Campus Closeup: Melissa Matuscak
It was her experience working with six others to establish the former 231 House of Muses that put Melissa Matuscak (DeVos Art Museum) on the path toward running art galleries.
Originally planning to apply her NMU graphic communication degree in an advertising or marketing position, she instead chose to stay in Marquette for a year after school to start the Washington Street gallery. House of Muses showcased artists and local musicians before it was destroyed by fire in 2004. Matuscak is clearly disappointed talking about the burned-out, boarded-up shell downtown, which is all that remains of the once thriving, youth-friendly atmosphere.
“When I left for Chicago after that, I said I wanted to return because I really enjoyed living in Marquette as a citizen rather than a student,” she said. “All I needed was a job to come back to. I was very lucky it all worked out.”
Matuscak worked at a contemporary Asian art gallery in Chicago before settling in to a graduate program in arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute. She studied art history and critical theory, along with practical business skills such as grant writing, which is increasingly important to galleries with limited budgets. Matuscak was hired as the director of NMU’s DeVos Art Museum two weeks before graduation.
Her most visible role is coordinating shows for the front and back galleries.
“Sometimes I get ideas from touring shows I’ve seen and thought were interesting. Sometimes I’m contacted by museums. Otherwise, it’s just keeping my eyes and ears open to new ideas. I try to remember the audiences here. This is the major art institution in the U.P. I try to make it a place you can see exciting and different things you wouldn’t otherwise get to see without traveling a good distance.”
One of Matuscak’s favorite parts of her job is traveling to look at art. She’s been to London and recently made a trip to Los Angeles in preparation for a planned exhibit on the renowned architect [and NMU grad] John Lautner.
Behind the scenes, Matuscak is involved in grant writing and in research and conservation efforts related to Northern’s permanent collection of donated artwork. The “other duties as required” part of her job description includes drives as far as Chicago to personally deliver art because shipping would be more expensive. On the day of the interview, Matuscak was even up on a moving scaffold adjusting lights suspended from the rafters (pictured). She applies her graphic design skills to postcards and posters for shows and also teaches one course each semester titled social structures and concepts.
One of Matuscak’s goals is for the museum to publish more catalogs on featured exhibitions.
“A lot of art museums do this. You can sell them, which is nice, but it also gives more legitimacy to the shows and the books are valuable promotion tools for both the artist and museum. We could also do publishing for pieces in our permanent collection.
"For example, Cecelia Kettunen donated 300 paintings and sketches, along with boxes of correspondence. This was an Ishpeming girl who went to Chicago for school in the early 1900s and later had a cabin in Michigamme. It would be great to create a monograph of her work that would tell her story.”
Outside of work, Matuscak enjoys gardening and canning, snowshoeing and hiking with her Newfoundland/setter mix, Dexter. But she’s not always capable of fully separating her professional and personal lives. “I spend a lot of my free time looking at art. It’s a curse of my job, I guess, but my appreciation for art doesn’t stop when I leave campus. I really enjoy being around it and possibly getting inspiration for future exhibitions.”