Instructor shares love, knowledge of art with students


Beyond the art

Columnist and Columnist

Although Matt Donahue’s official University title is popular culture instructor, some students may not know his talents expand beyond the classroom.

Guitarist, writer, visual artist and filmmaker all appear on Donahue’s resume.

“I try to get into a little bit of everything,” he said.

When he was about 10, Donahue said he got a paper route to help purchase his first electric guitar.

“I think I took a couple of lessons, but I was really disenchanted by it,” he said. “I just decided to go do my own thing.”

After practicing the electric guitar for a few years, Donahue joined his first punk rock band in Northwest Ohio, where he grew up.

“Being that young, you could go and play at clubs because there weren’t a lot of punk bands around at that time,” he said. “So while all the other kids were at their high school prom, I was at the club playing a punk rock show.”

While receiving his Ph.D. in popular culture from the University, Donahue worked as a graduate assistant for sound recording archivist Bill Schurk in the music and sound recordings library.

“He loved the collection and loved working up here,” Schurk said. “He was heavily involved.”

Music library duties included driving around the country to pick up music donated to the University — a duty Schurk said he enjoyed doing with Donahue.

“It was always ‘Bill and Matt’s Big Adventure’” Schurk said. “It hasn’t been a great ride; it is a great ride.”

Aside from his love of music and passion for guitars, Donahue’s interests also include art. Since 1995, he has decorated 20 different cars with paints and other collage materials. He got started after following a friend’s suggestion, Donahue said.

“A buddy asked me to do a rolling sculpture for a parade in Chicago,” Donahue said. “I was blown away because I thought ‘I love cars and collage art type of stuff.’”

Donahue’s art cars have been featured in parades in states like Texas, Kentucky, Maryland and Michigan.

“It’s become a big thing in the outsider art world,” Donahue said.

The art cars have also been used in charitable causes. Donahue created an art car for special needs children in Glasgow, Scotland and also did a bus for Goodwill.

“I don’t care about the pay; it’s fun to do,” he said. “All those youth projects have been totally fantastic because kids love cars and they love doing art projects.”

Recently, Donahue said he has been thinking about doing an art truck for the University.

“It would be something the University could use for special events,” he said. “Cars are good, but if you did it with a pickup truck, you’d be able to do more with it.”

Despite his music work and his creation of art cars, Donahue still found time to write two books and edit another. In 2002, he worked with PBS to make a documentary based off his book “The Hines Farm Blues Club.” Donahue was nominated for an Emmy for his work.

“I want to keep doing short films and documentaries to document this stuff for posterity,” he said. “I’m a dreamer.”

Although his creative workload and popularity may increase, Donahue said he still wants to continue teaching popular culture at the University, where he has been for the past 12 years.

“It’s exciting to be able to teach a topic that’s contemporary, with ties in history, media and everyday life all kind of rolled into one,” he said. “It’s been a fascinating, fun ride to turn students on to different types of popular culture they might not know about.”

Those students enjoy as the ride as well, according to Marilyn Motz, head of the popular culture department.

“Students mention that he’s really enthusiastic, energetic and helpful,” Motz said. “His ability to get students interested in studying music academically like that is significant.”

The University has also been gaining popularity because of Donahue’s work, Motz said.

“He’s making connections and letting people know about our popular culture department,” she said. “He’s a very well-rounded person with a lot of different interests.”

As for career aspirations, Donahue said he likes the direction he’s going in.

“I’d still love to do it all,” he said. “I know that sounds pretty crazy, but I’d still love to keep doing what I’m doing, but do more of it.”