Meet our new student blogger – Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson, a current UNC MPA student will be offering his take as he navigates the public service field and public administration coursework.  We look forward to his blog contributions this year.  Meet Stephen!

This post was written by Stephen Thompson.

Hey, everybody!

I’m Stephen Thompson, a 2nd year student in the MPA@UNC program (yup, the mysterious online program!) and this year’s student writer for the MPA Matters Blog. I’m excited to dive in and explore the world of UNC’s MPA program through interviews, spotlights and articles featuring MPA students, alumni, faculty and staff members, and community members around North Carolina who are working in the government and nonprofit companies of today. –But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

I’m a professional musician, turned arts administrator (what independent artist isn’t?), and recent transplant to North Carolina. My origin story has some twists and turns, so buckle up as we go all the way back to 2014.

*Wavey Flashback Sequence*

After finishing my undergraduate degree at George Mason University, in Fairfax, VA I moved to Baltimore, MD to pursue a full-time career as an Alt. Country singer/songwriter.  Living the life of a struggling performer I soon learned that for every 40 minutes you get on stage to wow audience members and soak up the spotlight there were hours upon hours of administrative work. Hours spent booking gigs, making and distributing marketing materials, arranging logistics (like discount hotel rooms and frequent oil changes), not to mention rehearsing (you still have to sound good when you finally get to the show), as well as getting merchandise designed, printed, and ordered. Managing my career was a whole separate job from just being the performer myself! Over the next three years I learned a lot about all aspects of arts administration from how to tell a long story to distract the audience from yet another equipment malfunction, to how to find artist resources through arts councils, nonprofits, and even government grant programs.

By 2017 I found myself feeling very proud of my accomplishments on the artistic/professional front, but also a little bored. I had learned so much and accomplished everything I set out to do, but now it just felt like going through the motions. Seeking some introspective clarity, I took some time off the road and moved back to my hometown. I felt a little like the famed Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan after he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe; I had traveled so far just to end up right back where I started. I began looking for opportunities to try new things and ultimately, I found myself managing a music lessons center in Northern Virginia. Working with the students, teachers, and community members reignited my passion, and I began to work with county arts programs like the Parks and Rec department’s Park Takes Program which offered greatly discounted music, drama, literature, and visual arts classes to adults and children. I also began to work with local and national nonprofits which promoted arts education through fundraising and legislative reform. I found I had a really unique perspective having been a professional artist and also having worked on front line administration.

Well, eventually my fiancé and I decided to move to the triangle area in North Carolina and I started working for a local arts council. As I began to plan out my professional goals, UNC’s MPA program –with its focus on Nonprofit Management, was an obvious choice. In the coming months I’ll tell y’all about my excitement for arts education, my passion for community, and my strong belief that every single person is a creative, we just have to find their medium of expression, but for now I’ll just say: I’m Stephen, its nice to meet you!