The Gift of Time

matt-stevens

Matt Stevens, Managing Editor at The Huntington for the past ten years.

Every now and then a coworker comes along who is absolutely made for the job. They live it, breathe it, are the essence of the work—so much so that you think the job is them. In fact, you don’t know which came first; it’s a sort of workplace chicken and egg phenomenon.

Here’s how it all began with Matt Stevens: For a long period of time, The Huntington did its thing quietly. People knew it as a lovely place for tea, the spot where Pinkie and Blue Boy lived, the “museum” your grandmother brought you to.

But by the early 2000s, more emphasis was being placed on communications and outreach, on telling our story. And very rightly so; it turns out that with a library collection of more than 9 million objects, a spectacular art collection, and 120 acres of botanical gardens, there were a lot—a LOT—of stories to tell.

Enter Matt Stevens. Bookish and earnest with a wry sense of humor, Matt came to The Huntington to start a magazine. “You want to hire me,” he stated, in the most matter-of-fact manner I think I’ve ever encountered in an interview. And hire him I did!

huntington-frontiers

The inaugural issue of Huntington Frontiers, 2005

Brought in as the founding editor of Huntington Frontiers, Matt sought good stories like a bloodhound pursues forensic evidence: focused, perspicacious, selective. He befriended scholars, curators, and security guards alike in his search for the good stuff. He sidled up to anyone with a penchant for writing: staff, volunteers, renowned scholars who’d done research here. From Yale’s Edmund Morgan to Pulitzer Prize winners Alan Taylor and Daniel Walker Howe, Matt corresponded with all of them, winning their trust, editing their work, making it sing.

Almost to a person, people reacted with delight to the final product—their bylined stories, edited by Matt, running in the magazine. Most writers will tell you (especially writers with egos) that if they don’t absolutely abhor being edited, they certainly chafe at the process. But not with Matt. “A pleasure!” people would say to me, time and time again. “He’s amazing!”

In fact, he became the go-to person for much of the institution’s copy. Until, that is, buried under a mountain of unedited work, he hollered, “Uncle!” (Since then, we’ve brought on a bit of freelance editing help and tried to share the burden a bit.) Meanwhile, he took on the Annual Report, making it a triumph of a publication. He mastered our podcasting effort, editing, polishing, and uploading lectures and related materials to our iTunes U site, which he helped develop. He upgraded our style guide and created a higher quality standard for everything from event invitations to exhibition label copy. And he helped create Verso, the Huntington blog. And that’s just scratching the surface.

And now he’s leaving. Matt heads to USC to work his magic there as managing editor in the school of education; today is his last day at The Huntington. But what a gift the last 10 years have been. In fact, they passed in such a flurry of activity, I was stunned when he announced he would be leaving exactly a decade after he began.

In doing so, Matt made a single, final request of his colleagues: “Please, please, I ask of you,” he began, at a farewell luncheon the other day. “Please. It’s one space after a period. Not two.” And so I have tried. I even took out a pica ruler and measured this. But, geez, can I just say: that’s one bear of a habit to break!

And with apologies to Dickens (whose material, by the way, The Huntington holds a lot of—and, so sorry, Matt, about that dangling preposition, but you didn’t get to edit this piece, I’m afraid): It was the best of times, and the best of times.

Susan Turner-Lowe is vice president for communications at The Huntington.

5 thoughts on “The Gift of Time

  1. What a great tribute! I enjoyed having Matt as a colleague for his first two years at the Huntington. We get Frontiers, and always enjoy it.

  2. I can see that you have a handsome story to tell and that Matt has lent wonderful energy to your projects; but please do not dismiss going with Granny to Pinkie and The Blue Boy with such unfeeling disregard for the generations (mine is from 1947; yours?) who met art at the Huntington, in a context of play and adventure in learning and light, and do not believe that the inspiration it lent to their existence was insignificant. Possibly just not distinguished?

    • Thanks for your feedback—and thanks for reading! We continue to love Pinkie, Blue Boy, and folks of all generations here. The main point there, while admittedly written in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek kind of way, was that The Huntington was actually so much more than the limited things it was known for. And Matt was instrumental in finding and telling those hitherto hidden stories. I love your point about meeting art in the context of play and adventure in learning and light—experiences I hope people continue to have at The Huntington, whether through Blue Boy or Rauschenberg’s Global Loft (Spread) or Audubon’s Birds of America.

      Best,
      Kate Lain
      New Media Developer
      The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

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