Published July 10, 2023

Quite literally, Virginia Humanities would be unable to turn the lights on without the hard work of our Advancement team. They engage our current and prospective donors, increase financial investment in our organization, and build an increasingly strong and diverse network of stakeholders across the Commonwealth. This past spring, we were grateful to add Advancement Associate Matthew Streets to our team of fundraising superstars.

Read on to learn more about Matthew’s passion for the public humanities and how he spends a weekend in Charlottesville. (In true Charlottesville fashion, hiking trails, wineries, and Bodo’s are at the top of the list. He’s a local already!)

You hold a master’s degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, where you (somewhat ironically) published a thesis examining the viability of Southern Studies as an academic field of study. How did you decide to pursue that topic?

In my program, Southern Studies was a fertile space for dialogue and collaboration—both inside and outside of academic settings. It was clear from texts, discussions, and others’ observations that the Center for the Study of Southern Culture (CSSC) offered a degree of inclusivity and equal opportunity for knowledge production atypical of the field at large. Scholars who identify with southern studies generally produce knowledge inaccessible to the people who give meaning to the American South. Scholars who neglect the field frequently misread the implications of labeled southern studies scholarship.

I embraced the knowledge produced by both groups as equally important but recognized their frequent disjunction as a barrier to knowledge production by and for communities of the South. My thesis was a charge to the CSSC and other institutionalized sites to support knowledge production informed by, inclusive of, and grounded in communities across the South.

While you pursued your master’s, you worked at the University of Mississippi’s Archives and Special Collections. What was the most memorable archival item you came across during your time there?

While working at the archives, I had the privilege to process two collections of donated materials. The items offered unique glimpses into the pasts of Mississippi and the American South.

One collection was donated by an African American woman who has excelled in her various careers. In recent years, she has used the public humanities to highlight diverse articulations of Black womanhood. The second collection was donated by a white family from central Mississippi.

I handled hundreds of their personal items—including letters, diplomas, portraits, artwork, and countless other ephemera. I followed their life stories from birth to death and witnessed how time and change affects community. Through this work, I came to better understand the breadth of the human experience.

This is your first time working specifically in advancement. What have you learned about the role of advancement at an organization like Virginia Humanities?

While we benefit from federal and state funding, we rely on the financial support of individuals, organizations, and corporations to create innovative and timely programming. We have a strong donor base, but the Advancement team faces a problem common in fundraising: the seasonal nature of giving.

There are periods in the year when our bucket overflows with donations, but there are months when few gifts are made to Virginia Humanities. This sporadicity conflicts with our programs’ goals to always increase their reach and impact. My Advancement colleagues and I engage this challenge as an opportunity to grow and diversify our network of donors and partners.

What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend in Charlottesville?

Charlottesville is rich with opportunities to explore the outdoors. I love hiking and typically hike at least two trails every weekend. The city also has the critical resource of bagels, and I stop by Bodo’s almost every Sunday morning.

If there’s not a ball game to attend, I visit one of the many breweries, distilleries, or cideries. Although I don’t like wine, I occasionally visit a winery to honor Jefferson’s faith in Virginia’s soil. I love films and am anxiously awaiting the releases of Oppenheimer and Barbie on Friday, July 21. They will make one heck of a double feature.

Should I ever find myself in your hometown of Pittsboro, North Carolina, in desperate need of sustenance, where do you recommend I eat?

Pittsboro is one of a kind. Visit SMALL Café B&B to experience an eclectic southernness that is unique to Pittsboro. Located in a restored home near the historic courthouse, SMALL Café serves breakfast and lunch. I recommend the lemon ricotta hotcakes or the tuna salad sandwich (not at the same time, please). If you’re bold and visiting in season, snag a few figs off the property’s fig tree.

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.