A Bennington Museum Mentor at Work: Meagan Mattingly ’00 and the Dia Art Foundation
From her role at the Dia Art Foundation, Meagan Mattingly ’00 combines her interests in the arts, education, and public engagement.
Meagan Mattingly’s day begins with a meeting about increasing arts opportunities for public school students in Newburgh, New York, then moves on to a conversation with an artist about exhibiting at the organization’s Beacon, New York, location. Finally, she has a one-on-one meeting with her Museum Term Fellow from Bennington. She is the Director of Learning and Engagement at Dia Art Foundation. The organization has eleven locations and sites: ten in the United States and one in Germany.
In addition to exhibiting work from their collection, Dia also commissions new work by contemporary artists and develops related programming.
“We work with artists who have ideas that they have had in mind or want to advance or think about,” Mattingly said. “We work with artists over a period of years to support realizing that work.”
From Mattingly’s first moments on Bennington College’s campus, she recognized the differences between Bennington, her school experiences in the past, and the other college opportunities available.
“During my tour, I remember going to lunch with a group of students. They were all very serious and contributed different perspectives to the conversation,” Mattingly remembered. “They said, ‘this is my experience as a scientist; this is my experience as an artist.’ And that was just the social conversation over lunch. It seemed very clear that this was a robust intellectual and creative community.”
[In Bennington classes], you weren't a receiver; you were a doer.
Meagan Mattingly '00
While a student, Mattingly enjoyed speaking for herself and her own interests, which moved from writing to painting. “In any of my classes, I wasn’t told what to do. There was an expectation that I was going to think critically and figure out what I was going to do. For me, it was really freeing and a great privilege. You weren’t a receiver; you were a doer.”
She especially appreciated the faculty for their investment in her.
“The faculty, who did amazing work and were super smart, really took me seriously and engaged with me at their full capacity,” Mattingly said. “They cared about getting me to wherever I wanted to go, not to an abstract standard of where I should be or even where they wanted me to be. That, for me, was incredibly empowering.”
After graduation, Meagan continued her own creative practice and went on to work in artist-driven and community-centered programs across many different sectors: in youth and community development in Los Angeles; at museums, galleries, and art spaces; and within state government.
“It definitely was a long and winding path; though, now it seems like everything aligned,” Mattingly said.
She has found herself at home at Dia, where she has worked for the past ten years and currently leads a team of five diversely talented administrative staff. They come from academia, art practice, community work, and the classroom. In addition, the team includes 30 artist educators. Together, they conduct tours and programs for elementary and high school-aged youth and members of the public.
“We are definitely an artist-driven organization and have this history and ethos of supporting artists in realizing really ambitious projects that are perhaps experimental or untested,” Mattingly explained. In this way, she sees similarities between Dia and the freedom to try new things she felt at Bennington. “We invite ourselves and others to think critically about what art can be and where it can be and how and who for and with.”
The staff makes spaces where they can meet a group of learners and collaborate. “And all of that is really designed anew based on that artist’s interests and what’s going on in the world and who the group is and what feels the most relevant and exciting and important to engage around together,” Mattingly said.
Like Bennington, the organization stresses public engagement and civic action. In the Hudson Valley, they partner with a local farm to do programs off site, and in New York City, they work with the Parks Department on a program called Activations, Mattingly said. The artist takes a recreation site, like a basketball gym, and thinks about where their practice meets community participation.
Mattingly mentors Bennington College Museum Fellow Daisy Billington ’24, the latest of three Fellows she and Dia have hosted over the past three years.
Billington, who started out studying literature, creative writing, drama, and theater has moved into visual art and studio art as her years at Bennington continued. Throughout her fellowship, she has learned about planning and executing educational programs. She has also helped facilitate Dia’s teen program, created slideshows of contemporary artists for an art class at the organization’s Beacon location, conducted research, and worked with the organizational archivist.
“I guess the fellowship is kind of reminiscent of my Bennington experience,” Billington said. “I take one class that I didn’t expect to take and that opens the door that leads me to other classes and ideas. They all kind of work in the end.”
For Billington, it is a pleasure to have a mentor with such a thorough understanding of Bennington’s educational philosophy.
“We do talk about my experiences at Bennington and her experiences at Bennington, and we kind of have that common ground and understanding of how we like to work and think,” Billington said. “It has been really beneficial for me.”
Mattingly thinks deeply about how she can make the Fellowship as meaningful as possible. She asks, “What will benefit them and what sort of experience are they interested in having with the organization and working culture and group of professionals?”
Mattingly credits Bennington, particularly art critiques, for teaching her to ask questions like these. It’s a skill she uses daily.
Mattingly is excited to keep learning and working collaboratively to “make new things.” She spends much of her time asking questions about civic participation and shared authorship.
“How can we, in communities or institutions, make space for many perspectives, bodies, experiences, and identities?” she asks. “How can we author our own trajectories in places that make us but that we also make through our participation?”
What she knows for sure is, “the world is still available, and that is a gift.”