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Steve Downing

Major: English
Year of Graduation: 1971              
Graduate School: University of St. Thomas for Education

Current Job: Development Director for the Reif Arts Council, a nonprofit organization that manages the Myles Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids, MN

What was your first position after graduation from SJU?
I worked as a hand-man/counselor/trouble-shooter at a half-way house in Kansas City, MO, where young (high school age) boys transitioned from what used to be called "reform school" back to their families and neighborhoods--or, as they thought of it, to "the street."

Which undergraduate courses have been most helpful in your career, and why?
I do a lot of writing in my work--grand requests and reports (aka creative fiction), marketing and communication tools, speeches, fundraising pitches--so I know the critical/analytical papers I wrote ( and, more to the point, the feedback I got as an English major were crucial, but I really think it was the philosophy courses that finally turned a light on deep inside me. It's a dark light, but it's always on and I know how to work with it.

How did the education you received at SJU impact you and/or help you succeed?
Remember, I was at St. John's in the 60s, and the crowd I ran in was very left-of-center. This included both instructors and students in the English and philosophy departments, and musicians--I was in a folk-rock band, Jericho Harp--and we all somehow came to conclude that it was legitimate to question everything, to come at any issue from every angle, whether we were discussing Milton or Wittgenstein or the shootings at Kent State. I didn't value true curiosity--or serious inquiry--till I settled in at SJU. By the time I graduated in 1971, I'd begun to understand that the more you learn, the less you know, and that's okay. This has informed everything I've done since then. My life has been very rewarding, if a little unpredictable, challenging, rich in relationships and surprises, and I know those four years at St. John's, in Engle Hall, in the Owlshead Coffeehouse, at the La in St. Joe, and of course at St. Ben's, too, had much to do with my good fortune.

What tips/strategies would you suggest for students considering going into careers in the arts?
Get a well-rounded liberal-arts education. Travel widely, globally. Read indiscriminately. Embrace diversity, in all its forms. Learn to appreciate fine wine. Have a back-up plan.

What tips would you give regarding relocation for employment?
Think of quality-of-life. What's the arts-and-culture scene like? Can you breathe the air? Drink the water? Will you (and your kids) be exposed to diversity, good schools, interesting weather? Keep your passport current.