Ever since Matt Duckett could hold a crayon, he’s been into art, he said.
“It’s always been a focus point and a main out,” he said.
In early July, Duckett joined Great River Arts (GRA) in Little Falls as its new programming and events coordinator. It is a position that fits Duckett perfectly. Organizing events and creating opportunities for other artists to show their art comes naturally to him, he said.
“It’s always exciting to explore the art scene, meeting the artists and learning about the unique landscapes of art in the community,” Duckett said.
Using his expertise, Duckett holds art classes ever so often at GRA.
“We are lucky to have his level of artist mastery teaching for us,” said Jill Moore, executive director at GRA.
But Duckett’s journey that eventually led him to GRA has not been straight. When he graduated from high school, he knew he wanted to be involved in art, but wasn’t sure what all that meant or how to go about making a living as an artist, he said.
“That was a defining struggle for me as I am a creative type,” he said.
The lack of direction led Duckett to drop out of college, twice.
“At that time, I was an exceptional artist at my schools, but I didn’t know why I was doing it. Even though I was always into art, I apparently needed to get sufficiently scared of the world enough to do something with that art,” he said.
Duckett was 24 when he returned to college and was more motivated and serious about making art his career. In turn, that also influenced how he approached art in itself.
He also joined various university and city committees, such as the steering committee and arts board in La Crosse, Wis. Through that he was able to find galleries and other locations where artists could show their artwork. They also held art classes and worked to become a resource of art for the community.
During his time in La Crosse, Wis., Duckett started a community art studio and ran it for five years.
“You become a resource to the community and hope that the community will help you continue to be that resource,” he said.
Duckett graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2009 with two bachelors degrees in studio art and English.
When the opportunity to go to Chicago, Ill. opened up, Duckett embraced it. For more than five years, he made a living painting portraits.
As he was exploring traditional Irish music, it wasn’t unusual to find him in Irish bars until 2 a.m., painting and spending time with the musicians.
However, when the time came for him to start a family with his wife, Grace, portrait painting in bars late at night wasn’t ideal.
“It was great making a living doing that, but when I started a family, it required 100 percent of my time to sustain that kind of living. There was never a time I could clock out,” Duckett said.
Duckett returned briefly to La Crosse to look for opportunities to make a living in art while raising a family.
“I didn’t find a lot of opportunities, but saw there was an opportunity in Little Falls. It was just north of the cities, was a small town and that’s the way I’ve always wanted to raise my kids,” he said.
“The exciting thing is that Little Falls is a small, but very optimistic community,” he said.
Duckett said he is happy to be able to contribute to that and to help artists to show their artwork.
When Duckett paints himself, he prefers to paint with oil. One of his paintings is of fiddle maker Dan Brodrick in La Crosse.
“I had found a fiddle at a flea market and took it to him to repair it. His shop was located in the basement of his house,” Duckett said. Once Duckett met him and saw his shop, he was just drawn to painting him.
Duckett has had many experiences from his time in Chicago and La Crosse that he has brought with him to Little Falls.
“You look at those experiences critically and figure out how to move forward with those. A lot is about learning what the community needs and assessing what level the community is at. Not all your experiences apply,” he said.
Working at GRA is not only exciting, but also a better fit for his family. Three months ago, he and Grace were blessed with their daughter, Maria.