Matthew Dickey (’13)
Matthew graduated from the Arts Administration program in 2013 while working at 826 Boston, a nonprofit tutoring center, and Artists for Humanity, an arts organization that helps urban youth find self-sufficiency through paid employment in the arts. Prior to enrolling in Boston University, he received a B.F.A. from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, IL.
Matthew grew up in Collinsville, IL with a strong interest in the arts, especially in photography, painting, and architecture. After graduating from SIUE in 2008, he taught art and English to refugees in Idaho – an experience that made him eager to discover new cultures. He then moved to Peru for five months, where he taught art to children in a small town outside of Cuzco.
Following years of volunteer work in the field, Matthew decided to pursue an Arts Administration degree at BU in 2011 to gain further experience in the industry. He currently works as the Director of Development at Gore Place, a historical estate in Waltham, MA. He is also a part-time museum guide for Historic New England, a cultural history museum in Boston. In this interview, he speaks about his current job, previous positions, and experience in the program.
How did the Arts Administration program help you explore your career options and get to where you are today?
The program gave me a sense of the career paths that are available. I never knew about the rules of fundraising, development, and marketing within a non-profit organization. My network of BU classmates was important as well. The program helped me network within the community, as you have to interview different arts organizations. Learning about and getting involved with these organizations led me to where I am now.
How did you get started in the field?
My first job in Boston was working at a coffee shop, which to this day is still my best networking position because I met people from many different fields. [At the time], I was doing a paper on youth arts organizations and their impact on the communities they serve, and saw a TED talk by Dave Eggers [the founder of 826 Boston]. Through that talk, I learned that they had a Boston branch called the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. I started volunteering there and eventually got hired as the Development Intern. The organization is a must-visit for anyone in the program looking for creative solutions to education and disparity.
You currently work as the Director of Development at Gore Place and also as a part-time Museum Guide for Historic New England. Can you tell us about more about your current positions?
Gore Place is a historical estate based in Waltham with a house built in 1806. My role there is working towards building fundraising practices, especially with annual fundgiving, which is our biggest focus at the moment. We do that through a series of signature events – it’s all about getting to meet the individual [donor].
At Historic New England, I’m a part-time guide doing walking tours of Beacon Hill during the summer. I started the job while I was at BU and loved it, so I continued working there.
You’ve also worked with other arts organizations, such as Raw Art Works and Artists for Humanity. How did this work experience help shape your career?
Before moving to Boston, I did a lot of work teaching art to kids, and I really wanted to get more into the arts sphere. I started with volunteering at 826 Boston, a tutoring and writing center. At Artists for Humanity, I did events planning and fundraising as an intern. I was also a math tutor, so I created a curriculum combining math and the arts. When I first graduated from BU, I ended up working at United South End Settlements, a community center in the South End. Through them, I found the job at Raw Art Works, a nonprofit that does art therapy, as the Development and Events Manager.
According to you, what does an organization look for in an arts administrator?
In general, it’s your people skills. That’s probably the biggest thing. No matter what you’re doing, you’re going to need skills to be able to speak in front of people and show that you can be a connector of individuals. But it changes depending on what field you’re going into, because arts administrators can go into many different fields.
Please tell us about a recent accomplishment that’s meaningful to you.
These past couple of months, I’ve had three art shows, so that’s been pretty cool. I had shows in Boston and Waltham. I’m a painter, photographer, and Instagrammer on the side. Getting back into art-making and showing has been a really great recent accomplishment. I have been a painter for a while – that’s what I went to school for – so it’s always been about painting and architecture for me.
Have you experienced any setbacks in your career? What did you learn from them?
When I first graduated (as an undergrad), it was 2008 – an awful time to graduate. I found a position at the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, through which I was assigned to work at a studio and gallery in New York City. The organization lost funding three days before I was supposed to show up. I was in a scramble; that’s how I ended up with a job teaching refugees in Boise, Idaho. I also met my wife in Idaho, so it was a good change!
[Another setback I experienced] was at Raw Art Works, where they restructured the organization and I wasn’t included in the new structure. I lost that job, but it was awesome because I got to travel and get to where I am now.
These kinds of setbacks always happen, but you can’t let them define who you are. When you have a hiccup, you can take what you have and make it something you need.
Do you see any major challenges or issues in today’s arts industry?
The field of arts administration is huge. You can see that through my own career path working in a community center, youth arts organizations, and tourism. The nonprofit and museum sector has its struggles, especially with gender equity and the salary gap between men and women. I helped with a paper on this topic – you can read it here on the American Alliance of Museums page. It’s a complex topic as non-profit employees are constantly having to argue for their worth.
How do you stay up to date with news in the arts industry?
I’m a social person; the way I like to stay in touch is meeting people. There are lots of Facebook groups and blogs to stay updated on what’s happening in the Boston arts scene. A great local one is Flux Boston. Drinking About Museums and Nonprofit With Balls are great groups as well. I like to follow the organizations I work with, like Historic New England. I also keep up with what’s going on in the preservation movement, which is a whole other field in arts administration. I also follow the American Institute of Architects, the New England Museum Association, and the American Alliance of Museums.
Were there any classes in particular that you would recommend to current and prospective students?
I really liked Arts and the Community. I think it really showed how the arts have an impact on people and a place. Creative people – and people who can organize creative people – can make big change. I also loved Managing Visual Arts Organizations – the guest speakers and book recommendations were really good.
Do you have any advice for current and prospective students?
It’s always a constant search for what you want to be doing. Have an idea in mind, but try different things to see what you like. I did that at first by volunteering, and now I’ve been trying it out professionally by working. When you’re moving from job to job, trying things at a different scale is important as well. Continue to always build your network. People can say they’re not great networkers or extroverts, but you can build a network even by being in a book club or being involved on Instagram. There’s lots of ways to be a networker without making it feel like it’s a job.
Interview conducted by Shwetali Sapte.