September 2023 Alumni Spotlight
In this month’s alumni spotlight, Executive MPA alumna Sheila McDaniel talks about her time at Marxe, her career in arts and culture, and how the two relate.
Tell us about your career and how the Marxe MPA has contributed to it.
My career in the non-profit sector started in 1990 after five years in corporate America. I wanted my time at work, away from my family, to be spent working in places that were supporting the communities I lived in. I started out in social services, youth agencies, quite frankly, that worked with young people who looked like me and my kid.
That was important to me. I worked in spaces like that for about 13 years before I found the arts and culture space. The beauty was that the space I landed in arts and culture, the Studio Museum in Harlem, does a tremendous amount of work with young people who looked like me and my kid, as well. While at the Studio Museum, I had the opportunity to develop as a leader and what I realized was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I believed a Master in Public Administration would help me understand the “big picture.” I completed my Executive MPA at Marxe in 2011. The grounding I received in the organizational lens has really enhanced my expertise. It has allowed me as a nonprofit executive to fully understand the importance and need to be advocates for our constituents and excellent stewards of our missions, resources and assets. As the Deputy Director at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Administrator at the National Gallery of Art, I have utilized what I learned as part of a leadership team that performs that stewardship to the benefit of our entire society.
What drew you to career in arts and culture?
Interestingly enough, I never intended to have a career in arts and culture. I was lucky and somehow found my way there. Overseeing the financial, administrative and operational functions, I’m not sure I thought that much about which sector of the non-profit field I would work in. Arts and culture organizations are educational organizations and that resonates with me. The many organizations that make up “arts and culture,” not only museums, do social service, community building and organizing, environmental and social justice work. In many ways, arts and culture does it all. So, to answer your question, nothing drew me, but once I was there it felt like exactly where I belonged.
How does one bridge the gap between public affairs and administration and a career in the arts?
I am going to be contrary here and say, who says there is a divide here to be bridge? Arts and culture organizations do it all. I would say art organizations like Cool Culture and the Laundromat Project, community-based organizations utilizing art to build and strengthen communities, do public affairs work. I think of public affairs as advocacy work and these organizations and the individuals working at them work daily to better individuals, families, communities and other organizations. In these current times, I don’t think we have the luxury of compartmentalizing the work this way. It is all public affairs and advocacy. It is all administration and good stewardship. It is all community building.
What are some major projects you’ve spearheaded or had notable involvement in in your career?
During my almost 25-year career as a nonprofit CFO/COO, I have had the privilege and the honor to be involved, notably, with very important projects. That said, what has been most important to me has been creating positive and nurturing work environments where each and every person can bring their full selves, in partnership with others, to create positive outcomes for people and communities. All the rest is just gravy.