Conversation with Douglas Perkins ’94, Associate Director of Operations and Finance at the Middlebury Museum of Art.

Conversation with Douglas Perkins '94, Associate Director of Operations and Finance at the Middlebury Museum of Art.

Douglas Perkins ’94 majored in economics and minored in art history. He was a cyclist and lived for a time in Colorado. He is now associate director of operations and finance at the Middlebury Museum of Art. He studied and worked at Middlebury for over twenty years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview here.

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Recent portrait of Douglas

Q: What is a typical day at the Middlebury Museum of Art now?

A: What I like about the museum is that most days are not typical. I take care of the financial part of the museum almost every day, I manage the budgets and I make people pay. Other than that, it can range from preparing content for social media to mundane things like making sure photocopiers are still working or buying art at auction. It really runs the gamut, but every day is different.

Q: Is this job what you imagined doing when you were in university?

A: Actually, that’s not the case. When I came to Middlebury, I declared myself a major in economics. I aspired to get into finance and investing. In fact, when I graduated from college, I got an invite from a capital management firm in New York. I was a cyclist in Middlebury and took a short detour. I moved to Colorado and was a semi-pro cyclist for a few years, which gave me a break from my plans to give me some flexibility to consider different things. I actually moved back to Middlebury and was working as a bartender and waiter at Mr. Ups here when the opportunity at the museum came up. And it was really only two months, and two months turned into twenty years.

Q: What inspired you to become a cyclist and how did you go from that to museum work now?

A: I started cycling when I was in high school and continued through college with the Middlebury club team. I fell in love with it. In the spring, we organized circuit races with other colleges. I decided that I wanted to pursue this as a life. I moved to Colorado right after graduation, but found myself daydreaming about summer in Vermont. I knew I had to back off, so I did and kept running here for a while. By 2001, I had had enough of the bartending industry. I constantly had to deal with alcohol control issues. I had a lot of students coming down the hill and trying to drink with their fake IDs. I said, “That’s not the interaction I want to have with people.” So I left the restaurant. A friend of mine called me and said, “A colleague of mine at the museum is going on maternity leave and we need someone to replace her. Would you be interested ? So I applied and they hired me for two months. My friend actually left the museum for another job during those two months, so I moved into her job and have been there ever since.

Q: What made you come back to Middlebury? What’s special about it?

A: Middlebury has a reputation. I’ve heard stories of people hiking in Mongolia or South America, and they come around the corner and see people wearing Middlebury sweatshirts, and it’s like seeing old friends, even though you have never met before. In fact, I had a hard time leaving Middlebury. I have always felt at home in Addison County. You can be on the edge of everything but also in the middle of nowhere at the same time. Even when I lived in town, I came to campus regularly. There used to be a Rehearsal Café at the Arts Center, and I would go there and meet friends, or go to the library, always seeing people I knew. There are always lively ideas tossed around and never a dull moment.

Q: What is your favorite place or time on campus?

A: There are a lot of favorite moments, and some of them I probably can’t mention. In fact, I wouldn’t exist without Middlebury. My parents met here in the 1960s, doing their higher education in French. My mother said she had chosen my father from a catalog. He was here the summer before it started and was the carillonneur (bell ringer) for the French choir so his picture was in one of the view books. The following year my mum saw this and said ‘I want to go to Middlebury and meet this guy.’ And she did, and without it I wouldn’t be here. Some of my favorite places are now gone. If anyone remembers the orange carpet in the attic of the old library, it was a cozy place where you could study at any time of the night. The campus itself was its own reward.

Q: How did you choose your major and how did Middlebury help you in this process?

A: Right from the start, I knew I wanted to major in economics. Money, numbers and strategies have always come easily to me, so I knew I wanted to explore that. I learned a lot in four years here. I started with a minor in French, but at some point I changed to art history, and that really appealed to me. It allowed me to embrace my creative side. But no one was saying, “You should be interested in museum careers,” so it wasn’t on my radar. Looking back, looking at what I’m doing now, taking my major in economics and my minor in art history, the two fit together pretty neatly in the role that I have.

Q: Aside from the career aspect, looking back on your journey as a student at Middlebury, how has that helped prepare you for your current life?

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A: There is so much to be said for a liberal arts education. The one thing Middlebury taught me in particular was how to learn and how to think, more than facts, figures and your chosen course of study. It taught me to learn skills on the fly, to look at primary sources, to analyze and come to my own conclusions about things. It really matters wherever you go, especially these days. There’s a move away from doing your own analysis and drawing your own conclusions and then testing them in the public sphere. Dive into it. Determine what you think about it. That’s what Middlebury taught me to do first and foremost.