Want my job? with Barbara Matthews, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Culture at Nottingham Trent University

Barbara Matthews MBE has had a long and illustrious career in the arts, and has now worked in the education sector for over five years. We talk about her highlights, the struggles, and what changes she has seen in the industry.

Want my job? with Barbara Matthews, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Culture at Nottingham Trent University

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader? 

I am Barbara Matthews, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Culture and Head of the College of Art, Architecture, Design and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University. Which must be the longest job title on earth…

What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day? 

One of the reasons I love it is because there is no such thing as a typical day. I could be spending time in discussion with the people I manage – the Deans of the Schools in my College, for example, or the Director of Music or the Co-ordinating Chaplain. Or I could be working with Colleagues on plans to use our new University Hall as a wonderful music venue. I could be discussing how we could work with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature to give some of our students some work experience alongside professional poets, or meeting an alumna who is willing to donate time (and even better money!) to support our students. One of the reasons why our graduates are in such high demand when the leave is that they really understand the industries they are going to be working in. Or I might be discussing plans for a major grant bid that would enable us to undertake some research into sustainable housing or maybe just trying to work out how we can juggle our budgets to support some amazing new student project. 

What’s great about your job? 

All of the above. Plus, spending time with very clever, creative and motivated people who all care passionately about education and knowledge. We really mind about enabling students from all backgrounds to succeed and I am delighted to say we are very good at achieving it. As you can imagine that is incredibly rewarding. But so is working with the artists and cultural organisations of Nottingham to achieve even more wonderful things and greater recognition for the City as somewhere good to be if you want to enjoy or earn your living from something creative.

What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging? 

I spend huge numbers of hours in committee meetings. And although we are a very can-do place you sometimes have to disappoint people.

What are the highlights of your career to date? 

Winning Laurence Olivier Awards when I was Executive Director of Cheek by Jowl Theatre Company, being awarded an MBE for Services to the Arts, and being appointed to my current role.

How did you get into an arts job? Have you also worked outside the arts? 

I did a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration at City University, London. I did a placement at The Old Vic and they gave me a job when it ended. I moved across into universities five years ago.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it? 

Too many to mention, but persistence, help from wise people and courage have served me well! Plus being willing to admit when you are wrong.

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what? 

Much greater diversity, more entrepreneurship and a mixed economy of subsidised, unfunded and commercial. When I started things were more structured, there were few vocational university courses in arts subjects and far less experimentation with form. Community arts were seen as inferior when I was young – I think we now understand the power of participation and work much harder to broaden engagement. 

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say? 

Don’t try to be anybody else – just the best version of yourself you can be.


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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