Last month, the University of Texas announced that it would be replacing the 42-year-old Frank Erwin Center with a new $338 million basketball and events arena near the Austin campus. It will replace a parking lot near the track stadium and soccer field, have 10,000 seats for basketball and 15,000 for concerts, and be constructed as part of a partnership between the university and a group called ArenaCo—which consists of the Los Angeles-based sports venue company Oak View Group, concert promoters Live Nation and C3 Presents, and Matthew McConaughey.
If that last name came as a surprise to you, well, it is a bit of a swerve. Celebrities have long been minority investors in professional sports organizations—Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez own a stake in the Miami Dolphins, Jay Z in the Brooklyn Nets, Justin Timberlake in the Memphis Grizzlies. But UT officials acknowledge that it’s new to have a celebrity backer, or an extensive private partnership, involved in a university project like this. And along with McConaughey’s unspecified financial investment comes a title: he will be the venue’s “minister of culture,” according to—er—himself.
What duties come with being the minister of culture for a college basketball arena are, at present, unclear. But he might have given fans a preview of his duties during Saturday’s men’s basketball game. McConaughey, donning a three-piece burnt-orange suit, seemed to have temporarily joined the coaching staff. He was on the sidelines during the game, his role falling somewhere between assistant coach and hype man. Should we expect to see more of that when he officially assumes his duties as minister of culture?
It’d certainly be a different take on the role. In countries that have a culture ministry, the title can come with a variety of different responsibilities. In France, the ministre de la culture is tasked with preserving the francité of the nation. In Lithuania, the Kultūros ministras is more focused on supporting the arts and enforcing copyright. In Turkey, the job of Kültür Bakanı is largely about tourism. McConaughey’s responsibilities in his self-appointed role could involve any of those things or something else entirely.
McConaughey’s ties to his alma mater go deep. He’s frequently spotted on the sidelines of Longhorn football games and at practices, he cohosts an annual benefit concert with former coach Mack Brown, he’s taught a film class for the university’s Radio-Television-Film program since fall 2015. He’s already a de facto representative of the university, defining the school’s culture by his own outsized personality. Bestowing a title like minister of culture upon himself feels like a mere formality, a way to ensure that a basketball arena where visitors would feel inclined to just keep livin’ do so under his explicit direction.
We won’t anticipate drum circles in the concourses or weed dispensaries in lieu of concession stands, though. College sports are big business, and nobody builds a $338 million facility with the intention of letting Matthew McConaughey define its identity in ways that aren’t approved by the bigger-money investors. Rather, we’ll expect that McConaughey’s contributions will be more nebulous—people who are otherwise on the fence about checking out a game might let curiosity about what his role means guide them to the arena.
Which might mean that McConaughey mostly just came up with a name for a longstanding gig that celebrities have enjoyed—namely, sitting courtside at basketball games and being closely identified with the team during home games, much like he did on Saturday. Perhaps Spike Lee is the minister of culture for the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden. Maybe Jack Nicholson has been the minister of culture for the Lakers and the Staples Center (and the Forum before it) all these decades. Ultimately, maybe all McConaughey did was take something that’s long existed and given it a new catchphrase. If so, that’s all right, all right, all right with us.