How I Survived Art School Aftermath

I was asked to do an "interview" by the UW School of Art and Design - interviewed in this case means filling out a set of prescribed questions. I tried to frame my answers for art undergrads in particular. It's neither a puff piece or a tell all, just some of my thoughts about the professional path after undergrad. I peppered in some images of artwork that I did while I was a student at UW - just something visual to go with the text.

An interactive work where the audience rearranged glazed ceramic bars of soap into suggestive phrases.

What degree did you receive from the SoA + AH + D?

BA in Interdisciplinary Visual Art with an Art History Minor (very proud of that minor)

What year did you graduate?

Spring 2009

Above: a series of portraits going through the loom. Sorry for the blur...
Below: just some scraps from "Intro to Structure" AKA weaving class.

Can you share some examples of what you have done professionally since graduation?

Once I graduated (even before I graduated) I started collaborating with a lot of arts and cultural orgs. I seemed to be drawn more towards large projects with multiple people. Although I really enjoyed making my own work, it never seemed "big enough". I realized that if I wanted to have a larger impact I would need to be part of a larger collaboration, with a bigger audience, a bigger budget, a bigger scope.

Before I graduated, I took a look around at what seemed to be the most lacking areas in the arts and cultural landscape. There were - and are - innumerable areas that deserve our attention, but one area that seemed most striking was that there was a line around the block to exhibit at galleries. Art schools, studios, programs were churning out artists but the economic environment was not churning out opportunities to exhibit their work. In fact several of the galleries and orgs were closing, scaling down or trying to adapt to the harsh recession when I graduated.

I felt that the most logical solution was for me to open my own gallery. I'd had some experience at UW's Jacob Lawrence Gallery, the Verart Gallery at the Vera Project, the Wing Luke Museum and a lot of other spaces that had hired me to do freelance like Suyama Space, Open Satellite, Western Bridge, Lawrimore Project. Note that all of those spaces did experimental exhibitions, large scale installations, social practice projects, performance, et al. Also note that three of those spaces are now closed. So I knew that there had to be another gallery to replace those opportunities for experimental work and I had a good idea on how I would do it.

I moved to the Boston area in 2010 to be the Exhibitions Manager at Montserrat College of Art. It was the perfect job for me. But I also wanted to begin my own project, so I decided that I would moonlight with a gallery of my own. Within a few weeks of being on the east coast, I found a small warehouse at 17 Cox Court, Beverly MA and began renovating the space. With some help, I built out a gallery downstairs - called 17 Cox - and a library and residence upstairs. We began exhibiting local emerging artists, encouraging experimental exhibitions with no preference to commercial work (all commissions were on a sliding scale from 0 - 50%). 17 Cox slowly went on to exhibit hundreds of artists from around the country, collected 1400+ titles for its art library, hosted dozens of resident artists and scholars and received a lot of great local and regional press (including a hilarious NPR story).

We had a lot of success with Montserrat Galleries as well. The curator, Leonie Bradbury, was incredible at her job (I was referred to her by Kris Anderson, former Director of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, now the ED at the UMoCA). We had four different exhibition spaces at Montserrat and exhibited world-class work constantly. The most incredible time at Montserrat was hosting my art idols the Guerrilla Girls for a symposium and an exhibition in all four spaces. That was a life changing moment when I got to have a beer with the Guerrilla Girls without their masks!

From 2013 - 2014, I decided to step away from Montserrat to pursue my MBA. I continued directing 17 Cox with the co-director Elizabeth Woodward and in between school work I stepped fully into freelance, doing work with the deCordova, Wheelock College, Kingston Gallery, New Art Center, Boston Arts and Business Council, numerous art associations. My biggest client was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has a staggering amount of art and cultural programming; I worked with the MIT Museum, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in Art, Culture and Technology and many others at MIT. I finished my MBA in the summer of 2014, and I began using my skills to produce and manage large projects around Boston.

I collected mail wrongfully delivered to my address and let the audience open them up.
They found W2s, Christmas cards with photos, a check and bunch of credit card offers.
Are you currently working on something (gallery shows, projects, etc.)

My most recent endeavor is actually a return to the upper left US. I will be returning to Washington (along with Elizabeth Woodward) to manage Mighty Tieton, Tieton Mosaic and service and counsel other orgs in Washington. I began working with Tieton in 2010 shortly before I move to Boston and the experience was so heartwarming and fulfilling that I am enthusiastically working there again. Elizabeth and I will be contracting our services to these and other orgs as Services Invisible - an A-to-Z art services and project management company that I began in 2009 and will relaunch with Elizabeth as a full partner. She and I have other plans and projects for the future - we are only in Tieton until summer of 2017 - but we are holding our tongue on our exact plans.

Can you briefly tell us about your experience in the SoA + AH + D?

The UW School of Art was crucial to my career in many ways, but it absolutely comes down to the caliber and generosity of people that I met there. I think many schools tout their faculty-to-student ratios, department budgets, facilities and equipment, the CVs of the professors, scholarships, etc. These are all critical assets to the student, but they can't create a fire under a student and they can't give meaning or purpose to the student's practice. Sincere, personally involved staff and faculty are what make an art school successful. I've worked in three different schools at this point and the success of the students was most tethered to how involved and supportive the faculty and staff were towards them.

Of course I had a few courses or people that didn't do much for me at UW (this happens at every school) but it's not an excuse to dismiss the school as a whole. And it's certainly a bummer to see students become frustrated trying to please a professor, make work like "so-and-so", and moreover ignoring their own unique vision and process. I saw lots of frustration and self-rejection at art schools, which is sad because there is no learning without making mistakes to contrast your successes. I made a lot of mistakes at UW (I even broke some laws) and those mistakes are what made me aware of other possibilities.

The decision to be an IVA major was very influential. Instead of focusing on a medium, I was free to take whichever course felt important to my education at that time. I think that IVA is best for self-directed students who want to explore concepts rather than processes. And I personally don't recommend any art major (whether studio, design or art history) to someone who isn't self-directed. The most influential courses were the "Van-Gogh" course on Public Art - where we traveled with John Young in a pair of vans - and the independent studies I did with Timea Tihanyi and Kris Anderson.

I was a little older than most undergrads so I made a lot of friends with grad students in various departments at UW. Surrounding myself with people who were seeking advanced degrees challenged me to expect more from myself at an undergrad level. I recommend that every student set up a challenging but supportive network of friends, collaborators, and leaders to stretch their understanding and execution of their work. I also recommend meeting as many people and seeing as many things as possible while in school; it will make your transition out of school and into the working world that much smoother.