On our blog throughout the celebratory year, we'll highlight our staff members and get to know their pop culture passions, as well as provide a bit of insight into the efforts they put forth behind the scenes at our nonprofit museum.
Up first: Robert Rutherford, MoPOP's Manager of Public Engagement
How long have you been at MoPOP? How did you get here?
Robert: I have been at MoPOP since November of 2017. My road to MoPOP is circuitous, but MoPOP is actually a big part of the reason why I decided to move into the museum field. I have loved this museum for as long as it’s been open, and I was here on a trip right around the time when the Nirvana exhibition opened. I was unhappy in my career as a biologist at the time and was thinking about going to go teach high school biology. And looking at that Nirvana exhibition as a piece of anthropological study, I thought it was really brilliant, because rather than thinking about ways that anthropological or historical museum exhibitions show our values through a historical lens, this seemed to hold it up in a more present way. Like, this is a community and this is a cultural moment that produced Nirvana. And I thought it was really fascinating the way it was framed, and I started thinking more about informal education environments, so I went to get my graduate degree in museum and field studies. And I’ve been working in museums now for just a little over ten years. I’ve mostly worked in natural history museums, but I’ve always had a hand in the music world, playing in bands and moonlighting as a music journalist. This is always a place I wanted to be, and when the position opened up I pounced.
What’s your job title and what do you do?
Robert: I am the Manager of Public Engagement. Best acronym ever. MOPE. I support and lead the team of public engagement producers. We collaborate together and with other departments to conceptualize, develop, and execute public programs that are focused on our museum’s content. A public program can and does take many shapes. We have film series, pop culture takeover days, many legacy programs like Pop Con, Through the Eyes of Art, and Sound Off!. I personally oversee more of our music-focused artist development programs. So I produce Sound Off!, our annual 21-and-under music showcase and competition, and I’m also involved in partnerships with some other outside organizations to produce a program called Mastering the Hustle, which is essentially professional development opportunities for emerging artists in the Seattle area. I also produce Pop Con, which is our annual four-day conference for music journalists, academics, and critics.
Is your involvement in music programming specifically because of your own interest in music?
Robert: Absolutely. That was something that was really important to me. I have a background in music journalism, I ran a record store, I was a DJ, played in bands … so that’s a space that I’m really familiar with and have some content expertise in. Whereas I wouldn’t really consider myself an expert in science fiction or fantasy or video games. But music is a space where I feel really comfortable. And getting to work with developing artists, especially younger artists, is something that I’m really passionate about, because it’s great to rub elbows with people who are going through this really rapid creative development. It’s just fun to sort of bear witness to that.
So is seeing that development of young artists what you enjoy most about working with youth?
Robert: Yeah, their energy is really incredible and infectious. As much as there is this cliche about young people and whether or not they care about the same thing that older people do … being around these young creatives and seeing how much work and care they put in, how much they want to learn from the people around them, and how much they want to become invested, thoughtful, contributing members of this music scene. It’s exciting to be around their energy but it also reminds me of the responsibility we have as older folks in the music community to make sure that we are demonstrating what the best part of being a community is. And welcoming them in with open arms and modeling good behavior.
How has Sound Off! changed since you’ve been a part of it?
Robert: For our team, one of the things we care most about … we want this program to not just be like “let’s find Seattle’s next most popular band.” I want this to be a reflection of the creative things that are happening among these young people, and to that end I think that we recognize that we have a lot of work to do to make sure that we’re making space for and providing entry points for young people who aren’t just those kids with resources. We’re focused on leveling the playing field and trying to make it as simple for young people who are making their own music to be a part of this.
The other thing that we’re really interested in doing is making this more than just 12 artists coming together over a period of four weeks and competing for a prize. We want this to be a longer relationship with the artists, so we’ve expanded the development opportunities for the artists that participate. So they get to enter into relationships with a bunch of different people from the music scene, from people who book venues like Jason Clackley at The Vera Project, to people who are invested in elevating and amplifying youth voices at places like KEXP and The Cube, people who book festivals, and older artists in the community who we generally invite to participate as judges. And these are folks who have years and years of stage experience, and are in the best position to provide actionable feedback to these young artists, specifically about playing live shows.
We try to extend that conversation beyond the shows themselves. We keep in touch with them to let them know about workshops that are happening at The Vera Project, or free songwriting workshops at KEXP, or grants that are available to regional musicians funded by the city Office of Arts and Culture. We really just try to make our engagement with them about finding them opportunities that they might not know about otherwise.
OK, now one fun one. What’s your stranded-on-a-desert-island album?