Over on the podcast ‘Druidcast’ (Episode 137) you can hear an interview with the dynamic Matt Baker – a man who created a now-thriving Arts School in the USA from scratch – with the help of friends and a bit of magic. Matt has written the following article to give the background to much of what he outlines in our interview.
Metro Magic and the Subtle Laws of Manifestation: The Story of How Druidry Helped Create a Successful Art School in Phoenix, Arizona
by Matthew Thomas Baker – Druid and Arts Educator
Twenty years ago I was just entering the Druid grade of the OBOD course of studies. I had already spent five years working through the Bardic and Ovate grades, and in those years I had gotten a Masters degree in creative writing and then during the Ovate grade, I completed another Masters in counseling and psychology with studies in Psychosynthesis, Jungian and Depth psychology, Shamanic Counseling and Adolescent development. I intended to use poetry and counseling as a means to help adolescents grow into healthy and authentic young adults. Then, as I entered the Druid grade I was suddenly given an opportunity to actually start my own art school. I never intended to do so, but I had, through the work with OBOD, offered myself up as a servant to the creative inner world powers of our inspired Druidic tradition. If the tradition and its ancestors had a plan for me then I would follow it. And that is how Metro Arts was born. (www.metro-arts.org)
It is now twenty years later and the AWEN is still flowing. Building a school was a long and arduous journey filled with many trials that required living on the edge, much as any entrepreneurial enterprise does. Like many organizations, the growing pains of development can be as intense as those that an individual being can go through. But all through the long process, the connection to the inner world stayed with me and with the school. As the journey progressed, a series of extraordinary synchronistic events unfolded, events that forced us to live in the flow and continually ask for the next miracle to unfold and then wait to see if it would. These events became known as Metro Magic. Asking the Inner World to assist is, as it turns out, one of the key tenets of effectively manifesting magical outcomes for the higher good.
The magical events flowed from the very start… When we first planned our opening of the school we expected 250 students but ended up with only 55. We needed to renegotiate our lease and through good fortune, the landlord was willing to charge us only $16,000 a year instead of the $200,000 a year we were supposed to pay because he decided he believed in our idea. He also happened to be a musician who wished he could have gone to a school like ours. This was our first initiation into what is possible when you have no attachments and are willing to ask for what you need, and when what you need is in service of something much larger than yourself.
After we moved into the building, we looked into receiving our start-up funds from the Department of Education. We had applied for a grant of $8000. On the second day in our new offices, we found out that we had been given $88,000 instead! The Arizona Department of Education didn’t have time to read all the grant applications and therefore divided all the money they had evenly among all the schools that had applied for funds. With that, we were able to jumpstart our programs at a much higher level and purchase the many supplies, desks, and computers that we needed.
Later that first year, a woman approached us to ask if she could write a Federal grant for us since our building was located in an inner-city redevelopment zone in downtown Phoenix. I agreed, and a few months later she returned with a $350,000 grant from the Federal government. This allowed us to grow from 55 students to over 150 in the first two years. In the third year, we were the benefactors of a loophole in Arizona law that allowed us to collect funds for the many miles that parents drove their students to Metro Arts every day. It was over 1400 miles a day total and the funds we collected over that year were worth over $900,000. This large influx of cash allowed us to build out all our art programs and equipment and grow to 200 students over the next two years. By this point, we were all aware that we were a part of something much larger than ourselves. It felt as if the universe itself wished for Metro to succeed. We called these large events and the many other smaller synchronicities, Metro Magic. It was then that the real trouble began and our trust in the process was really tested.
By year four we had come to think that perhaps we might make it to five years and maybe even beyond. That it is when attachment set in and the temptation to grab the handlebars of the bike and imagine that maybe we, in fact, could “make” this school survive. But soon after the instinct for self-preservation set in we were kicked off the bike and reminded that staying in the flow requires trust and willingness to embrace the unknown, the very creative process of flow that the school was founded on. We found out in October, mid-semester, that our landlord had sold the building to the City of Phoenix and the city wanted us out of the building by the end of December. Our inexpensive month-to-month lease meant we appeared to have no leverage. Moving to a new school site in three months is not possible. It meant that the school would have to close and that the dream of Metro Arts would fold. It was then that the wizard Dirk arrived.
Dirk was six foot four, with a crop of completely gray hair at only 45 years of age, and a genuine smile that could seemingly open any door. His enthusiasm was infectious and always had been. Dirk was a friend I had met in my Master’s program for psychology who had been the head of admissions for 15 years at a very successful small college in Arizona. He had built the program himself and understood the entrepreneurial spirit that is required to make such enterprises come to fruition. He offered his help to solve our problem with our new landlord, the City of Phoenix. On a Monday morning, a week after being told we must leave the building by December, we walked down to city hall together and took the elevators to the 20th floor. The 20th floor is where the people who determine where downtown development money for Phoenix will be spent. We didn’t have an appointment, only a vision. We walked into the reception hall where the longest reception counter I have ever seen was laid out before us. It was one enormous thirty-foot long slab of black marble. It was meant to impress and it did. The receptionist was standing as we came in as if we were expected, and she graciously welcomed us and asked who we were there to see and what time our appointment was. This was the floor that the manager of the entire city worked on, and the assistant city manager, and we did not have an appointment. I stepped up and told her we were here to see Mr. N, the assistant city manager who had, years ago, helped us get into our current building. Just as I was about to tell her we did not have an appointment Mr. N walked around the corner. I called his name and he recognized me immediately and asked how things were with the school. I told him things were going great. He asked who I was there to see and I said, “you, in fact.” He smiled and said he had a few moments but then had to head off to a meeting. I explained our situation with the lease ending too soon for us to find a building and he said he would put a meeting together to work on the issue immediately.
Later that day we sat down across a table from five bureaucrats and were told that we would not get a lease extension. By policy, they were not allowed to help schools or be a landlord for a school. I gave them my best pitch on the value of the school and got nowhere. I am, to this day, still not sure exactly how Dirk did it. As we sat at the table across from a wall of seeming impossibility, the energy in the room changed. Dirk leaned in a bit, spoke slowly, and seemed to grow larger and fill the space. The energy he gave off was subtle but powerful. The words he spoke next changed the room. “If we cannot come to a reasonable understanding, we will walk across the street to the Arizona Republic newspaper where I am on a first name basis with the education writer.” His point being that if the 20th floor was going to shut down this small art school that had made the leap to open up in a failed part of downtown Phoenix, where they were supposed to be focused on redevelopment, then the world was going to know about it. The tone changed quickly. We once again had nothing to lose, and kicking us out of the building would become a PR nightmare for them. They ended up extending our lease until the end of the fiscal school year the following July. The nearly impossible had happened. We had, with zero financial power, managed to motivate the city to take a chance on us. The wizard had done his work by making it clear that the cost of destroying us was going to become much higher than the risk of helping us. Now, all we had to do was find a building and a way to pay for it.
We had nine more months to find a building, buy it, remodel the inside to become a school and move in. It was another nearly impossible task. I knew I wanted to buy a building if we could. I called Vance, the husband of a board member who was a commercial real estate broker, and we looked at buildings. He brought a folder to my office and we flipped through the 20 options. He came to one page and I had a palpable hunch and asked about it. He said it was an office building built on concrete pillars with a courtyard filled with trees and walkways and that it had covered parking and was in the arts district. It was an odd building that was developed in the wrong neighborhood for an office building. It had never been fully rented and was not even on the market. He knew a guy who knew the guy who owned it. We went to take look. It turned out to be a perfect building for a city art school, with wonderful open-air walkways along the inside of the building that looked over an outdoor courtyard that had fully grown trees that towered over our heads and provided shade from the hot Arizona sun. After touring through, it felt as if it had been built for us. I could not imagine how we could afford it. But fate was on our side again. The owner was a Prince from a northern African country and the first Gulf war had just begun. The Prince had already left the country and was looking to sell all his assets as soon as possible. The sale of the building was below market value and a reasonable price for us if we could get a loan. But getting a loan was easier said than done in the climate of the time.
There had been a long battle between the new charter school movement and the old District schools in Arizona, and the papers published articles that helped sway opinion one way or the other on a regular basis just to keep the drama going and the papers selling. The last month was one of those times in our young movement when a school had failed and gone out of business, and so the public and the lenders in Arizona were not keen on loaning money to charter schools. We came to a dead end. Vance knew an insurance company from out of state that based on his own corporate real estate reputation would lend us 1 million, but we had to have another $300,000 in capital of our own to throw in or they would not help us. That Friday in late November we were out of options. We were sitting at our own boardroom table and he said he thought we were sadly at the end of the line for Metro.
I asked Vance to give me one more weekend to see what I could do. He agreed. My wife and I talked of taking a second mortgage out on our house to see the school through, but even that wouldn’t be enough. I had one place I could go. I knew a member of a large family-run foundation that supported arts and education. He was a friend from long ago, and so I sent him an email asking how to ask him for a lot of money. He emailed back and said to just ask, and tell him why we needed it. I laid out of the entire situation, and by Sunday he had sent back a note saying that the foundation would provide a $300,000 grant and another $150,000 matching grant. Monday I met with Vance and told him we had the money. He was shocked and overjoyed, as was I and everyone else. Once again we had manifested a miracle of sorts. We had found our way through part one of the purchase, but now Vance told me we had to find the money to do the remodeling on the inside. Vance said he would front us the money but we would need to pay it back as his company could not afford to give it as a gift. We needed another short-term loan that allowed us the time we needed to raise the money to meet the matching grant and recover the rest of our larger grant from the foundation.
As it turned out, I had sat next to a banker at a meeting a couple years before who had just come to town to open a branch of a new commercial bank. We were at a large meeting of downtown business community members, a few of which I had come to know as we started the school. I introduced them to the new banker and he was very grateful. Two years later I gave him a call. No other bank in town would give a loan to a charter school at that time. Not only did the kind and successful fellow take my call, but over the phone, he said he would be willing to give the school a short-term $300,000 loan. I did not know it then, but he had a large interest in education and later, after 15 years of growing the bank, he returned to his home state to run a large school district. Once again the stars aligned to help us manifest the capital we needed to move forward. Later, on March 21st, the Spring Equinox that year, all the money moved. We never saw any of it, the foundation, the bank, the insurance campy and Vance, all managed the process that moved the money around the country. We just had to sign some documents. Then the race was on to complete the construction before we opened that August.
Looking back, years later, I have come to see that we learned in those early years, to live on the creative edge of life itself. There were many other small and medium-size Metro magical moments over the years. Once we became more established they seemed to move from securing our site and on to manifesting for the students themselves. Time and time again the right students have found their way to us. We have grown to over 250 students aged 13-18, and they are all engaged in the creative process. Through the art-making process, they explore the invisible curriculum that teaches how to live on the edge, take risks, and listen for what wants to emerge in their art and by extension their lives.
The school has, of course, gone on to deal with other serious challenges, for each stage of organizational growth presents its own unique hurdles to overcome. Yet, in all those stages the underlying faith in the process that was established in the early years continued to guide me and the school. Even in the face of deep criticism and even betrayal, we have continued to listen for what wants to arise in the space. At each hurdle we have found a way through or around the challenge. The path has always been one of learning, the most meaningful of which has also been deeply humbling, for it is always something just out of one’s capacity to see or understand that must be learned.
Creative transformation is the underlying process and purpose of magic. It is, in essence, what the universe is up to. After all these years of connecting to the source of my own inspiration and letting the AWEN flow through, I have come to see that magic works because we align ourselves with what is already happening and wants to happen. Sometimes, we do not want certain things to happen, but we cannot see all the ways in which the unfolding of the story is part of the larger tapestry of our growth and development.
Perhaps, in the end, we are all destined to become both mystics and magicians. Perhaps we are designed to connect with the radiant source of our inspiration while we learn to midwife the inspired dreams of our shared hearts into existence. If we can sense and trust what wants to emerge from within and learn to rest in the underlying unity of what is, then we can develop the magical capacity to shape our world into a more beautiful and elegant place.
Metro Arts continues to thrive and has moved into stage three of organizational development. This later stage of growth ensures that Metro will last long after the founders are gone, and will continue to be of service to the many young people who find their way to the school. Today Matthew Baker continues as Head of School, while at the same time he feels called to the next stage of life’s adventure. He has co-founded a new institute which is committed to braiding together the insights of the Nondual mystical traditions with the creative and deeply transformative capacities of the Shamanic traditions. These two wisdom streams have been and continue to be an integral part of the development and management of Metro Arts. Matthew’s goal is to develop tools and pathways that help others help themselves to bring their own authentic contribution to the world, and in that process develop meaning and purpose in their lives.
For more information on Metro Arts, Matthew Thomas Baker and his current endeavors see the links below. Articles about Metro Arts that capture much of what the school is about can be found at the Az central link below. There is also a short article about Nondual shamanism and a short biography below.
Below is a kink to several articles about Metro Arts on AZ Central
The Way of Non-Dual Shamanism
The wisdom streams of Non-Duality and Shamanism have not yet been fully brought together in the West. All of reality is an ornament of Awareness, and the art and science of shamanism are the means by which the practitioner learns to work with spiritual realities for the betterment of beings. When those shamanic skills are grounded in the non-dual, a powerful capacity for the transfiguration of reality becomes possible. To put it simply, when the mind and the heart are open to the truth then virtually any negative delusional dualistic attachment can be dissolved in the subtle bliss that is evoked by seeing through the illusion of separation.
This is the Ultimate Medicine as the Tibetans call it. It is a remarkable tool for healing because it can transfigure any story that a person is stuck in because the root of the story is the belief in separation. As a being is met in the private inner-world, and seen through, the radiant unconditioned awareness appears and the ready heart responds with love, the throat with joy and what was an enemy is transfigured into what it really is right in front of you. The techniques of transformation and dismemberment that shamanism brings to the table are augmented by this powerful and subtle experience of the truth of our Oneness. It allows for the shedding of the karmic baggage that catches onto all beings like burs and thorns as they move through the forest of life. The process slowly rids us, one tiny bit at a time, of the belief in separation and that there is anyone there to really hate, or harm. Transfiguration undermines the very foundation of our conscious view of reality and releases the energy trapped in the tensions that arise from the mind’s inaccurate beliefs, attitudes and opinions about beings and reality. It is a radical change in perspective.
At the same time, in the communal inner world, beings that are encountered can be honored for exactly what and who they are. Being both as real as we are, powerful compassionate beings in the upper, middle and lowers worlds can give their love and energy to the practitioner to be able to help in the transfiguration of the self and shadow, and the wounds of other beings and the world. All these beings, oneself included, share the same nature of mind or unconditioned awareness, and also are unique and self-motivated.
The ultimate goal of this work is to bring the inner and outer world into closer alignment with the Truth and with each other. This allows for a harmony to arise that heals the ills of separation and alienation that the development of the modern world and our powerful rational minds have created for us.
In the end, the ornament of reality and awareness sometimes merges into a wondrous, living, real, authentic non-dual expression, and the paradox of being and doing vanishes, and doing arises without attachment right from the source through its own ornaments. And like a ballet dancer in the flow or a great athlete or singer, those ornaments shine with light, love, beauty, and grace.
Shamanism and non-duality originated together and they are still elegantly woven together in the heart of the living Tibetan tradition. In the West, as we reclaim our shamanic heritage and discover our core non-dual capacity, we have an empowering opportunity to recall what the first ancestral shaman knew: the key to our transformation into the radiant beings that we already always are is the transfiguration of our minds, hearts, and bodies through our intimate relationship with compassionate spiritual beings and our ever deeper embodiment of the radiant unconditioned spacious Awareness that is our source, our solace, our deepest identity and our destiny.
Matt Baker was raised in Concord, MA, just a mile from Walden Pond. He received his BA in International Relations with a minor in Creative Writing from Dickinson College in 1991. He lived in Italy for a year and has traveled extensively in Europe. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University in 1996 and a Masters in Counseling and Psychology with a focus on Celtic Shamanism and adolescent development from Prescott College in 1999. Matt is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and graduated from their seven-year Celtic shamanic Druid training program in 2002. He is also a poet, novelist and a non-dual and shamanic practitioner and teacher.
As a professional, Matt is the Founder and Head of School of Metro Arts, an art school with 250 students in 7th-12th grade in Phoenix, Arizona, that opened in 1998. In the year 2000 after seven years of inner work in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids he experienced a spontaneous awakening. He has been living into that experience ever since. He has studied with Peter Fenner in his Natural Awakening Teacher Training course, is a graduate of the One Question post-awakening course with Ken Kelly & Brigitte Hansoul, and has taken refuge and Bodhisattva vows from and is a student of His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also currently apprenticed to the Shaman Carla Meeske, an international expert on the shamanic healing of horses.
Matt’s main interest is in how Nondual insight can be combined with shamanic practice to better help people awaken and create meaningful lives. Matt uses the Zoom video chat platform to work one-on-one with people and in groups. His website is matthewthomasbaker.org With Sara Naon he is the Co-Founder of the Institute for Nondual Shamanism. Matt and Sara offer classes and meetings, and both offer private sessions.