Alan Goffinski is Director of The Bridge PAI, a nonprofit arts organization in Charlottesville, uniting the Charlottesville community through the arts. Credit: Credit: Talia Wiener, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Alan Goffinski, Director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, could not stand still. He was explaining the work of three artists in residency in The Bridge’s gallery space, and he was pacing from one end of the room to the other.

“Oh, I have to show you this,” Goffinski said, stepping over boxes of scrap metal.

He picked up two wooden sticks and began banging on cans on the wall, held tight by clear chords, he called it a wall dulcimer. The sound reverberated through the room as he transitioned to hitting the strings, then playing them with a bow from a table next to him.

Becoming lost in the music he was creating, he continued to beat rhythms on the wall, eyes fixated on the bouncing strings. Finally, he stopped, put the bow down, and returned the sticks to the table.

“It’s just so cool,” he said.

Goffinski’s energetic spirit is one of the main reasons he landed the role of Director at The Bridge PAI, a nonprofit arts organization that creates and hosts community art, with a mission of “Bridging diverse communities through the arts.” Board of Directors Chair Carrie Worrell said she was immediately drawn to his energy.

“When you sit down with him, his youthfulness springs forward which to me reveals itself through his uninhibited ideas and excitement about possibility,” said Worrell.

Goffinski’s excitement over the Bridge PAI’s work has only grown since taking on the position of Director. Programming Committee member and neighbor of Goffinski, Travis Thatcher is amazed at his continuous momentum.

“He just brings this crazy amount of energy,” said Thatcher. “The dude is just nonstop. He’s present at almost all of the programming and he’s really active in these crazy art projects.”

Goffinski grew up a boy scout in Chicago, with parents who were his troop leaders, PTA presidents, and full supporters of their son. He attended Indiana University and received a degree in social work, a degree that he feels has remained relevant after leaving the industry.

“Social work places a very high value on the dignity and worth of the individual,” Goffinski said. “I think that that is crucial to community arts.”

While working toward his degree, Goffinski and a friend created Know No Stranger, a community arts nonprofit. Know No Stranger was Goffinski’s initial foray into community arts, and he was hooked. 

“When I first moved to Indianapolis 10 years ago, [the city] seemed not very proud of itself,” said Goffinski. “Know No Stranger was founded on the idea that even if 1 percent of the people who were complaining about how terrible their city is did the thing they wish was happening in their city, then we would have the best city in the world.”

After graduation, Goffinski worked for several years at a nonprofit health clinic network, before once again feeling drawn to get involved with community arts. He began working for Big Car Collaborative, a nonprofit arts organization and collective of artists, with a focus on connecting communities and community art to waterways.

It was with Big Car Collaborative that Goffinski began to work to bridge gaps between communities, uniting different people through art.

“We learned a lot about working in diverse neighborhoods and doing art in places that aren’t your home,” Goffinski said. “It takes a very unique approach for each neighborhood that you encounter.”

Along with his many triumphs in the world of community art, Goffinski also struggled as he carefully navigated the cultural and social divides in Indianapolis.

In one neighborhood in particular, Goffinski feels he brought his project in too quickly. Although he wishes that he had done more legwork, researching the history of the neighborhood and its relationship with art and development, he does not discredit his efforts.

“It was a mistake that we learned from, so I can’t count it as a failure,” Goffinski said.

“You get things done by connecting with people and by being friends. The best ideas and the best collaborations come from a place of respect and genuine interest in what someone else is all about.”

Alan Goffinski

Goffinski has applied this same attitude in his work with The Bridge, viewing failure as something to be expected, not feared.

“I feel really confident viewing The Bridge as a social laboratory,” Goffinski said. “That’s something that a nonprofit arts organization can do that a small business can’t.”

Goffinski left Big Car Collaborative and Indianapolis to move to Charlottesville when his wife enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Virginia. The two visited Charlottesville before the move and Goffinski discovered The Bridge.

“I feel like the mission of the Bridge has been something that I’ve sort of internalized for most of my professional life,” Goffinski said. “To hear that mission concisely expressed, it felt like a really great opportunity to explore that possibility and the Board apparently felt that same way.”

With a strong background in nonprofit community arts and an undeniable passion for placemaking through art, the Board felt Goffinski was the perfect candidate.

“Alan Goffinski oozes community arts,” Worrell said. “If it was not his day job, he would be doing it anyway.”

Not only is Goffinski able to generate excitement over Bridge PAI projects, he is able to turn that excitement into participation. Former Director and Co-Founder Greg Kelly sees Goffinski as someone who can make big things happen at the organization.

“A really essential thing I think about the culture of the organization is that the person driving is a people person and [Goffinski] is certainly that,” said Kelly. “As I’m introducing him to different people and different communities that we work with, he has such a willingness to jump into things and to meet people and be exposed to those communities.”

Goffinski revels in The Bridge’s ability to draw people in, from different neighborhoods and cultural groups. An environment that encourages interaction and relationships is one that he says is becoming more difficult to find.

Kelly sees this idea of inclusion as one of the fundamental principles behind the founding of The Bridge PAI.

“When [The Bridge PAI] is doing things well, it’s leading by example,” Kelly said. “It’s willing to go into different communities and put itself in uncomfortable situations in order to build those relationships.”

Kelly feels Goffinski is working hard toward the goal of community-wide engagement, but that building relationships and cultivating community art appreciation takes time.

“It’s no small task to come into a community without any of those connections or that network and not only try to tap into that but begin to build upon it,” Kelly said.

Relationships are key to The Bridge PAI’s success and to the success of creating a happy and peaceful Charlottesville community according to Goffinski.

“You get things done by connecting with people and by being friends,” Goffinski said. “The best ideas and the best collaborations come from a place of respect and genuine interest in what someone else is all about.”

Goffinski hopes to get more people involved with The Bridge PAI, to both view and create art. The addition of more voices and ideas will only help to strengthen the local community, he says.

“At The Bridge we like to view ourselves as this place where Charlottesville can define itself,” Goffinski said. “We like to be this space where big ideas collide with other big ideas and small ideas turn into big ideas.”