MASS MoCA  
CURRENT    • UPCOMING    • ONGOING    • OPENING    • ARCHIVES    • SOL LEWITT RETROSPECTIVE
ALL    • MUSIC    • THEATER    • DANCE    • FILM    • FILM WITH LIVE MUSIC    • DANCE PARTIES    • KIDS
HOURS    • DIRECTIONS    • GROUPS    • DINING    • LODGING    • BERKSHIRES    • REAL ESTATE    • TICKETS    • PODCASTS
MISSION    • HISTORY    • FACTS    • LEADERSHIP    • CONTACT    • RENTALS    • LEASE SPACE    • JOBS    • FAQ    • TEACHERS
   
 

So you want to… build a museum.

Have resumes and cover letters become your (least) favorite new hobby? Times are tough out there for recent graduates and young professionals – competition is fierce and you can’t be an intern forever.  In our new blog series, So you want to…, our museum staff offers advice and inspiration for pursuing an arts career. Don’t worry– all those applications will eventually turn into an interview!

A graduate of Williams College, Joe Thompson received an MA in art history from the University of Pennsylvania and earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. Thompson spearheaded the creation of MASS MoCA, from its beginnings in 1987 to its realization in 1999. As Director, his vision of MASS MoCA as an open laboratory for both artists and visitors expanded the institution from its initial mission as a venue for the display of contemporary visual works to a center that encompasses and erases the traditional line between the visual and performing arts.

What is the best career advice you ever received? 

Still to this day, my best-paying job ever was just out of college, when I was an oil field roughneck… a job that Forbes Magazine just listed as the world’s worst. I noticed that most of my oil field co-workers had lost good parts of their fingers and hands, and one of them told me that I would too if I stuck with it long enough. That excellent advice ended my career in the oil industry.

What was a formative art experience for you as a young person? 

James Turrell’s mid-career retrospective, The Art of Light and Space, at the Whitney in 1980: though it involved a series of precisely controlled light chambers and apertures, in the end the entire experience was retinal, optical, inside your eyes and mind in a way that was truly transporting. You became aware of the very act of seeing, and of feeling, space.  Totally abstract, it was also visceral, and metaphoric. That was a great show to see as a 20-year old.

Visiting NASA in Houston – where from catwalks you could observe engineers actually working – was a pivotal experience for me. Watching the astronauts and rocket scientists – dropping wrenches, screwing up, treating what I had always thought of as magical devices – spacecraft – as normal objects to be tinkered with… that was powerful.