Skip to Content
wgbh News


New MassArt President David Nelson: “Imagination Matters”

Massachusetts College of Art and Design
By MassArt - Own work, Public Domain,

Boston is embarking on a cultural renaissance, propelled by Mayor Marty Walsh’s Boston Creates initiative. Beloved institutions like the MFA and Boston Public Library have taken on new leadership and energy, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design is no exception. David Nelson, the new president of MassArt, spoke to Boston Public Radio on Wednesday to share why an arts education is important to the individual and society— and a viable career path.

Nelson acknowledged that many students are halted by the misconception that art is not a feasible profession, an obstacle that MassArt students are out to overcome. “I did the music thing, and then it was time to think about a career, and of course I told my parents I wanted to go to college,” he said. “This was Dad’s question when I went off to major in music: ‘That’s great, but what are you going to do for a living?’ And people ask that question because the assumption is that to do the arts is something superfluous, it’s something that odd people do, and you can’t really make a living at it. So I think there are two sides to this…one is that we need to disabuse ourselves of the notions that artists actually can’t make a living. There’s really good data on this that shows artists don’t make far below the median of professionals.”

While some MassArt alumni, like jewelry maker Sophie Hughes, have built businesses on their craft, there are less overt ways to channel creativity into a job. “It is true that not everyone is going to be Yo-Yo Ma, not everyone’s going to get the job in the orchestra, not everyone’s going to make a living painting,” Nelson said. “But people make a living as architects and designers, and people make a living with their creative forces.”

As he sees it, MassArt students are more than artists; they are entrepreneurs and contributors to society. “I think training people to be creative and use their imagination matters,” Nelson said. “We have a terminus on what we can know, what we can do, in certain fields, but the arts evokes a kind of imagination and creativity that enriches not just what’s happening in the art itself, but in the culture in which that art is born and thrives.”

To listen to the full interview with David Nelson, click on the audio link above.

WGBH News coverage is a resource provided by member-supported public radio. We can’t do it without you.