Our Window to the World

To experience the growing international flavor of Oklahoma City, one doesn’t need to look further than the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Collectively, our staff hails from ten countries scattered over three continents. We’ve made our way to Oklahoma City for the usual reasons: education, career, and—my favorite—love. Since my immigration from California almost four years ago, I’ve been impressed by the rich personal histories of our team. Here are just a few of their stories.

Joanna Bogdanowicz – Development Assistant, Poland

Joanna first came to the United States as a high school exchange student. She went home to work on a degree in International Trade, but later returned to complete her degree at the University of Central Oklahoma. It was at UCO that she met her countryman and future husband, Thomas. They now have two children, Jacob and Olivia. Thomas recently became a U.S. citizen; Joanna will become a citizen this April. “It was my grandmother’s dream for me to be in America,” said Joanna. “I love the Museum; there’s no other place in Oklahoma that I’d rather be.”

Ernesto Sánchez – Head of Installation and Design, Mexico

Ernesto had his first taste of Oklahoma City in 2001 while serving as a courier for the Celebramos exhibition on loan from Monterrey, Mexico, to City Arts (the precursor to Oklahoma Contemporary). When he returned to pack up the exhibition, he was introduced to Lin, who later became his wife. A long-distance relationship ensued. Finally, Ernesto secured an interview with OKCMOA Director Carolyn Hill. Miraculously, a position opened that very day. “What moved me was love. I was willing to work on anything. The universe put everything in place.” Ernesto became a US citizen in 2013.

Jessie Ting – Museum Cafe Manager, Malaysia

Tulsa was a long way from Jessie’s home in Sibu-Sarawak. But she had two sisters there already, so that made her 1983 journey to Tulsa, and eventually Oklahoma City, a little easier. Jessie received her BS in accounting and an MBA from Oral Roberts University. She got married in 1990 and became a citizen in 1995. Jessie and her husband have a son, who attends Emory University, and a daughter, who’s an Emory graduate. “The Museum is awesome,” Jessie enthusiastically offered. “I’ve become artistic working here!”

Ahmad Farnia – Museum Cafe General Manager, Iran

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha welcomed Ahmad as a student in 1976. He moved back to Iran in 1978 to be a part of the movement that would eventually overthrow the Shah’s regime. In 1979, and by this time married, Ahmad and his wife returned to Oklahoma just before the hostage crisis at the American Embassy in Tehran. Their first child was born here three months later.

If you want to make Ahmad smile, ask him about his children. His daughter earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, did graduate work at UCLA, and is completing a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies at UC-Davis. His son did undergraduate work at Cornell, completed an MA at Columbia, and is working on a PhD in African and African-American Studies at Ohio State. “I’m a math and science person,” Ahmad said. “I love the Museum because of the clientele. This is my second home.”

Francesca Giani – Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Italy

American museums were the attraction for Francesca. “I came to the US because the museum world here offered something not possible in my country at that point,” Francesca said. “Access to volunteer and intern opportunities in American museums was much more direct than in Italian institutions. That gave me a chance to get invaluable experience in both the education and curatorial departments of various institutions.” Francesca came to America in 2001, has been a citizen since 2005, and has two boys ages ten and five. “They are my proudest accomplishment,” she says, “and, I would add, my polar star. They inspire me with their curiosity, their imagination, and their intelligence.” Francesca says she “feels very welcome and at home at the Museum.”

Sonia Ceballos – Finance Assistant, Mexico

Oklahoma City is the only home Sonia really remembers. Her family came to the US from Mexico when she was five years old. “My parents wanted to give us a better life,” she said. “We went back to visit my grandfather last May and I became aware of how grateful I am for my life here.” Sonia and her husband Rodolfo have a toddler daughter. Sonia recently received her green card and is excited about applying for citizenship in three years. “I like the fact that everyone at the Museum is so different and so welcoming,” she said. “I’m excited to come to work every day.”

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Left to Right: Sonia Ceballos, Francesca Giani, Jessie Ting, Ernesto Sánchez, Joanna Bogdanowicz, Ahmad Farnia.