MSU art grad helping a city shape its culture


Nelvin Howell (12) took a bold step when he came to Morehead State. A first-generation college student, Howell wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on campus. However, he said with the support of the faculty in the Department of Art and Design, he was able to excel, earning both a bachelor’s degree in art and a Master of Arts in Studio Art (15) from MSU. After working for several nonprofits following his graduation, Howell now serves in the newly created position of arts and cultural coordinator for the City of Paducah.  

“Paducah has a wonderful and enriching history and support for the arts,” Howell said. “The city recognizes the need to create a creative and cultural council, so I have been researching and learning more about art and creative councils in other cities and states for case studies. Public art is also part of the strategic plan’s initiative so I’m currently researching a variety of public art and participatory art for public engagement.”  

Howell credits much of his success with classes he took at MSU.  

“If it wasn’t for a lot of the opportunities that I earned I wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience I do now,” he said. “Lisa (Mesa-Gaido’s) capstone class was so beneficial in helping me be accepted in a Master of Fine Arts program at Kent State University. Jennifer Reis’ (07) courses in arts administration and arts entrepreneurship have assisted me countless times with my career in nonprofits and now with my position for the City of Paducah.” 

Howell said he has many happy memories of being a student at MSU, including the Department of Art and Design’s annual “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening and costume contest and celebrating project milestones with his classmates.  

“My freshman year in 3D Foundation, a group of us in Lisa’s class hosted a cupcake party after finishing our first cardboard sculpture. That was a lot of fun and a lot of sugar! I made some wonderful friends and some of my professors are now artists colleague/peers,” he said. “It’s really interesting to see how dynamics change and grow. I’m glad that many of them took root and grew.”  

When it comes to having a career in the arts, Howell said it’s important to be confident, innovative and to never stop learning.  

“There are barriers and challenges in this world. Use your energy and your mind to take care of those instead of tearing yourself down or dismissing your work or ideas,” he said. “If something doesn’t exist, create it. If you don’t know how, learn it.” 

To see Howell’s artwork, visit  

For more information about MSU’s Department of Art and Design, visit