s a vibe.
What are your upcoming goals for your role and the department of the Director?
The things I can see on the horizon are instituting office processes to do our work more efficiently. Beyond the horizon, I will be the primary support lead to the Board of Advisors and will work on some best practices that keep our Board engaged and aware of what’s happening at the Block. Institutionally, I will be supporting the Director in manifesting our DEAI initiatives into concrete actions and will hopefully, along with other campus partners, create a pool of resources and knowledge sets for the Block to tap into and use.
Image: Courtesy Jill Norton