Herbert Jones (’17)
Herbert graduated from the Arts Administration program in 2017 with a Master’s Degree and the Fundraising Management certificate. After having earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics, with a minor in music from Northeastern University, Herbert went on to work at the MFA in the retail department. He has been at the MFA for 24 years now, and currently serves as the Volunteer and Intern Program Manager. He is also the director for Inner Strength Gospel Choir at BU’s Marsh Chapel.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your artistic background before joining the Arts Administration program?
I started participating in choirs, chorus and theater during high school, and committed to music during undergraduate by singing at a church in Boston’s South End neighborhood. I also took piano lessons and began to write my own pieces. From there, I was able to attend some national conferences, directed the music program in a church in Brockton, MA and started a small music ensemble performing pieces I wrote. We started a “Gospel Coffeehouse” series, in partnership with Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, sponsoring casual coffeehouse performances featuring other local artists.
I was originally working in Financial Services after graduating from Northeastern, but as my passion for music grew, I decided to pursue a career in the arts. I started working at the MFA through different departments, from the retail division to human resources, and for about 12 years now, I have been working on the Volunteer and Intern program and been the manager for almost 5 years.
2. Could you tell us more about what your position at the MFA entails?
At the MFA, our philosophy behind volunteerism and internships is creating lasting relationship and deeper engagement through them. Therefore, a part of my job is to present people with opportunities that the museum offers, for them to dive in and learn skills that they can turn into a job, or enhance their career. On the other hand, I also work with managers through various departments, assessing their needs, and seeing how I can match these needs with people outside who are looking for similar experiences.
3. If you were to interview someone for your current position, what quality do you look for the most and why?
They, first of all, need to be good listeners. Not just hearing people, but hearing beyond what they’re saying. I’ve learned through my experience that, we are taught, trained and socialized to have a certain presence at interviews. So my role requires me to hear beyond that, and be able to ask questions that cause people to think deeper. Also, one would need to be creative and persuasive. A manager might think they need someone with certain qualifications, but part of my job, is to find someone who is willing to learn, to assess and re-package that person to get the manager to be open to a conversation with that candidate. You need to be creative in the ways you present a candidate to a manager, and how you present an opportunity to a candidate.
4. You’re also the director of the Inner Strength Gospel Choir at the Marsh Chapel, and you have various experience with performing music as well. Could you talk about your roles, and your transition from working with performing arts to a visual arts institution?
In all of the performing arts’ roles that I’ve had, I’ve always dealt with volunteer performers. Again, it’s about relationship building, getting to know people, communicating with people, understanding their needs, and matching that up with what we’re offering. Regardless of visual or performing arts, it revolves all around enhancing engagement, understand the relationship between people, what they’re bringing to the table, and what we’re looking to give out.
5. How did the Arts Administration program help you with your career?
The program really gave me a much broader understanding and appreciation for the art world as whole, especially non-profit arts organizations. It gave me perspectives about the tough decisions that leaders have to make to balance needs and expectations from donors, staff, community and the government. It also taught me that we need to be particularly responsive to the community and to the audience we’re trying to serve.
6. Can you tell us about a recent accomplishment that’s meaningful to you?
Within my first year as the manager of the program, we were mostly only taking interns in the curatorial departments. Being a person of color, and recognizing the lack of diversity within certain areas of the museum world, I was excited about a young applicant who turned out to be a young man of color. The initial position that he applied for was filled by someone else, but I was really impressed by his experience, his determination and his drive, so I recommended him to another department, which ended up hiring him and had a great experience with him. Ten years later, just last month, he was hired by the museum as an associate curator. Through the ten years, he had gone on to gain experience in New York, France, etc., and is finishing his PhD in Art History. I’d like to think his previous experience with us helped him solidify his goal, and gave him some exposure he needed for moving towards his goal.
7. Do you see any major challenges or issues in today’s art world? What you think we, as arts administrators should do to overcome them?
The time in which we’re living now has created the need for increased focus on diversity. This is more of a stagnation than a challenge, but the we’re still fighting that fight and meeting such resistance in some circles. As art administrators, we need to be risk takers, and be as assertive as possible about living by our values. If we say we’re open to diversity, we need to demonstrate that from the top to bottom. If we want to be an organization that seeks an audience from different backgrounds, we have to make them a part of our structure, our board, our leadership and staff, etc. All of those things attract diverse opinions and authentic input, and help us avoid major mistakes while communicating with different communities.
8. Do you have any advice for current and prospective students?
Be open to all opportunities that are offered in the program, and don’t hesitate to create opportunities. Don’t be afraid to speak up for your idea, advocate for it, and try to make it happen. Also, don’t be afraid to call out an answer that doesn’t work for you. We are taught to look for the right answer, but the right answer is what works for you. It might not work for others, but that is okay.
Interview conducted by Mia (Yixuan) Zhu