Age 31 | Division administrator, Iowa Arts Council, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Growing up, Matthew Harris was very involved with music. He sang in chorus and in the University of Northern Iowa’s men’s glee club, which performed at the Vatican his final year of college.

“You can’t help but just be in awe of that space,” he said of the papal city.

However, it wasn’t until Harris interned at UNI’s Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center that he realized he could turn his passion for arts and culture into a career. His first job out of college was for the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, now Des Moines Performing Arts, where he worked as the development coordinator, working with corporate and individual donors.

“(President and CEO) Jeff Chelesvig was my first and only job interview,” he said. “I’m very grateful to him.”

He left in 2011 to lead the Iowa Arts Council, part of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The state arts council supports the arts by awarding $1.6 million in grants each year to communities, organizations, artists and educational programming, he said.

“Matt is continually professional, consistently a consensus builder and constantly a listener,” wrote Mary Cownie, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “I know ... few people who are as genuine as Matt and few leaders who always strive to do the right thing and make the right decisions.”

Harris, who is originally from Cedar Falls, said Greater Des Moines is lucky to be so rich in its cultural offerings.

“For a city our size, we almost have one of everything,” he said.

“While I was at the Civic Center I was able to watch our organization evolve from saying ‘Wow, we landed this huge show’ to saying “Why wouldn’t we land it?’”


Five reasons he’s a 40:

• Oversees Arts Council grant-making and funding priorities for six grant programs that support state and local art initiatives.

• Member of the board of directors of Arts Midwest, a regional arts organization.

• Board member and chairman of the youth engagement advisory committee for Character Counts in Iowa.

• Member of the board of directors of Les Hale Endowment Fund, which benefits the University of Northern Iowa’s men’s glee club.

• Member of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute 2009 class.

Mentor: Todd Fogdall, director of development, Des Moines Performing Arts

Fun fact: Harris got engaged last spring in New York City’s Time Square. He and his partner, Adam Fanning, will be getting married this fall.