Keifer Gammell: A Cat In A Dog-Eat-Dog World by Chris Handschuh

Keifer Gammell is the box office manager at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, Mass., where he manages cash flows for performing arts and special museum events,such as MASS MoCA’s Solid Sound and FreshGrass music festivals, and also for various exhibition openings. Kiefer oversees the Museum’s visitor services and manages a staff compromised of an assistant, and associates and interns that can vary in size, depending on the season. 

It is important that students understand how diverse a job can be.  It is essential to learn from and experience as much during one’s education as possible, because most people are not defined or framed by their job titles.

“My job title barely covers everything I do,” according to Keifer Gammell.

So, how does a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a concentration in management land a job at one of the nation’s largest, most innovative and world-renowned contemporary art museums?

“I was so involved at MCLA when I applied to be the assistant manager of MASS MoCA’s box office.  I feel like I ended up with the job because it requires me to juggle a lot of things at once,” Keifer explained.  “MASS MoCA liked how busy I was, and that I still was able to maintain everything I had going on in my life.”

The hiring manager for the position saw Keifer had a solid business understanding of how an organization works, which is essential to the financial component of his job.

“I would have been up a creek if I didn’t have that knowledge, because you really need a business-savvy background to understand some of the intricacies of MASS MoCA’s ticketing system.  I manage a lot of money that comes into MASS MoCA.  Nothing is going to match up if I don’t accurately program the correct accounting tools into the ticketing system.”

Keifer steered his business administration education toward his own specific interests.

“I focused on the managerial aspects of how an operation works with team building, structure, politics and law.  I’m only three or four classes away from a minor in anthropology, and could have finished the requirements, but that would have taken a lot of extra time.However, Keifer’s academic achievement was not the only thing that prepared him for his new role and responsibilities at MASS MoCA.  His diverse background with extracurricular activities at MCLA made him the charismatic leader he is today.

“Being so involved as a student at MCLA was what helped me to get where I am at MASS MoCA,” said Keifer.  “The fact that I did LEAD Academy as an incoming freshman especially helped me succeed.”

According to MCLA’s website, Leadership, Education, Action and Development (LEAD) Academy is “a five-day program in August that prepares 30-34 incoming students to excel at MCLA, and to distinguish themselves as leaders both on campus and through community service.”

According to Keifer, LEAD helps incoming freshman to understand there is a community they can be a part of before they come to MCLA.

“The switch can be a big deal for a lot of people,” he said.  “It’s a chance for those of us who are shy and more reserved to get a fresh start with some of the undergraduate student leaders who are receptive of that kind of thing, and  who are willing to lend a helping hand.  I was staffed as a student leader every year after I was in LEAD as a freshman.”

His experiences in LEAD Academy inspired Keifer to become deeply involved with MCLA’s Student Government Association (SGA) as an incoming freshman.

“I was elected class President, Senator and class officer.  I was also in Harlequin Musical Theater Group’s fall review and spring musical that year.”

While his extracurricular involvement was beneficial to his development as a young leader, Keifer advises future MCLA students not to lose sight of the imperative  balance and control required at college.

“I really didn’t do well my first year at MCLA and had to make up for that.  I was a little behind in credits and my GPA was not great, so I started with taking a 21-credit overload for two straight years,” he explained.

“I really didn’t do well my first year at MCLA and had to make up for that.  I was a little behind in credits and my GPA was not great, so I started with taking four semesters at a 21-credit overload for two straight years,” he explained.

“I ended up being able to graduate early if I wanted to, but I decided not to because I wanted to finish my concentration and have another year to be involved with the Pi Upsilon Pi Fraternity.”

Because he was so close to graduating, during his senior year he took the minimum number of credits required to keep his financial aid, and handcrafted two six-credit internships in MCLA’s Office of Student Affairs and with the MCLA Beacon .

The first internship, which he served during his senior fall semester, put Keifer in charge of planning community-building events for students to attend.  These events were much like the events residential advisors plan for their residents, but campus-wide, he explained.

Keifer feels as though his LEAD experience influenced his decision to create this unique internship experience for himself.  “I would recommend LEAD Academy to every freshman if I could.  It does a lot for your progression through college.”

“My second internship was with The Beacon as their distribution manager during my last semester at MCLA,” Keifer continued.  “I looked at where they were distributing newspapers, determined how many didn’t get picked up and were being returned to MCLA, then figured out a more effective way to distribute them and sought new places The Beacon could send them.”

This internship inspired the first time MCLA started sending The Beacon to MASS MoCA.

“I still see The Beacon being delivered to MASS MoCA, as an alumnus who now works there,” he said.

Being an MCLA alumnus provides Keifer with an advantage when it comes to curating his interns’ job descriptions.  He considers MCLA Fine & Performing Arts Department Associate Professor Lisa Donovan to be a driving force in what draws him toward creating such meaningful experiences for his interns at MASS MoCA.

“Lisa Donovan is doing so many good things for the arts [management] program,” he said.  “She is part of the reason MCLA students have these festival and festival  campground internships, because she’s been trying to create a better bridge between the College and MASS MoCA ever since she started at MCLA.”

Keifer sees these MASS MoCA internship opportunities for MCLA students as being convenient for everyone involved.  “It makes sense in a lot of ways.  We’re so close to one another.  It’s only a matter of time before the rate and level of difficulty [at which] newly emerging arts administration students are learning makes the bridge stronger than it is already.”

The question of whether or not college students obtain enough experience to be successful in the future lingers in the air at every institution for higher education.  Are these internships essential for equipping arts management students at MCLA with the skills required of various job opportunities that will be available to them after they graduate?

“To a point,” said Keifer.  “A lot of what MCLA students are doing will bring them success, and the real reason behind that is, again, because of Lisa.  She wants to know what her students don’t understand and figure out how to teach help them.  We always sit down and discuss what the students I’ve had as interns were able to grasp well and what they didn’t seem to learn at all.”

“Lisa’s ‘Writing In The Arts’ class was formulated due to her call response to Meg [Robertson], Sue [Killam] and me from the influx of MCLA applicants we got for our internships.

“I saw a lot of talented people who weren’t able to convey they were talented.  You can be super talented and super motivated with a good head on your shoulders, but if you can’t tell your potential hirer who you are within a resume and cover letter, someone else is going to get the gig first.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world.”




Chris Handschuh was MASS MoCA’s FreshGrass Festival of Bluegrass & Roots Music 2014 “FreshGround” Campground Intern.  MASS MoCA immediately selected him as the MCLA Student Marketing Ambassador for the 2014–2015 academic year, following his achievement as an intern.  A student at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA),Handschuh also worked on various aspects of the 2014 MCLA 

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