Who the Folk?! Nina Graham

Nina Graham talks to us about growing up Jewish in Duluth, working in the arts, and why she makes her own clothes. 

Are you from the Twin Cities?

I’m from Duluth. My parents are still there. It’s a small, but mighty Jewish community. There was a much larger Jewish community in Duluth until about the 70s, when many families migrated to the Twin Cities due to the local economy.

Almost everybody who is actively Jewish in Duluth knows each other. There are the alliances and feuds that go along with being in a small, close-knit community. Growing up in Duluth and being Jewish meant being different from everyone else. I was one of three Jewish people in my grade in the whole city. You could own it or hide from it.

Tell me about working at The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO).

I’m the Grants and Institutional Support Manager, so I’m responsible for soliciting funds from corporate, foundation, and government sources.

Have you always been interested in classical music?

I’ve always appreciated classical music, but I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur. The SPCO is a special organization because of its emphasis on accessibility. We play in 13 different neighborhood venues, have some of the lowest ticket prices in the country, and do free family programming. We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience classical music.

How did you end up working at the SPCO?

I actually started out as a journalist. I went to the U of M and got degrees in Journalism and French. I took a number of different journalism internships across the country the year after I graduated. My now-husband wanted to move somewhere together after spending our first year of dating apart. So, we ended up in Portland, OR, right before the economy collapsed in 2008.I ended up in a development position at an arts non-profit, and that set me on my current career path.

Do you still write?

I blog occasionally. My creative pursuit now is sewing. I love making colorful dresses and I’ve made a lot of my maternity clothes. One thing I really enjoy about making my own stuff is I know I’m going to like it because I’m choosing every aspect of it – the pattern, fit, and fabric. I had a couple of weddings and formal events this fall and I made my own maternity dresses, which saved a lot of money, too.

This summer, I had a little cottage industry selling baby dresses, which might come in handy in the future.

You’re expecting, congratulations! Boy or girl?

Yes, in January! We decided to be surprised about the sex because I’ve been told it helps you get through labor!

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

I do like Rosh Hashanah, the new beginnings aspect of it. I like the Seders at the beginning of Passover, but I get really crabby of by the end of it because of the limited diet.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

My mom’s matzoh ball soup. She puts all sorts of root vegetables and herbs into a big stock pot and an entire chicken—probably several chickens—and it simmers forever. She gets this amazing, golden broth. It’s a perfect matzoh ball, too, not too hard and not too soft.

What makes you fockin’ awesome?!

I lived in France for a year teaching English. It was in a tiny town in Burgundy known for its snail festival – La Fête des Escargots. When I came home I became obsessed with baking the perfect French macaron, and I eventually had to quit because it was bad for my mental health.

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