An Arts Education

Ben McCarthy, ’14 MFA, brings arts leadership tools to SIFF

Written by Caitlin King
Photography by Rick Dahms
January 26, 2016
Ben McCarthy, ’14 MFA, always had a love for theater. But it was during a production of Little Shop of Horrors at Greensboro College, where he completed his undergraduate degree in stage directing and theater management, that his passion for was fully realized. Beyond what was seen on stage, McCarthy had a growing interest in the management side of performing arts and the importance of community engagement.

When it came time to look into graduate schools to pursue an MFA, McCarthy looked at schools in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, before discovering the Master of Fine Arts in Arts Leadership program at Seattle University.

Never having visited Seattle before, he flew from his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet with Kevin Maifeld, director of SU’s MFA graduate program. It was the program’s focus on leadership that drew McCarthy to the university.

“The Master of Fine Arts program at Seattle U is empowering the next generation of leaders that will someday lead the arts community,” says McCarthy. “That message was really powerful to me.”

In 2012, while in the program, McCarthy took an academic break to pursue a job as a seasonal staff member for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). “I quickly realized I was utilizing all the tools I learned while in the Arts Leadership program at Seattle U on a daily basis,” he says.

McCarthy returned to school to finish up his degree while working at Seattle Works, where he led the Bridge board-training program. All the while, he didn’t lose sight of his transformative experience with SIFF.

Last year, McCarthy returned to SIFF full-time as special events manager. During that time, he executed SIFF’s many local filmmaking community events and SIFF mini-festivals such as “French Cinema” and “Women in Cinema.”

Taking the reins as SIFF’s Director of Individual Giving in September, McCarthy’s first order of business was overseeing the annual auction held at Fremont Foundry, the organizations largest fundraising event of the year.

McCarthy thrives in his role, energizing donors and educating SIFF members on the impact giving, furthering SIFF’s mission of creating experiences that bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world.

“My goal, as part of the leadership team at SIFF, is to invigorate SIFF’s donor relationships,” says McCarthy.

One of the ways McCarthy does that, aside from attending film events, is sharing the many achievements of SIFF Education, which fosters the art of storytelling to youth throughout schools in the greater Seattle area.

The program, a joint collaboration between FutureWave programs for youth and educators, directly impacts student’s lives by introducing them to film in an inviting environment.

“SIFF Education is giving children an opportunity to be creative, to be themselves, and to think outside the box,” says McCarthy. “It’s encouraging to hear we are making a difference in education. To be able to share a story like that, that an art form is truly changing a child’s life, it’s hugely impactful.”
Ben McCarthy, '14 MFA, is director of individual giving for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF).