2023 GOLD Alumni Award recipient: Matthew O’Kane

Briar Cliff University announced the recipient of the GOLD Alumni Award was established to recognize and honor a Briar Cliff University graduate of the last decade who has demonstrated a continued commitment to living a life reflective of Briar Cliff’s mission and values. The 2023 GOLD Alumni Award recipient is Matthew O’Kane.


O’Kane is an artist, an educator, a political activist, and a politician. He was born and raised on the Westside of Sioux City, Iowa, and graduated from Briar Cliff University in 2018 before beginning his career in Art Education.


Throughout his professional career, he has developed a curriculum around teaching art that centers around empowering students with choice and encouraging students’ curiosity with experimentation. His art has steadily involved recreating old methods of media production and experimentation. He isolates clay, renders pigments, creates paints, spins yarn, and challenges himself to investigate any curiosity or media he encounters. 


“He also took on the challenge of beginning a new virtual school, VIBE Academy, as the K-12 art instructor, going above and beyond to bring the classroom into the students’ homes,” said a nominator of O’Kane.


Throughout his political career, O’Kane has argued for transparency and accountability while pushing for equity and inclusion. In 2021 he ran and won a seat on the City Council of Sioux City. He currently serves on the Warming Shelter Board, Siouxland Human Investment Partnership, Missouri River Historic Development, the Senior Advisory Committee, WCICC, and is involved with a number of causes through United Today, Stronger Tomorrow. He recently completed the Power Up Training provided by The Climate Reality Project and is hoping to use the knowledge he gained to help steer Sioux City towards a brighter, greener future. 


“He shows compassion and openness to all people by taking the time to be an active listener and respond with a caring voice,” said a nominator. “He attends as many community events as possible, outside of his workday, because it is important to him to be a part of the community and fellowship.”


In his free time, O’Kane enjoys spending time with his family outdoors, investing time and energy in sustainable living efforts, and rediscovering historical methods in art making, living, and food preservation.