Spotlight Interview: Kathryn Gigler

Kathryn Gigler: Director of Education & Community Engagement, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Pittsburgh, PA

WFU Class of 2010

Double Major: Psychology & Religion

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Kathryn Gigler walks us through her path since graduation from WFU, the Pittsburgh creative scene, and quality advice picked up along her journey thus far.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Kathryn Gigler: I double majored in psychology and what’s now known as religious studies, and participated in the honors psychology program.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

KG: I went straight to graduate school at Northwestern University after graduating from Wake Forest, in pursuit of a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience, because I was really into the human brain. I started out with a focus on intervention work with older adults experiencing cognitive degenerative diseases, and ended up switching my focus to the more basic science around human memory systems.

At the same time, I realized I wanted to be doing more applied work in the world, and so I started volunteering in the field of anti-violence. I worked as a rape crisis counselor for the YWCA of Greater Chicago, and at Northwestern University as a member of their task force on sexual violence prevention and response.

It was then I discovered you could actually have a job in the field of social impact, and so I accepted the position of executive director of the Women’s Center at Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU in the UNC system. I loved the students and the work, but I still felt like something was missing. I decided to relocate to Pittsburgh, where my family is from, and I worked freelance gigs for a couple of years, serving as a consultant with HPW Associates and an advocate-educator with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

I had danced at the pre-professional level through high school, so when a position opened up at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, I was immediately interested. I had begun circling back to arts education via volunteer work in Pittsburgh, and was thrilled when I was offered the position of director of education and community engagement. I’ve been at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre since March 2019.

DL: What led to you decision to pursue a PhD, and how did you choose your particular program?

KG: When I graduated from Wake, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, other than that I wanted to have an impact and to make the world a better place. Looking back, I put pressure on myself to enroll in graduate school immediately after graduation. I googled “good programs in cognitive neuroscience” and found Northwestern University; as someone who had grown up on the east coast, I didn’t realize what a strong program it was during the application process! I ended up getting very lucky in Chicago and at Northwestern.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside references, other outlets)?

KG: My career has been almost entirely interest-driven. For example, I decided I liked the brain, so I went to graduate school; I became passionate about violence prevention, and I toggled over to the social justice arena. For me, it has also always been about thinking about how I want to make a difference.

I do think there are different ways of positioning yourself to do that. I chose to relocate to Pittsburgh because of family, and because it’s somewhere I have always loved, and so I’ve been happy to build a life here. So location has been a huge additional factor in my career path.

Of course, reaching out to people is always a really great approach. I’ve found that in general, people like to help the people coming up behind them. Once you're there, you will want to help other people as well.

DL: What led you to choose a career in community education?

KG: I knew I wanted to move into an arts organization as a next step. I wanted to return to that positive change-seeking environment and have an immediate impact. I liked that people were drawn to see performance art, and to look for social impact with that art, and I personally had experience with dance versus other visual art forms. In Pittsburgh, I got involved with a local company, Attack Theatre, and I loved the work they were doing. I got to know the dance world in Pittsburgh, and I could see myself fitting in long-term. I felt that I could use the skills I had from my research background, and I knew that I would enjoy the community engagement piece given my strong relationships with various community organizations. The interest level was there for me, and luckily my skill set made it a good match.

DL: What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in the space?

KG: Reaching out to anyone you know- or anyone you want to know- is a great place to start. In addition, lots of openings start out as volunteer opportunities, because many arts organizations are interested in hiring from within For this reason, I think it’s important to build relationships at specific organizations within the local arts scene. You want to be attending shows and talks and panel discussions. In addition, there are lots of great art-based meetups in most communities. These groups allow you to get your face out there and your profile known within the local scene.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

KG: I do believe that a lot of this comes down to the work students are willing to put in to get involved on campus and in the community, because as an environment, Wake encourages people to pursue so many different interests. As an example, I loved the performing arts in college, but would never have attended the Secrest Artists Series if I hadn’t had a friend running that program, because I had so much else going on in my life; it took that personal connection to get me in the door. The staff and faculty care so much about the programs that are being put on, and it’s that last piece- getting students in the door- that sometimes seems to be the biggest hurdle.

Personally, I would have loved it if someone could have better linked arts, social impact, and science for me. I do think that Wake is now taking a more intersectional approach to the arts and sciences, and hopefully that is helpful to students like me!

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Pittsburgh?

KG: The size of the city makes it a great place to be in the arts. It’s big enough that there are always all kinds of things going on, but small enough that there is a six degrees of separation mentality within the arts community. This feeling makes it easy to get involved, as you can go to one or two events and immediately feel connected to the larger community. I believe that this is true across artistic disciplines, and that this encourages collaboration and teamwork across institutions. For example, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre partners frequently with partners like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. There’s a lot of ecosystem building in Pittsburgh that makes it a very cool place to work in this sector.

DL: What is your favorite part about your job?

KG: I love relationship building, and I love working to make sure that the relationships I am building are based in trust. I love getting to know people and organizations, and cooperating to figure out what we each can do to improve each others’ experiences. Of course it’s fun being the one building monster puppets with kids at community festivals, but at the end of the day, it is for me about the larger social impact arts organizations are able to have, and that starts with one-on-one relationships.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

KG: I always say “try everything.” I wouldn't be where I was if I hadn’t done so at Wake, and I’ve been even luckier in my career path. I am a research nerd - I look everything up, and I deep dive into everything I’m interested in. As you can tell, I am passionate about a lot of different things! If you are interested in something, pursue it. The creative professions tend to be more vocational than typical 9-5 jobs, which can make careers difficult, but also so worth it. I believe that you know it when you feel it; follow your intuition as you make your way through your career path. Lots of good things are happening in the arts right now, and following your gut will help you find them.

DL:RP Series: Cartoonist Emma Hunsinger

Dig into another fantastic DL:RP edition today, featuring WFU ‘13 Emma Hunsinger. The cartoonist grew up dreaming of publishing her original work in the New Yorker… and made it happen years later! Enjoy this WFU Magazine feature by Cherin C. Poovey.


So You Want to be in the New Yorker?

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WFU Magazine, June 14 2018, Cherin C. Poovey

Photography credit: Perri Hoffman

In 2015 Robert Mankoff, longtime cartoon editor for The New Yorker, told TIME magazine there were seven simple steps to getting a cartoon in the savvy, sophisticated publication. They included getting a day job, having an unmistakable voice and looking at the world as if you were an alien. Above all, he said, cartoonists who aim to publish in The New Yorker should aspire to have a distinctive style. “It’s not the ink,” he said, “it’s the think.”

With his own pen and idiosyncratic approach, Mankoff, who retired last year, drew one of the magazine’s iconic cartoons: a businessman on the phone consulting his appointment book. “No, Thursday’s out,” reads the caption. “How about never — is never good for you?”

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In the life plan of artist Emma Hunsinger (’13), Mankoff’s “never” was no good at all. As early as grade school she knew she wanted to sell cartoons to The New Yorker and make a living off her work. In 2017, after years of drawing and redrawing, pitching and rejection, the self-proclaimed perpetual doodler’s perseverance paid off when her cartoon, “American Girl,” was published in the Nov. 27 issue. Drawn in Hunsinger’s characteristic linear style, the cartoon depicts a weaponized American Girl doll, dressed in frock and Mary Janes, being confronted by police officers reporting a “417K” — police code for “person with a knife.”

A knife-wielding doll being confronted by the law? Perhaps not everyone’s recipe for a spontaneous belly laugh, but the artist is fine with that. “With any given cartoon there will be a split on people who like it or get it versus people who think it’s silly or could be better,” Emma said. “It’s very subjective how funny it is. I guess I was just thinking about how everyone thinks dolls are really creepy.”

Image credit: Emma Hunsinger/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Image credit: Emma Hunsinger/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Emma came to Wake Forest from New Canaan, Connecticut, a free spirit whose fascination had always been cartoons. Her father, who is in the publishing business, regularly brought home magazines to show her examples. In middle school she pored over a book and CD collection of every New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s to the 2000s. “I read it cover to cover, and I loved them.”

She cartooned for her high school newspaper and arrived at college unsure whether to major in studio art. “I kind of waffled a bit because you could choose drawing, printmaking, photography, video … but there was no specific cartooning focus. I sold myself short thinking I wasn’t good enough to be a fine artist so I shouldn’t major in studio art,” she said. “By my sophomore year I wanted to get better at it. You don’t go to college to stay good at what you’re really good at, so I double-majored in studio art, with a focus on drawing, and in communication.”

After graduation Emma, who lives in Brooklyn, submitted her resume to Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, and she interviewed at Teen Vogue and Bon Appetit. She was hired by The New Yorker as a sales assistant who answered phones, managed emails and fetched coffee. “It was great because you have to be scrappy to be an assistant in New York,” she said.

The position paid off as she began meeting people on the editorial side and got a glimpse of what went on. She started submitting cartoon drafts, and one of her efforts — a flow chart titled “Can I Wear This T-shirt to Work?” was subsequently published online. “I read they get 500 or 1,000 submissions a week and they only buy 12-15 cartoons a week,” Emma said. “It’s an extremely competitive publication.”

In 2016, she left the sales assistant job and started work as a line cook, making pizzas to pay the bills while she devoted herself to her cartoons. “American Girl” was her second sale to The New Yorker and the first to be published in print.

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Emma’s dry wit, along with her intellectual curiosity and knack for constantly questioning, is perfectly suited for The New Yorker, said her Wake Forest mentor, Teaching Professor of Art Leigh Ann

Hallberg (P ’12). “I think in the ‘American Girl’ cartoon she is questioning the cultural assumption that the doll is, well, the epitome of niceness. She just goes, ‘Really?’”

Leigh Ann was Emma’s champion when it came to esteem and self-confidence, encouraging her not to take herself too seriously and to hang on to that sense of playfulness that everyone loved. At the same time, the teacher helped her student perfect drawing technique, question what she was doing and try other things. “She encouraged me to keep making art and keep making silly art,” Emma said. “It helped so much to learn about art history and how people have used art as communication.”

“Everyone loves Emma,” said Leigh Ann. “She’s just one of those people that when they pop into your head, you just smile.” Unlike most students, Emma took her class notes in pictures, not words. As a freshman, “she was beautiful and wild — not lost —never lost,” said her mentor. “She had all kinds of energy and enthusiasm but, like many students, was searching for direction. We just kind of instantaneously loved her; she was very talented.”

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Katie Wolf (’13), Emma’s friend and classmate who is assistant director of the University’s Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery, recalled a day when it was pouring rain and she noticed a drenched student, weighed down by a backpack, chugging across Davis Field. She drove closer and discovered it was Emma, then stopped to offer her a ride.

“We were talking about this series of drawings she did called ‘The Angsty Animal Teenager Series’ that I just loved,” said Katie. “The person with bird legs, the kid in the corner with eczema, the jackass guy … I saw it as her sort of poking fun at traditional bullying tactics.” The next day, Emma gave Katie the drawings and said, “Thank you for taking me home; I want you to have these.” “They are some of my favorite possessions,” Katie said.

While Emma spent much of her time in Scales Fine Arts Center, she worked at WAKE Radio and was a member of the Lilting Banshees comedy troupe, calling it the perfect mental gym in which to exercise her comedy muscles. She immersed herself in volunteer work, including Campus Kitchen every Friday.

The student humanitarian trips to Vietnam her junior and senior years broadened her world view and influenced her art. “Just to be exposed to what’s on the opposite side of the Earth was so powerful and gave me a sense of scale about how big I am and what matters,” Emma said. “It really made my brain bigger in a way that’s helpful to a cartoonist. If you want to be funny and smart you’ve got to know a lot and experience a lot. That was huge for me.”

Describing her work as delightful, innocuous and silly, Emma appears to have what editor Mankoff was looking for: a distinctive style and the think, not just the ink. “That’s the work I want to be making,” she said.

Still in her 20s and published in The New Yorker, Emma has already accomplished the cartoonist’s equivalent of pushing a piano through a transom. But don’t be surprised if there’s another piano on the drawing board. Never will never be good for her.

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DL:RP Series: Matt James (ft Tyler Cameron)

Hello, DeacLinkers! The DL:RP Series returns with a recent addition, Matt James and ABC Food Tours. The fantastic ex-football player has enjoyed a surge of support and activity in the charity program, most notably involving former Wake teammate and Bachelorette sensation Tyler Cameron on NYC tours. Congrats to both Wake athlete alums, we’re proud to share your story!


Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

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ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Spotlight Interview: Kim Korzen

Kim Korzen: Major Gifts & Planned Giving Coordinator at North Carolina Symphony

Raleigh, NC

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Sociology

Minor: Dance

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Kim Korzen shares on the journey to her present development role at Raleigh’s North Carolina Symphony. We learned about the robust performing arts scene in the Triangle, and pick up valuable tips for networking and post-grad life prep.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Kim Korzen: I majored in Sociology and minored in Dance. I also took classes in many other subjects to fulfill requirements, of course, and I took some Spanish courses and studied abroad in Chile.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

KK: I took my dream internship after graduation with the American Dance Festival in Durham, working in the Performances department, which primarily handled logistics for visiting artists. About a month after that concluded, I started working as the Engagement and Artistic Coordinator at Carolina Performing Arts, which is UNC Chapel Hill’s presenting organization. I was at CPA from September 2016 - December 2018. Now, as of January 2019, I am the Major Gifts and Planned Giving Coordinator at the North Carolina Symphony. I have been happy with how my career has unfolded so far!

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held?

KK: I think I noticed the ADF internships for the first time in the summer of 2015 when I was looking at their upcoming performances on their website. I couldn't apply for the internship at the time because I was studying abroad during part of the internship, but I made a note to apply for it the next summer. I saw the CPA job initially on Twitter - an organization called Triangle ArtWorks in the area tweets out jobs periodically. For the North Carolina Symphony, I found the job on Indeed.

DL: What made you want to go into development, and what advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the fundraising space?

KK: My position at Carolina Performing Arts involved helping with grants-funded projects, and I really enjoyed that aspect. It made me realize that I wanted to move into philanthropy. I love that fundraising involves many different types of work - like storytelling, data management, relationship building, and event planning. I like all the components, and I also like doing work that is so vital to organizations.

My biggest advice would be to not underestimate the value of the transferable skills you have. Though I did not have fundraising experience before beginning my current position, I had gained all the skills listed in the job description in other ways. The trick is being able to make those connections for your potential employer in your cover letter and interviews, and finding an employer that will understand your experience. I think my transition into philanthropy was made easier by staying in the arts, because my interviewers understood the work I had been doing. In addition, I sought out the advice of two former coworkers in philanthropy - my boss from ADF, who also broke into fundraising from working in the performances side of things, and the former grants manager at CPA who I’d worked with on multiple projects. They both were very helpful in speaking with me about their experience in philanthropy, highlighting for me how to discuss my transferable experience, and generally being encouraging. I also used them as my references, which was very helpful. So, I’d advise people to seek out mentors in the field, either in your colleagues or former colleagues, or through volunteering, who will be able to help prepare you as you apply for jobs, and also advocate for you.

DL: What is your favorite part about your job?

KK: I have been really touched by the deep connections that people have with the Symphony, and have enjoyed learning about longtime donors’ history with the organization from working in the philanthropy team. Because the Symphony was founded in 1932, many donors have grown up going to the Symphony, or remember seeing it as a student. One woman who is a donor mentioned in a note recently that her and her husband’s first date was to a North Carolina Symphony concert. I find those sorts of life-long connections really meaningful and motivating.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

KK: This might be a bit tangential, but honestly I think allowing students to live off campus more would be very helpful in preparing students for life after graduation. My scholarship came with the caveat that I could not live off campus at all, and of course all students had to live on campus for three years. I think that this leads to a bubble-like environment, which does hinder students from making more strides towards “adult” life.

DL: What attracted you to Raleigh, and what’s kept you there?

KK: I moved to Raleigh to be with my now fiance, who was finishing up his undergraduate degree at NC State. We’ve stayed because we’ve built a life here - we have great friends, are happy with our careers, and are regularly rock climb at the gym nearby. I’m also happy to stay because there are lots of fun things to do in the Triangle, between performances, restaurants, special events, parks, etc. I feel like I have plenty more exploring to do. In fact, I got a bike this past winter that I’m looking forward to taking further and further - and also commuting on regularly. I found a dance class I love too, which is key.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

KK: Take the time to find things you enjoy doing professionally and personally - and if somethings not working for you, cut it out, and start looking for new opportunities if needed. And just breathe - the less stressed you are, the better you’ll feel, and the better work you’ll do (in your profession, and in anything else you want to pursue.)

Spotlight Interview: Kelly Larson

Kelly Larson: Account Manager/ Marketing & Digital Strategy, af&co

San Francisco CA

WFU Class of 2012

Double Major: Studio Art & Communications

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Kelly Larson catches us up on life since her graduation in 2012. Working for hospitality consultancy af&co as digital marketing strategist, Larson charts the course from Winston, to NYC, to Cali, including tips on life in San Fran + invaluable networking advice.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Kelly Larson: I was a double major in Communications and Studio Art. I knew I wanted to go the advertising/marketing route after college, but was sort of making up my own creative path (vs. business marketing). I took any available classes in advertising/pr and marketing, as well as interning at Vela Communications my senior year. Some of my most formative classes were Communication Ethics with Dr. Michael Hyde and Management in the Visual Arts.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

KL: After graduation, I moved to New York City without a job. I found my first post-grad internship through a tweet from Ken Kraemer (Deep Focus CCO and now good friend) that MadDeacs had retweeted and was at Deep Focus for nearly 5 years. As an advertising Account Supervisor, it felt pretty cool to be doing the job I had set out to do in school, but as you’d expect, that vision changed (you can only work on potato chips for so long). I realized I needed a better connection to my personal passions: creating experiences for the food & booze obsessed. My next role was a Senior Digital Strategist at M Booth, a communications agency where I helped lead digital and social media strategy. My clients were spirits & alcohol accounts, which was my pivot into the food & beverage hospitality space.

DL: What led you to transition to af&co, and how’s the new role?

KL: More so, it was my journey to San Francisco lead me to af&co. I had hit my New York expiration date and wanted my next city to be more outdoors focused and have a better work:life balance – the California weather didn’t hurt either. Moving to a new city a second time without a job, I doubled down on meeting everyone in SF in the niche field of restaurants, hotels, and hospitality marketing. I was looking for a job that was also specifically digital and was introduced to af&co’s founder, Andrew Freeman, where he basically created that position during our first meeting. Restaurants can be pretty old school about PR & Marketing, so being smart digitally is where I could make an impact and knew I had to get them up to speed. I couldn’t be more excited that my new role, Account Manager, Marketing & Digital Strategy at af&co is a perfect fit and allows me to work with fellow food nerds and restaurant, brewery, and hotel clients.

DL: What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the industry?

KL: Rip off the bandaid. If you want a new job or to make a big change in your life, consider that the options that feels drastic might not be so crazy. Taking uncomfortable steps becomes easier after the first one and enables you to take charge of the change. That ‘big thing’ ultimately will happen because of your network. Keep in touch, grow your contacts, and don’t be afraid to use them – you have to ask for what you need to actually benefit from ‘who you know’. And also, always follow up with a thank you – it’s basic, but essential to close the loop and show that you really want the job.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside reference/rec, networking in person, WFU resources, other)?

KL: All of the above! The easiest transition into securing a new role has been through former coworkers at the new company. Otherwise, yes – you have ask people to introduce you and to meet with people in person – especially if you are new to a city. Consider that while they might not be the person that gets you the job, they might know the person that does. Also, never leave a lead open – the further you get in your career, the smaller the circle gets. Don’t let lack of effort or self-doubt make you miss the opportunity to follow through. I’ve made that mistake.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare you for life after graduation?

KL: While there is a lot you can learn in the classroom about how to do good work, having practical industry knowledge is so essential to even figure out what the job title is for the type of role you are interested in. I knew I wanted to be in advertising, but was I going to be a Project Manager? Account Coordinator? Associate Strategist? Community Manager? Should that be at a digital agency, traditional agency, media agency? Understanding the landscape, especially explained in real terms from recent grads would have helped a lot. Hearing from a CEO at a notable company is great, but that’s not the job I’m applying for right out of school.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

KL: Talk to people. Anyone that offers to connect you with someone – take it. Maybe their field doesn’t feel like it relates to what you think you want to do, but you may find out about a great fit for a type of job that you didn’t even know existed. Ask them to explain the landscape of the industry they are in to you – those are the constructs you can’t google, but really only understand by being part of it. You’ll learn more about what you might want to do (or not do) and how to get there, as well as made a new connection in the process.

Spotlight Interview: Rehana Abbas

Rehana Abbas: Director of Philanthropy, Oakland Museum of California

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Major: Art History

Minor: Anthropology

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Rehana Abbas was certain of one thing upon arrival at the Forest- she wanted to work in the arts. From graduation, she completed internships, PR roles, an MBA at Yale, and development jobs for museums. Now Director of Philanthropy for the Oakland Museum of California, Rehana speaks about her experience getting to this position, and drops major tips for those aspiring to roles like hers.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?

Rehana Abbas: I studied Art History with an Anthropology minor. I knew I wanted to work in the arts before I got to Wake. In high school, I took a trip to Italy, and I fell in love with museums and the way that art related the story and ethos of the time it was created in.

My first museum internship was at Reynolda House, and I loved it. When you’re in an academic environment, you don’t have exposure to all the roles within a museum like marketing, education, and development. My internship exposed me to the many varied roles that made a museum work.. After graduation, I worked in an art gallery for a few months. From that experience, I realized I loved the arts, but I didn’t love the art market. I realized I was interested in the in arts because of the educational aspects and how a museum bring people together, not the intricacies of the art market with pricing and creating demand for an artist’s work. When I realized this, I knew that a museum would be a better fit for me than a gallery.

With that realization, I did a public relations internship at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Going in, I really didn’t know what a PR professional did on a day to day basis, but I saw the internship as a way to get my foot in the door at a great museum. I ended up really enjoying PR. I really appreciate that most of us who graduate from Wake Forest develop very strong writing skills. That ability to craft a narrative is essential to PR, and it helped that I could write about something that I was passionate about. After that, I got a job in PR at the Peabody Essex Museum. At PEM, which to this day is one of my favorite museums on the planet, I realized that a lot of the people making big, bold decisions had an MBA. I had never really considered a business degree but as I started to understand the skills needed to be a leader in a museum--management and leadership skills, understanding of how to balance what is important to the art field and what will drive attendance, and understanding finance, I realized that an MBA would help me achieve my goals. So after 2 years at PEM, I began my MBA.

I got my MBA from Yale. They have a great nonprofit management program. All of the nonprofit executives at school said, “If you want to be a leader in an arts organization, you need to know how to fundraise. Even if it’s not what you want to do long term, get some fundraising experience.” With that in mind, after graduating I moved to San Francisco and started working at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco in development. It turns out that I really love being a museum fundraiser!.

I did briefly step out of the art world to fundraise for the UCSF Foundation. Fundraising for such a large hospital was like Development bootcamp, and it was a great experience, but . I missed the arts and wanted to go back to a museum. I found a job at SFMOMA. They were undergoing a huge expansion and campaign and I was part of the team that raised $665 million for SFMOMA during that time.. In 2017 I became the Director of Philanthropy at the Oakland Museum of California.

DL: Would you mind telling me more about this new role?

RA: In my new job, I am responsible for overseeing the team that manages fundraising from foundations, individuals and corporations. I also oversee membership and fundraising events.

The Oakland Museum of California is unique in that it is not only an art museum--we show the art, history, and natural sciences of California.his museum has a really bold and ambitious vision, and it is doing interesting work in terms of how museums can be a catalyst for social impact and really be meaningful to the communities we serve. It’s thinking about how museums can bring people together and create dialogue. Our country is more divided than ever, so creating safe public spaces for civic discourse is more important than ever. We have a bold vision that is pretty revolutionary for the museum field. Part of my job is to make sure we have the support to achieve this ambitious vision.

DL: What led you to get your MBA? How has that altered your career trajectory?

RA: There were two main reasons. One was that I was getting a little bit impatient. In museums, there is often not a lot of room for upward mobility unless you are in a very, very large museum, so you sometimes have to move out to move up. I saw a long path to get to a leadership role in a museum. Business school enabled me to jump a few rungs up the ladder more quickly.. And, as I mentioned, at the Peabody Essex Museum I saw that many of the innovators and collaborators all had MBAs. Those people were doing what I want to be doing.

DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had?

RA: Persistence! In the beginning, I didn’t have a strong network in the museum world, so I had to be very persistent.. When I was applying to my first PR job at the Peabody Essex Museum, I had applied online and didn’t hear back. But I felt strongly that the job was a great fit, and I knew that PR people will always open a FedEx envelope. So I FedExed my resume and cover letter directly to the PR manager, and from that, I got an interview, and ended up getting the job.

With SFMOMA, I reached out directly to the Director of Development to apply. He told me I wasn’t qualified, but I followed up with him when I noticed the role was still open a few months later. He gave me an interview, and I got the job. With in a few years I had received 2 major promotions. Because I was persistent, I got that interview and unparalleled career opportunities.

Networking is also very important. I found a great mentor at the Peabody Essex Museum, and he has been instrumental to my career. When I worked for him I had no idea that I would ever live in San Francisco, but it turns out that he was at SFMOMA earlier in his career. And, he worked for my current supervisor, the Executive Director at the Oakland Museum of California. Even though I haven’t worked for him in over 10 years, he’s still my strongest reference. I always make time to see him when I’m back on the east coast to maintain that relationship. Establishing a strong network and maintaining your professional reputation is so important as you continue on in your career.

DL: Development seems to be a very popular career path for art alums. What is the hardest part about breaking into this field?

RA: Development is a lot of fun because you get to work across all areas of the museum. The work my team and I do enables our colleagues to make brilliant ideas turn into realities, from access for underserved communities to exhibition development. All ideas need financial resources to become realities. I love that my role is to help bring those bold ideas to life.

DL: How do you like living in the Bay Area? How is the art scene out there changing?

RA: The art scene here is blowing up. Some very large galleries, like Gagosian and Pace, are opening locations here. We have the FOG art fair here in January.. With that fair, we have amazing dealers from around the country coming to town. When fairs are successful, satellite fairs pop up. Untitled San Francisco popped up in 2017. Those two fairs go on at the same time... plus two galleries opened last week as a part of San Francisco Art Week.

One big issue with the arts in San Francisco is that this city is so unaffordable. Artists and smaller galleries are being priced out. But the good thing is that there are newer organizations like the Minnesota Street Project. It’s a donor funded space that has more affordable space for galleries and art programming.

SFMOMA’s reopening last year was huge in the art world. The museum is an incredible contemporary and modern art museum. And all of these things have been happening in the last 12-18 months. San Francisco arts are having a moment. For museum employees, one challenge living here is that the city is so expensive and the pay doesn’t always make it possible to live here comfortably.

DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?

RA: At the highest level, running a museum is like a business. I wish I would have had a better understanding of that when I was at Wake, and of really understanding how a museum works. I wish that within the department requirements, there was something business related. For example, I think that it is so great at Wake that business majors have to take liberal arts classes--in hindsight I wish as a liberal arts major I was forced to take economics. In order to develop these skills at the level I wanted, I pursued my MBA and it was a very steep learning curve when I started my MBA program. My advice to art history students would be to take some econ or accounting classes as that knowledge will be very useful, no matter what career path you pursue.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

RA: I have a few things I would pass on as advice, and some I mentioned earlier. Build and maintain your professional network. Diversify your knowledge by taking classes that are practical and outside of your major, such as business classes. And for current students, if you can, study abroad. As an art history major,why learn from slides when you could learn by seeing art in person? I studied abroad in Florence through a UNC Chapel Hill program and loved every minute of it.Studying abroad is also one of the greatest things you can do for yourself from a personal development perspective.

Spotlight Interview: Megan O’Sullivan

Megan O’Sullivan: Engagement Editor, Lonny Magazine

San Francisco, CA

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Business Administration with Arts Marketing Concentration

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Megan O’Sullivan shares the experiences beyond Wake Forest that led to her current position as the Engagement Editor at Lonny Magazine. The 2015 arts marketing alumni shares the importance of understanding personal strengths and pursuing goals with persistence.

DeacLink: What did you study while at Wake?

Megan O’Sullivan: I studied business, specifically arts marketing. I took this incredible class at Wake that combined business and studio art. As part of the course, we went on a trip to New York over spring break to make gallery and show visits. That class really sparked everything for me.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

MO: I started the Executive Development Program at Neiman Marcus after graduating. I always thought I wanted to be working in the retail industry, and the program was awesome because it exposed me to so many different corners of the business. At Neimans I learned what an amazing leader is like — a few are still my mentors today. After a year there, I wanted to learn more about how retail was evolving and changing, so I took a job at Everlane and moved to San Francisco.

Everlane was also an awesome experience, and moving to S.F. is one of the best choices I ever made. At Everlane, I was working in operations and supply chain analytics. It was great to learn about the production side of retail and understand how it touches every part of the business; however, I knew that I would need to flex both my creative and business muscles in my career, and as a supply chain analyst, there is little room for creativity. As a side project, I was interviewing artists in San Francisco and publishing these interviews on a website I created called The Context. While doing this, I couldn’t help but ask myself, why am I not doing this thing that feels much more natural to me?

That led to my career transition into the editorial world. I took a job at Lonny as an Associate Editor, and knew I was in the right place immediately. I really loved (and still love) the team, I love the job every day, and really enjoy getting to cover design and art. Now, as an Engagement Editor at Lonny, I’m managing audience development and social media. I’ve learned so much about the design world, the editorial world, how to manage a brand, and more.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside reference/rec, networking in person, WFU resources, other)?

MO: Networking is so underrated, and strong persistence in following up is even more underrated. Every job I’ve ever had came from finding people on LinkedIn, finding their emails through weird email search engines, cold emailing, following up with people when they don’t answer. Fun fact: I applied to Everlane 3 times before landing a job there. I wrote very persistent emails and tracked people down before I was hired. It works!

DL: What made you want to go into the magazine industry, and what advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the industry?

MO: I love storytelling, creating content, and great writing. I get joy out of reading great articles that capture a concept or thought or feeling so accurately, so I really enjoy being part of that world. I guess my advice would be: ask yourself why you want to be in the industry, and what exactly you love writing or reading about. Then, find the editors who work in those spaces, and ask if you can freelance (you can do this while you’re a student!). Editorial internships are great too.

I ultimately decided to move away from writing and into social strategy on the marketing team, because there is a part of my brain that really loves being analytical and strategic. So I think it’s important to think about what your natural skills and tendencies are, and what position makes the most sense for you!

DL: What is your favorite part about your job?

MO: Learning about the design world is my most favorite part of my job. To be completely frank, I didn’t know a lot about design before working at Lonny. I love the subject matter and meeting new people within the space, too.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MO: I wish Wake pushed me to think more about my natural skills and tendencies when planning my career. I knew that business school was right for me, but I felt bad about myself when finance and accounting didn’t feel natural to me. What I’ve since learned is — that’s okay! We all have things we are good at, and things we are not so good at. When thinking about your career, lean into the things you are good at.

DL: What attracted you to San Francisco, and how’s it compared to your time in Dallas?

MO: San Francisco is incredibly progressive, in every sense of the word. I feel very stimulated in San Francisco and surrounded by forward-thinking people, both in terms of business and culture. That is all really important to me! Dallas is where I grew up, but personally, I feel much more connected to the mindset here in California.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

MO:

  1. Never run from a job, run TO a job.

  2. Think about what job excites you and stimulates you to your core. Some might say that is a very privileged way of thinking, but I truly believe that if we are aligning our careers with our personal values and skills, we are much more likely to be successful (and happy and mentally well!).

Spotlight Interview: Michael Hoag

Michael Hoag: Madden NFL Producer, EA (Electronic Arts)

Orlando, Florida

WFU Class of 2011

Major: Communications

Double Minor: Journalism & Entrepreneurship

Michael Hoag’s job is the best of both worlds (in our humble opinion) - his Producer role at EA merges sports and video games. That’s mainly with the Madden NFL franchise, to be exact! Continue to learn how Hoag went from no experience in his field, to an impact player at EA.

Michael Hoag’s job is the best of both worlds (in our humble opinion) - his Producer role at EA merges sports and video games. That’s mainly with the Madden NFL franchise, to be exact! Continue to learn how Hoag went from no experience in his field, to an impact player at EA.

DeacLink: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

Michael Hoag: My path to my current role was quite unusual. I started out trying to play in the NFL, had a few opportunities to show my stuff for NFL teams, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out. From there, my network at Wake Forest really kicked in. Stan Cotten and Dave Goren were kind enough to offer me a part-time gig calling Wake Football games on IMG Radio. I jumped right into the mix and thought, “Hey, I’m on my way to a career in sports broadcasting. This is cool.”

Turns out my Wake network had other plans. While making ends meet waiting tables back home in Knoxville, TN, I received an email from the student athlete services department making me aware of an EA Sports NCAA Fellowship opportunity. It was a fully paid opportunity to go make video games for the NCAA Football franchise. I knew nothing about video games, but I definitely played them...so I applied. Interestingly enough, my time as a sideline reporter piqued their interest and they selected me for the fellowship program. I was off to Orlando.

Fast forward six years and a whole lot of self teaching, learning, and help along the way, you will find me still making video games. I’m a producer on our Madden NFL franchise and I’m incredibly blessed to work for such an incredibly company that took a chance on a 23-year-old kid with no video game background.

DL: What led you to pursue a Masters at UT, and how did you select that program in particular?

MH: After three and a half years as a video game designer on the Madden Franchise I started to get the itch for a some career change. I wasn’t ready to leave video games or the tech sector, but I wanted to get a little closer to the business side of our product. Understanding more about what goes into making a game and driving revenue.

Some internet searching (and ignoring advice to get a traditional MBA) lead me to the Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization (MSTC) program at UT, Austin. This program was the perfect fit for me. Plenty of business coursework (accounting, finance, marketing) mixed with a healthy dose of entrepreneurship and startup training. While I’m not working in a startup, the program offered great insight into building a business from the ground up and identifying successful habits and practices to not only build a business, but sustain and grow one.

DL: How did you balance working and going back to school?

MH: Lack of sleep. Luckily, I had a great support staff cheering me on. My wife (also a Deac) was my number one supporter and my management and work fully supported the initiative. I traveled to Austin once/month and attended virtually for the other class sessions. Many late nights and early mornings, but it was totally worth it!

DL: Your role sits at the intersection of entertainment and technology, and sounds like many people’s dream job. What advice do you have for readers interested in pursuing a similar path, or for breaking into the industry more broadly?

MH: Pursue avenues that allow you to be close to your field of interest. For me, I was lucky to get into video games, and the industry has a firm hold on the advancement of technology. So I get to experience cutting edge technology, but I am constantly exploring what other companies are doing (inside the games industry & outside of it). Keeping an ear to the ground with the latest in your passion sector is critical to getting an opportunity and making a lasting impression on the people you meet. You never know when the next opportunity might come knocking.

The last bit of advice is this; Don’t be afraid that you’re unqualified because you didn’t get a degree in a certain field. If you’re passionate about something and are willing to learn you can do just about anything. It’s all about getting an opportunity to jump in. I think you’ll find that your lack of traditional knowledge can be a burst of outside the box thinking that people need in their organization.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, networking, WFU resources, other)?

MH: As mentioned above, I was alerted to the position from Student Athlete Services. The relationship I build with the folks in that department became the link to finding my job. Relationships can be so critical to finding success in the business world.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare you for life after graduation?

MH: For me, the biggest opportunity that I missed out on was having an internship. Football prevented me from doing that at the same scale as my classmates, and sometimes I wonder if that was a detriment, but I’ll never know. The University did a really nice job of preparing me for life after sports in my opinion.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

MH: Create meaningful relationships and work to maintain them. I’ve been blessed to meet many great folks along my path through Wake Forest and while it might have seemed insignificant at the time, making the effort to spend time with folks and treat them with respect has certainly helped me.

It starts there, but keeping in touch and returning the favor where applicable is something that is invaluable in business and in life.

DL:RP Series: Marc Blucas

The DL:RP Series continues with another inspiring alumni account, written by WFU Magazine’s Carol L. Hanner.

Marc Blucas (WFU ‘94) came to WFU on a baskteball scholarship, earned a business degree, then banked left for Hollywood. Slam dunk.

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

‘I have to know if I can make it’ - Marc Blucas ('94) took the long shot from sports to Hollywood, and he nailed it

by Carol L. Hanner, posted 3/19/19

On paper, Marc Blucas says, he never should have made it to where he is now.

Blucas (’94) was a small-town boy from Butler, Pennsylvania, who played basketball on scholarship for Wake Forest, graduated with a business degree and played abroad, but he soon set his course toward law school. He also had a partnership with NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Sr. to start a company advising professional athletes on contracts, endorsements and financial planning, with the help of Bern Beatty (P ’88), now a professor emeritus of business.

Then Blucas got a phone call from John Justus, who was the University’s sports information director. A filmmaker needed a basketball player for “Eddie,” a 1996 movie that was shooting in Charlotte with Whoopie Goldberg (and a cameo by a guy named Donald Trump). “I went down and auditioned for this movie, and I got it. And then the cliché happened. I caught the bug.”

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Blucas gave up law school, even though he had never acted. He gave up flying to races in Earnhardt’s private jet to work with him on the business plan. He gave up the world of sports that had been his passion since childhood. “On paper, I’m the dumbest person on the planet,” Blucas says, laughing. “I had everything you could want at that time coming out of college teed up for me, and I chose something where I had no experience, no relationships, where I knew no one.”

But it worked. He has a successful acting career. He plays the romantic interest of star Robin Tunney in a TV legal drama called “The Fix,” which premieres tonight on ABC. When we talked, he was in Connecticut, working until 4 a.m. every night in the bitter February cold for a Christmas special for Hallmark Movies, where he has had multiple starring roles. He has acted in numerous movies alongside such stars as Mel Gibson and Katie Holmes and in many TV shows, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” where he played Riley Finn.

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Blucas lived for about 14 years in Los Angeles but moved seven years ago to a 15-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife, Ryan Haddon Blucas. She is a former producer who recently turned years of volunteer counseling into a practice as a hypnotherapist and life coach. They live with their two daughters, 4 and 7, and Ryan’s two teens from an earlier marriage. Blucas gets his workouts through chores and renovating their 300-year-old farmhouse, which he much prefers to slaving in the gym in L.A.

He says he loved Los Angeles after the first difficult year. “From 25 to 35, it was a great place to be. I was single. It’s the heartbeat of the industry I was in, and I needed to learn it and make the relationships.”

But after five years, an exit strategy already was bubbling in the back of his mind. “It’s Groundhog Day in L.A. … It’s 70 and perfect all the time. But you can’t really mark time. There’s no cycle of life and death. The leaves don’t fall off the trees. After a while, you blink, and five years go by, and you don’t even know it because the trees don’t grow.”

Tax credits and technology dramatically changed the industry, he says. “It used to be just Harrison Ford could leave town and live somewhere else.” But Blucas says in his last six years in Los Angeles, he filmed there only one day because his locations were spread out across the globe, from Atlanta to Capetown, South Africa.

He met Ryan in L.A., and she, too, was ready to move to the East Coast to be near family. Today, they have a rule — no more than two weeks apart, even if it means Blucas flies home for just a day. “My family’s always going to be more important to me than my career, and right now my kids are at an age where they want to be around me.” He even negotiated to appear in fewer episodes of “The Fix” to ensure that he had time off to go home.

Blucas knows his pursuit of acting seemed crazy when he started. He had tried for small theater roles at Wake Forest, but the sports arena always trumped the stage. “We’re playing Duke, and I’m ‘Hey, (theater) guys, I can’t make it. I got to go get my (butt) kicked by Grant Hill tonight.’”

Acting psyched him up in the same way basketball did. “It’s just an energy and the excitement of having the pressure to perform certain things,” he says. Live sports events change spectators’ emotions, and so does storytelling. “You want to enter a theater and leave it changed, somehow.”

Both were big challenges. Acting is “one of the hardest businesses in the world to break into,” Blucas says. “It was almost the same decision that I had coming to college. … I wasn’t the Rodney Rogers (’94) and Randolph Childress (’95, P ’20) where you know you’re going to be a star. My choice to come to Wake Forest was, ‘Look, I know I’m going there to be a role player at best, but I have to know if I can make it.’”

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie.  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie. - Source, WFU Magazine original post

He pushed through the steep learning curve in acting. “I went from being sports and math and science to suddenly literature and stories and characters, and I wanted to succeed.” He treated his acting coaches like his basketball coaches, urging them to tell him if he didn’t have “the quality, whatever IT is.”

He got a call from a casting director who flew him from his hometown to Los Angeles for his first big audition, for “Jerry Maguire,” the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise. Blucas didn’t get that part, but he got enough encouragement to keep his focus, dedication and work ethic revved up.

If acting ever becomes tiresome, he’ll stop. He approaches it just as he did basketball workouts. “If I didn’t like getting up at 5 in the morning for two-a-days and going through all that stuff for practice, I would have quit it. It still has to be fun.”

He has other skills he can employ. He says Wake Forest prepared him through its commitment to a liberal arts education, exposure to diversity and a concern for “turning out good human beings.”

“I always felt that sense of community at Wake. I had a very specific platform for that on the basketball side, and I had another one in the fraternity world (Sigma Phi Epsilon) because I wanted to make sure I had a ‘normal’ college experience other than just locker room friends.”

He loved the small classes and professors who were never condescending to him. He learned “the best way to solve a problem or to have success is through communication and surrounding yourself with the right people, and all those things I feel like were so cemented at Wake for me.”

He hopes his kids will find the same inspiration. “Wake athletics does a really cute thing, and when a former player has a kid … you get a national letter of intent,” Blucas says. “They think it’s a joke, but I’m holding them to it.”

Spotlight Interview: Matt James

Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

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ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Spotlight Interview: Heather Sullivan

Heather Sullivan, TV Production Associate

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Communications (Media Studies Concentration)

Minor: Film, Theater & Psychology

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Heather Sullivan walks us through the opportunities, experiences, and decisions that led her to work as a TV production associate in Atlanta! The 2016 Wake grad shares her insights on networking and finding the path to your passion.

DeacLink: What did you study while at Wake?

Heather Sullivan: I majored in Communications, with a concentration in media studies, and I minored in film, theater, and psychology. I’m a 2016 Grad.

DL: How did you pick that trio of minors?

HS: I always knew I was interested in film and theater. Those were kind of the obvious. And then I took a psych elective and was obsessed with everything about it. I was like, I want to take as many of these classes as possible, so I'm just going to minor.

DL: How have you been applying for these fields? Do you mind walking me through how your career has unfolded since you graduated?

HS: So I knew I was interested in working in the creative producing side of things, so a lot of my focus and theater was more directing. I acted, but I was more focused on directing and creative world building. And film at Wake - it's a lot of criticism. So you're looking at things from the content side and less about like anything specifically technical. I didn't know how to get a job in TV without any contacts, but I knew there was work in Atlanta, so I basically moved here, took a restaurant job and just applied to any job that I could find online until I got hired.

This is how I ended up doing what I'm doing right now, which is for this company that produces two TV shows: Couples Court with the Cutlers and Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, so it’s conflict TV. This is not what I fully expected, but it's a 10 month contract every year, which is so rare in TV and that kind of industry. It’s steady work, and I'm learning a ton. It's kind of amazing.

But when I first graduated, I worked at Wake for a year, and I worked for IPLACe, which is an interdisciplinary performing arts center. I did that for a year before I moved to Atlanta.

DL: Is that within Wake Forest?

HS: Yes, it sits within Wake. A theater director is the Director of it, and Christina Soriano is actually on the board. It was like a fellow position, but it is not as intense as a fellow position. There was a lot more freedom there.

DL: So what exactly are you doing for your TV shows?

HS: So I'm a production associate, so I'm part of a team that is booking the guests and producing them for the show. So a lot of my day to day role involves a lot of coordinating skills. So like booking travel, budgeting, talking to guests, prepping them for the show. I learned a lot of these coordinating skills when I worked at iplace for that year. And then on top of that I am talking to people, screening their stories, collecting their stories and getting them together as a possibility to be produced on the show. And then once they get here I am following them around and getting them ready to be on TV. I’m walking them through anything they need to do, including all the tests. I’m taking them to the lie detector tests and scheduling their DNA tests and different studies, stuff like that. It’s all of the prep work that goes in before the show and then day of show coordination. It's really cool as far as TV goes, because I'm doing both pre-coordinating and day-of show planning, which aren't two things that you get to typically do in the same role.

Conflict TV and talk show TV are very similar because those are things that are being produced - you're producing a lot of content. Pre-show coordination is a lot more technical and it's a lot of physical coordinating versus creative producing. So on top of doing that and learning a lot of the pre-production type stuff, I'm also learning day-of producing, which has more of the creative producing of preparing people for the actual show. That means being there, leading them along, and getting them ready for what to expect. So a lot of times like you'll have two different people in those jobs.

DL: What do you see yourself doing next?

HS: It’s interesting talking about working in reality TV because I think a lot of people see it as kind of shallow. I don't think that people will recognize a lot of the creativity that goes into it. I think this comes a little bit from my psychology minor, but I love working with real people, getting them to trust me and making them feel comfortable enough to share their personal life basically to a national audience. And so that is a lot of what a creative producer does in reality TV is it's basically befriending somebody and making them trust you enough to be their authentic selves. So that what I love about it. I'm a people person. I've always loved doing that and I get to create these relationships with people in order to create interesting TV out of real stuff and real stories. It's both challenging and super fulfilling because it's all based on your ability to connect with somebody else.

So goals for me include... I'm a Bachelor superfan and my executive producer actually used to work on The Bachelor. I would love to work in that kind of environment. With competitive or dating shows, you get several months with the same cast.  I would love to creatively produce on that. I want to be the person behind the camera talking to the person on camera. It’s pretty different than the kind of show I'm on right now where the relationship I'm building is going to last for two weeks, and they're only physically here for two days. With a show like The Bachelor for two months you're the only person these people are talking to. They don't have cell phones, but that is amazing. I love that kind of environment. It's a little bit messed up. I feel a little manipulative when I talk about it, but I just really enjoy it.

DL: How did you land your current role?

HS: Essentially a lot of online applications. I literally got my friend a job like a month after doing this job. The easiest way to get into TV in particular is networking and having a connection and basically talking to anybody looking for available PA work. But I kind of skipped that step. A lot of people start out as day players, where you're getting hired for a day or a week on a shoot that just needs people to carry equipment around or do a craft table or stuff like that. I just was really uninterested in that. I knew that was the first step that most people were doing, but I also heard from a lot of people that it's not necessarily a clear path forward. There's no ladder in TV. It’s not like “first you're a PA, and then they'll hire you as an associate producer and then they’ll hire you as this.” Instead you get a job, you hope people like you, and then you hope that you get the opportunity to improve. You can do whatever you want to do.

So I was trying to apply to stuff above my level a lot of the time. This job is a production associate, so it's still a lower level like a PA, but it's more of that creative intensity that I was looking for. I ended up applying online. I got to the interview and a lot of what I was doing for IPLACe as an Administrative Coordinator was similar to this kind of work. I focused on that in the interview and I got hired.

DL: Tell me a bit more too about your time with IPLACe.

HS: IPLACe is a center that I worked with a lot as an undergrad. I would act as a mock client for the graduate counseling students, which was really fun cause I was involving my psych and theater degree at the same time. IPLACe paid us to do this for these students, and the students got to work with life-like clients. It was great for both of us, and we were getting paid acting experience. So that was a project I was really involved with on top of a couple of my own projects. Then when I was close to graduating, the Director approached me about working as a coordinator. As the coordinator, I was pretty much the sole employee of the center other than a student assistant. So I was responsible for doing the budget. I was doing guests travel and accommodations, event planning, event coordinating, all that kind of stuff. But it was basically whatever the center needed, I had to do. And that's a lot of what working in TV is like, especially like lower level positions. It’s a lot of doing whatever your boss asks, and if you don’t know how, figure it out.

DL: How have you liked working and living in Atlanta?

HS: I love Atlanta. For years in college I was thinking “I’m going to live in New York, live that life. I'm going to try to act or maybe I'll work in PR. It’ll be great.”  And then I went on some career treks through the OPCD and I realized it might not be that feasible for me to live in New York. I didn’t have money my parents weren’t backing in any way. I had very few connections, and it's expensive. So I did some regrouping, and that's why I ended up in Winston for another year. I kind of didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I really got interested in working specifically in production, and trying to get similar level jobs there, which I couldn't do in North Carolina. But Atlanta had a ton of film and TV stuff going on. The industry was booming and it was a five hour drive from home. It was still warm, and in the south.

I had a friend who was moving at the same time, and she asked me to come to Atlanta with her. I thought it sounded great, and it’s been the best of both worlds. You get all of the big city aspects of diversity and accessibility, and there's tons of things to do, there's different sorts of people here, but then you also have southern weather and southern hospitality. I walk around New York and everyone’s frowning, whereas in Atlanta everyone's smiling, and it just feels like a happier place to live. There's more green and access to nature, and it's drivable. I mean people say that traffic is bad, but you just learn how to deal with it.  Location, as far as an apartment goes, is the number one thing in Atlanta.

From a film perspective, there may be slightly less work than LA, but there's more of a need here because not as many people are based here. You're coming to a slightly smaller market, but it's not an oversaturated market at this point. They are still building crew. That's one of the reasons I actually got hired at my job. They were sick of bringing people in from LA and New York. They were looking for local talent.

DL: So what advice do you have for students thinking about coming to Atlanta?

HS: I think my biggest advice would be to connect with people. Alums are great, but reach out to anybody. Even if they're not in the industry you're interested in, if they're living in Atlanta, they likely know somebody they can introduce you to. I think many people see someone working in marketing, and don’t want to reach out, but half the time the people in marketing are also working with TV and film people. There are those connections in places you don't expect.

The other thing is that if you have a passion for a field, just keep applying to it. There comes this kind of burnout from rejection, and especially in a field like like film and television, but really any kind of artistic field. But you never know when somebody is going to give you a chance, but they can’t give it to you unless you are constantly putting yourself out there.

DL: So what do you think Wake and/or Wake Arts could have done to better prepare you and other students for life after graduation?

HS: I think an awareness of what jobs are available to you with a liberal arts degree would have been helpful. There's not a lot of technical training at Wake, so this is just my specific field, but you're coming out with a very applicable set of skills, but a set of skills that people are not directly asking for in their job postings. So learning how to present those skills in a way, and finding your niche in a market, that would be really important.
For instance, I don't know everything there is to know about editing or post work, which is a lot of the technical stuff that goes into film. I don't know a lot of the terms I'm supposed to know when I'm on set because we didn't have those classes. It was a liberal arts film education. So when I came  here, I didn’t know those things, but what I do know is that I can problem solve anything, and it's because of my education. The question is how do you translate that? And just just because I don't know this now, doesn’t mean I won’t learn it by the end of the week. So it's really emphasizing that just because you don't have the skills posted doesn't mean that you don't have the ability to do the job.

You also need to realize that it's not going to be a set path. There’s no one entry level job that you can do to start your career.

DL: So what would you say is the best bit of advice on any topic you could give to readers?

HS: The biggest thing is to say “yes” to as many situations as possible. So if there is a random networking event, go do it. If someone from Wake hits you up about getting coffee, once again, they're not in your field, go and talk to them because you never know how these connections are going to play out in the long run.






Spotlight Interview: Natalie Michaels

Natalie Michaels, Performance Artist

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Majors: Vocal Performance and Theater Arts

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Natalie Michaels catches us up since her graduation in 2015. The Performance artist describes her experiences at Wake, in the New York theater scene, and throughout everything in between.

DeacLink: Please walk me through your path after graduation.

Natalie Michaels: My second semester senior year I ended up doing the SETC conference, which I had done a couple of years before trying to find professional work for once I graduated, and I didn't. I had a couple auditions, a couple of callbacks, but I didn't really find anything. So what I ended up doing was applying to another program, and at that point I didn't see myself going to more school. I felt like I had graduated with my double major and was done, but I ended up applying to a different program through the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. It's called the National Theater Institute. They have a semester long program, and a lot of colleges offer it as kind of semester abroad during school. But what I ended up doing was the Fall after I graduated I attended for a semester as kind of a postgrad study. I got college credit through Connecticut College, but since I had already graduated I didn't really need it. It was just kind of more credit, but not really towards any degree specifically. I called it a fake grad school.

So I did for a semester, and graduated from that program in December of 2015. And then for awhile lived at home, I live in Connecticut, and I was auditioning a bunch and doing that New York grind. I was commuting from Connecticut into the city. I would go back and forth, go to auditions, and then I worked at a restaurant as a hostess.

And then one audition in April I sent a video submission to a resort in West Virginia to be a cabaret singer. At that point in time, and even still today, you kinda just submit for everything and hope it works out. This job was kind of one of those where I just submitted and like hoped to hear back from them. And I did. And they said we love your voice. We’d love to hire you for a cabaret, which they called Spring House Entertainers. So you do cabaret shows and you do waltzes in this big resort, The Greenbrier, in West Virginia. So that was the beginning of May. They said we'd love to hire you, we'd love to interview you, talk to you about the job. Can you come here in a week.

So within a week, I decided I'm picking up my life and I'm going to West Virginia. I was working there and that was a six days a week performer gig. You did cabaret shows all of the time and dances. I started in May of 2016 and then I finished my contract in January of 2017, so I was there for eight months, which is long for a performer contract. I really loved it. It was great to be able to settle somewhere for a little bit. And then after January I decided it's time. I'd saved a lot of money. I was going to move to New York. So I went from home to West Virginia, and then I moved to New York in March of 2017. So I lived here for about six months, again doing auditions. I did a few small festival and plays and things like that, cabaret performances in the city.

And then actually one of my friends who I'd worked with in West Virginia said, “Hey, we need somebody last minute. A soprano dropped out of our group really quickly. Can you come and do Christmas season?” So I lived in the city for about six or seven months, and was working the grind and doing the auditions thing, and doing a few things here and there if I got them. And then I ended up back in West Virginia for two months from November of 2017 to January of 2018. It was nice to go back to because I had already know the job, and a lot of the people were still the same, and it was nice to leave the hectic city for a little bit, especially at Christmas time.

So I went back and then came back again. I had somebody sublet my room. I came back to my apartment in the city in January and then in February I auditioned for this show. It was your typical “Oh, I'm going to go audition for this thing, we'll see what happens.” But I actually booked it. I'm working off Broadway at St. Luke's Theater right now. So that show, it's called It Came from Beyond. We started rehearsals in the beginning of March, and we opened in April, and we're still running. So that’s where I am now.

The show that I'm doing right now only performs once a week. So I'm still working full time and performing. You have to find that balance of how much work, how much to not, how much to audition, how much to take classes, things like that. It’s hard. Given that I was born and raised here, it was the logical choice after school to just landing here and see what happens.


DL: How did your time at Wake inform your career path?

NM: When I came to Wake, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I knew exactly what I wanted to major in. I knew exactly the plan I wanted to take. Initially I was looking for a musical theater degree, like a BFA, which a lot of people in musical theater gravitate towards. And then when I accepted to Wake, I realized it's a BA program. I decided to major in theater and major in music so I could make up my own musical theater degree.

Wake fully prepared me to pursue a career in theater and acting and music and all of that. I took all of the classes that I knew I would need - acting classes and vocal lessons and things like that.  I really appreciated how much Wake not only trained me as a performer but also trained as a theater person. For the people who go to conservatories, that's all they do. With Wake, they train you how to be a performer, but they also want you to know every other aspect there is. You take design classes and history classes. I took D&P, scene design, stage makeup, and all of these things. So you learn exactly how a theater works. And I think that was the most valuable thing because I stepped out of my little performer bubble that I had put myself in and became a well rounded theater. Wake definitely helped me do that. So now when helping out with a festival or a recital, I don't only look at it from the performer's, point of view, but I look at it from the theatrical production standpoint. So I can say ”the lights here are weird,” or you know, “maybe you should try this staging differently.” And while I'm not the greatest director, at least I know how see something in a different way than just standing on stage and singing.

As far as Music at Wake, it was such a helpful training tool to get out of my head as far as solely musical theater. Like I said, I had a straight path. Nothing was gonna stop me. But the music degree is mostly classical music, which is great and I love it, but it made me open my head to something other than musical theater. So I studied a full classical repertoire all my four years and ended up doing a full honors voice recital, with all classical music. It opened me up to the world of Opera, which is definitely something I've done since and wish I could get more into because it is still theater. I also noticed how much my voice changed too from ages 18 to 21. It  developed in a way that I didn't think it could.

DL: What could Wake have done to have better prepared students for life after graduation?

NM: I think they do a lot to prepare students for the outside world. That’s Wake’s nature, so the theater department just does that as well. The senior seminar was hugely helpful. I remember in that class and we'd have people come in and talk to us about different theater companies, different Grad schools, different cities.

I think they could help student find more performance jobs or tech jobs. I think it would be great if there were ways to incorporate musical theater into Wake’s curriculum. I think a lot of people in both music and theater like musicians. And I wish they would do more than one musical every other year, but that's just me.

DL: So what is your favorite part about working in the city?

NM: I’ve always been in love with the city. It's a catch 22. It causes a lot of stress, but it causes a lot of fun of not knowing what's next. You know what I mean? I've kind of lived the last few years not knowing where I'm going to be next, but knowing it'll be fun to find out. So I think that's my favorite part.

The theater scene in New York is no other. It's just fun to be a part of it, and fun to meet so many different performers. You can throw a rock in the city and find somebody who sings, or dances, or acts, or designs, or whatever. I think finding that community and meeting people who after the same goals, is great. It's hard because there's a lot of competition in the city, but it’s also important to set aside that competition and realize we're all after the same goal. It’s best to be a community that can come together to make a piece of theater, all go to this audition together, or all get drinks after a horrible audition. It’s nice to have such a large community that understands what you're going through.

DL: What’s your favorite part about acting?

NM: I used to say that my favorite part of acting was rehearsal process.  I loved just playing around. You have a script or you have an idea, and you just play around with what it could be. That was my favorite part of acting - just being able to see what works and see what does it and watch, watch something come together. And I think for me it's still kind of that.

But for now, I've been in the same show for a couple of months and playing the same part. I'm doing an understudy for one of the leads, so I get to kind of step into that role once or twice. But playing, the same part in the same show for a long time is actually kind of fun because you know exactly what you're doing, you know the process you have to go through. But once you've done it for a while, you can start mixing things up. You can start saying, “Oh I don't want my character to think about that right now. What if she thought about this instead and that drove the scene? So now, my favorite part of acting is just the play of it. The not knowing where you're going to land, but figuring it out. Being able to think about a character and think about what they would do and what they want, but also realizing, oh, that was a horrible choice, I'm going to try something else. It’s not just settling with one option.

DL: So what’s next for you?

NM: The show that I'm doing right now just was extended to the end of September, so I'll probably be there at least till after that. Other than that, I’ll be living in the city for a little bit longer. Probably more auditions, more day jobs. Just the grind until that right audition comes along. You never know what's next, but you hope it’s good.

DL: What advice do you have for theater students?

NM: Fight your hardest for what you want. People at Wake would say “You can’t do that double major,” and would tell me I’m crazy for taking 21 hours every semester. If you know that you have a passion in the arts, go after it. Don’t let anybody say that will be too hard or that it’s impossible. Do it because you want to, and in the end, something good will come out of it.  

Spotlight Interview: Nicole Hillman

Nicole Hillman: Entrepreneur & Events Manager, Minneapolis Institute of Art

Minneapolis, MN

WFU Class of 2013

Major: Communications

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Nicole HIllman catches us up since her graduation in 2013. The entrepreneur and events manager enlightens us on both fields she covers, life in Minneapolis, and much more!

DeacLink: Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job.

Nicole Hillman: I knew from the moment I was done with school that I either wanted to take the entrepreneurial route or get into events. I reached out to a few event planners, and I met with managers of venues and followed people around. There are a lot of planners in this world, but that doesn't make you a good one. To start out, I worked for a party rental company (think linens and chairs). My goal was to do all of the installs. I was going to every venue in the city and seeing corporate events and weddings. I got to see all of the different types of layouts and meet all of the venue managers in the city. Then at the rental company, I started to work with planners- there I met Sara Trotter, who is the best in the state. I asked if she needed an assistant, and thankfully there was an opening so I was able to work for her. I made it my goal to be the best of the best. I quickly got bumped to lead coordinator, and five years later I partnered with her. So I do that, and she transformed my role, and eventually told me to start my own wedding planning company.

I started my own company, Nikki Hill Weddings and Events. That led me now to open an even larger marketing, branding, and production company called We are Active. We do everything from weddings and events to production stuff. We handle a lot of different restaurants and small companies’ Instagrams, making their videos and taking their photos. I started working with one of the biggest venues in Minnesota called Aria, which has been one of the top fifteen venues in the US the last five years. The Director of Aria actually brought me along with her when she took a job at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). I was brought into a role here to introduce larger scale events to the museum. Previously, they didn't do corporate events and did not allow weddings. It’s been my job to take it past the Director, Kaywin Feldman’s, donor tours and luncheons. I've trained in a team to do weddings, which are unbelievably beautiful, and I am helping them throw bigger and better galas, which helps them raise more money. It’s been great to have them trust me with that responsibility. It’s been a wild and crazy but fun ride.

About three years ago before I started, I had never been to the museum. Most people don’t know it is one of the top eight most visited museums in the US. It's incredibly beautiful. We have a new exhibit opening next week that is supposed to bring in a quarter million people. As a whole, we want to make the community and city more aware of the incredible building we have.

DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

NH: Honestly the biggest part of what really shaped me at Wake was the career classes that I took. My professor did an incredible job teaching me to check my personality and be a better salesman in interviews. They had intensive interviewing courses, you were required to reach out to alumni in the network to do informational interviews. I had chosen more New York corporate people to chat with, and it helped me think about what I wanted to be doing.

DL: What brought you to Minneapolis?

NH: I actually am from Minneapolis, and I never thought I would return after Wake. I always dreamed of living in New York, but my family is here. Once I got into the wedding industry here, I realized I could hone into a different type of clientele. I have also fallen in love with the museum, and there’s so much to be done here and don't see myself leaving anytime soon. Just recently, we met with the Metropolitan Museum, and we are working with them to get a sense of their best practices for events, how they do their beverages programs, things like that. It’s so cool that we can turn to them as a partner!

DL: What advice do you have for students looking to work in events?

NH: Coming from Wake, the education you get there, it’s beyond anything else, and you are prepared to take on whatever. Students coming out of Wake should not be afraid to take a leap of faith. Starting your own event company is very different than a traditional business. You are talking to different people every day, no two events are the same, budgets and clients are completely different. My schedule is pretty packed. I have meetings with clients from 7am-9am, I am at the museum from 9am-5pm, and then 5pm-11pm I’m with clients again, then I’m sending emails until 1am, so it’s a lot. As long as you do well under stress, you can do anything. No matter how much you plan, events will always change, someone will change their mind, and something won’t go right. You just have to be flexible.

DL: What tips and suggestions do you have for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

NH: Don't be afraid to network and reach out to a lot of people. Each person in the event world has different ways to do things, different styles or visions. So be patient in the process, and know where your focus is. You have to meet with a lot of people, work with a lot of partners to figure out where you fit in. I am one of the only event planners in Minnesota that brings a very traditional design sense into my weddings and events. Minneapolis is very up-and-coming, modern and hip, and I am more of a traditionalist in terms of my floral and decor. You meet a lot of people and they will see things and envision rooms and flowers very differently than you. That’s okay, you just need to find your own style. Don't give up and make sure you meet a lot of people. Unlike investment banking, where the only change is the client, you need to position yourself to have the right clientele, and long term that will make things much more enjoyable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

NH: I would have loved to have had more accredited courses on entrepreneurship. Starting a business is so different than going into the corporate world. There are lots of things I wish I could have learned about before just jumping in. I have done lots of studies on my own to figure out how to do this successfully, but it doesn't always go that way. Ninety percent of business fail, so it would have been helpful to have had have more experience prior to graduating.

More generally, it would have been great to have had more classes in the arts just so I could have more of a basis in terms of what we are doing here. The work we do is so cool and really has a community focus. Admission is free for the community, and we really do focus on giving back and getting them to know more about the art and dive into different cultures.

DL: What is your favorite part about working for MIA? Any perks or cool experiences from the job?

NH: It has been eye opening and inspirational to learn about the different arts we have at the museum. It has really opened up the creative side of me, even when it comes to events. I also have one of the most incredible bosses in the world. She is so inspirational and motivational. She is a shark at sales, and that’s her expertise, and then I am there to support her and make those visions come to life. It is really fun.

DL:RP Series: Melissa McGhie Proctor

Introducing the DL:RP Series

There’s some amazing alumni out there, and we don’t want you to miss a single story about their moves. DL:RP, the DeacLink Repost blog series brings you the top tales from around WFU’s vast and brilliant commmunity.

We’re leading off with Zsakual Arrington’s feature on Melissa McGhie Proctor (WFU’02) for WFU Business School’s ‘Newsroom’ page - enjoy!


From ball girl to CMO, Wake Forest alumna shares her career journey to the Atlanta Hawks

by Zsakual Arrington, posted 3/25/18

Authenticity, persistence, and perseverance. These were the guiding themes Atlanta Hawks CMO Melissa McGhie Proctor (’02) shared during a workshop she hosted at Wake Forest University School of Business on Tuesday, March 28. Proctor shared her career journey, beginning with her determination to become the first ball girl for the Miami Heat professional basketball team. Along the way she earned her communications degree from Wake Forest University and worked at Turner Broadcasting for more than a decade before becoming Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. Growing up as an artist in high school in Miami, Proctor wasn’t very familiar with basketball but fell in love with the NBA after her cousin introduced her to the sport. The introduction launched a dream Proctor described as “wanting to become the first female coach in the NBA despite never having played basketball.”

In pursuit of this goal, Proctor wrote many letters to the Miami Heat seeking an opportunity to work with the team. “Eventually my persistence paid off,” Proctor said. When the Heat called her back, it was for an undefined position because, at the time, the team had only ball boys and wasn’t sure how to incorporate Proctor. Because of this, Proctor admits that she was slightly discouraged, but on her first day she learned so much and has been in love with basketball ever since. Ultimately, she became the Heat’s first ball girl, which the team renamed “team attendant.”

Proctor credits this opportunity to her ongoing persistence and finding ways to market her authentic self to the organization creatively. Her creativity stood out, and she served as an intern with the Miami Heat for six years up until she graduated from Wake Forest in 2002.

After graduation, Proctor began her professional career with Turner Broadcasting Systems in Atlanta, Georgia. Her first year in Atlanta, she also worked part-time as a ball girl with the Atlanta Hawks. During her time with Turner, Proctor served a variety of positions and built her brand along the way, earning many professional achievements and accolades.

A decade at Turner earned Proctor a solid reputation and invaluable connections and relationships, and there came a time when she was chosen to lead a health and wellness startup within the organization. When the company went in a different direction, Proctor and the entire business unit were laid off. She shared with the students in the audience that this time was a difficult period in her life, but Proctor persevered because she believes everything happens for a reason.

While unemployed, Proctor remained involved in the marketing industry and continued to network. During an event, she encountered a former colleague who had recently left Turner and for the Atlanta Hawks. One conversation led to another, and she was invited to consult with the Atlanta Hawks. Proctor consulted for a few months and was ultimately brought on as VP of Brand Strategy. Proctor said she relishes the irony of the situation because she knows she was in the right place at the right time.

To the students in attendance Proctor offered this advice:

  • Be your authentic self, find ways to market yourself, and stand out.

  • Be persistent, prove why you belong in the organization.

  • Persevere through tough times and stand tall. Everything happens for a reason.

“It was truly humbling to hear Ms. Proctor share the journey that led to her position as the Atlanta Hawks CMO,” said Elton Jonuzaj (MA ’18). “She is a perfect example of being authentically yourself and still proving to others the quality of your work. I believe this comes from her starting from the bottom which gave her the experience to understand what it means to be a great leader holistically.”

Mellisa McGhie Proctor WFU ‘02  Photo credit: https://medium.com/@msmelissammm

Mellisa McGhie Proctor WFU ‘02

Photo credit: https://medium.com/@msmelissammm

Spotlight Interview: Maggie Niehaus

Maggie Niehaus: MBA Candidate, Emory University

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2012

Major: English

Minor: Journalism

Maggie Niehaus left Wake Forest in 2012 and began a career with PR giant Edelman in her native city of Atlanta. Taking advantage of the onset of media’s digital era, Niehaus became a key player in the movement for the Atlanta practice. Currently pursuing an MBA from Emory University, Maggie caught us up on everything since graduation.

Maggie Niehaus left Wake Forest in 2012 and began a career with PR giant Edelman in her native city of Atlanta. Taking advantage of the onset of media’s digital era, Niehaus became a key player in the movement for the Atlanta practice. Currently pursuing an MBA from Emory University, Maggie caught us up on everything since graduation.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Maggie Niehaus: I was an English major and a Journalism minor. After I decided to be an English major, my Dad, who’s an investment banker and very logical, said “that’s a subject, but that’s not a job.” So Journalism was the job-version of my English major. As an English major, I knew I’d be well-read, but unless you want to be an academic or go into creative writing, that isn’t a job. I was taking literature courses and things that were a little bit fluffy, and it was very hard to translate that to a career, and that’s where Journalism came in. It was taking what I was reading and how I was learning to write, and turning them into practice skills. My original post-grad game plan was to work at a magazine. I wanted to do something with my degree, but more on the editorial side rather than something like investigative or hard journalism.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your most recent job?

MN: Magazines, as great as they are and as good for the soul as they are, are not necessarily the industry that you want to be in right now. Print isn’t what it used to be. Quite frankly they weren’t hiring when I graduated, and not interested in making their staffs bigger. Instead, magazines were looking for content from freelance writers, and without a lot of people on the payroll. I also didn't really want to live in New York, which was limiting. That kind of got me into the PR world.

I remember sitting in a journalism class, and the professor was joking that PR was the field for journalists that don't want to do journalism. To real, hard-core journalists, PR has a negative connotation. That’s not the case for me, because I never tried it as a real journalist, and the skills really do translate.


After graduation, I ended up at Edelman. I had a PR internship in consumer branding, where I was pitching media and writing press releases. From there my career went rogue. I really built my career at Edelman by following the firm’s growth and seeing where the company was going. I saw the company was moving in a more digitally-focused direction, so I began to make my pivot. While Edelman is a PR company through and through, I wanted to be one of the first people to get their foot in the door into the newly-emerging digital practice. I thought that this could potentially help me accelerate my career, and that is exactly what happened.

I went from interning on the PR side to working full time in the digital practice. It wasn’t a direct translation of my skills, but my career was very much more about the people I knew and getting people in my corner. I was doing good work, whatever that may have been, so when I went up for jobs on other teams, those people could vouch for me. That’s how I built my career at Edelman. A big part of it was getting in earlier in the digital practice, which then evolved into me building out a paid media team in the Atlanta office. When I joined, a lot of what I was doing was digital advertising, which was globally run, and wasn’t specific to an office. We were a pod of resources any global office could use. That led to me having great experience off the bat working with our office in the Middle East and Europe, which I would have never worked with otherwise. However, later they decided to build out a media team in each of their offices, and because I was located in Atlanta, I helped to start that team here. I was that team’s first hire in Atlanta, and I was just a year into my job. I took it and ran with it. In early days of media team in Atlanta, there were 3-4 of us, and this past May when I left, there were 12-14 members. Our unit quadrupled because the company saw value in bringing digital into everything they did. This allowed us to scale the team to the size of the clients we had.

My first clients were so small you never heard of them, but by the time I left, it was companies like Olive Garden and SeaWorld. My path was less about any formal training, and consisted of me identifying opportunities and knowing that I can learn quickly.  My theory was that I could figure it out last time, so I could figure it out this time, too.

DL: What led you to pursue an MBA? And how did you pick Emory?

MN: What prompted the search is that I had worked at the agency for five years. I was in this place where I was on track to be a lifer at Edelman, which is fine, but if I was going to leave and go client-side, it should be now. I had lots of friends go get their MBAs, and I never thought it was for me until I was thinking about what kind of jobs I would want if I were to leave Edelman and go client-side. Getting an MBA started to make sense. I was thinking about pivoting from the skills I had in terms of PR, communications, advertising, and analytics. I have done bits and pieces here and there, but if I wanted to do real big brand marketing, it required me to get an MBA. Also, part of that was I had never taken a business class. I did English and Journalism, which are great, but I couldn't go run someone’s P&L statement without being taught how to. You can get your MBA at any time, but it can be a seamless way to jumpstart a career pivot. My MBA is a way for me to explore other options that I don't know existed, but also to build my playbook of things I can bring to the table. In terms of picking Emory... I started by taking the GMAT.  I wanted to see if I could even do this. Before I started looking at schools and doing applications, I wanted to get a sense of what schools were feasible. And then, I knew I wanted to be in a city. I didn’t want to go to a business school in a college town, because I am from Atlanta and have spent my adult life here, and I wasn’t looking to suddenly be back in a college town. I also wanted to be somewhere business school is only one aspect of my life. I wanted to be able to have stuff outside of school. So with that in mind, I only looked at business schools that I could get into in major cities. Truthfully there weren’t a ton which fit for me. A lot of schools in my range were in places I didn’t want to live, so I applied to NYU and Emory, and got into both. I was thinking about finances and the kind of places I would want to live post-MBA and places I would live during school, and from there I picked Emory.

DL: PR is such an interesting career path. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the industry?

MN: Read the news. That sounds silly, but learn about the stuff that people are interested in reading and thus writing about. That will help you tailor your communication skills. To translate the soft skills I learned at Wake, reading the newspaper is the endgame for PR. What kinds of stories are companies and brands telling, and how are they telling them? Also follow companies on Instagram and see who’s doing something interesting. I listen to trade advertising podcasts, like Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad by AdWeek, which dissects the most interesting commercials. In the end, it is about the stories brands tell. I think an English major translates well to PR because it's about reading, writing and telling stories, just different kinds of stories.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MN: I think Wake could just help students realize that there are more careers out there than they seem to indicate. Business school is the same way. They talk about consulting and finance, but it doesn’t have to just be those two. At a place like Wake, lots of smart people go into consulting, finance, law, or medicine, but those are the paths the school talks about the most. There isn’t as much of a focus on the other things you could do. So maybe it’s finding people who have interesting stories and paths, and having those people share them. It’s making sure there is a broader representation of companies that come to school or panelists that speak on campus. I think it's a bit of vicious cycle; I didn’t engage closely with career services while at Wake which was on me… but there’s also no dedicated program keeping up with us after graduation so the connection can be hard to make after the fact.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Atlanta?

MN: I think what I like the most is that Atlanta has the third-most Fortune 1000 companies in the country. It is a major hub and economic target, but you don't have to have the big city chaos that is New York. It is the best of both worlds. You can have big city feel or go to a suburb. I am from here, so I am really biased. I am a city person, and even Winston-Salem was too small for me… but if I am going to live in a big city, why not live in the big city I already am from? I felt like Atlanta has everything any other city could offer me, plus the bonus of being home. And the cost of living also really helps!

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?


MN: Think outside the box. There are a lot of jobs that exist that you don't know about. Don't just follow your friends or family. Think about all of the possibilities out there, because something will be a perfect fit, so just be creative in your search process.

Spotlight Interview: Devon Gilbert

Devon Gilbert: Associate, David Zwirner

New York City

WFU Class of 2017

Double Major: Art History & Business and Enterprise Management with a Concentration in Arts Markets

Minor: Studio Art

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Devon Gilbert took part in WFU programs such as Management in the Arts and the SUAAC ‘Art Buying Trip’ before graduating in 2017. He also took advantage of internships at SECCA, Cristin Tierney Gallery and Christie’s during undergrad. The Winston-Salem native walked us through his path to NYC, including some great networking tips.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? Did your areas of study inform or drive your career path?

Devon Gilbert: I was an Art History and BEM double major with with a concentration in Art Markets and a minor in Studio Art. In my sophomore year, I took the Management in the Visual Arts, a class that was co-taught by faculty in the School of business and the Art Department. Part of the course was a study tour to New York and it was there that I met the director of Finance at David Zwirner, James Morrill, a Wake alum and a co-owner of a gallery in the Lower East Side. When I was looking for job senior year, Leigh Ann Hallberg helped me reconnect with James. The timing worked out perfectly as the finance team at Zwirner was expanding and they were looking for a new member at a junior level. They needed someone with some accounting and finance knowledge who was interested in the business side of art, so that ended up being a perfect fit for me.

One thing that was particularly important, in terms of learning about career paths in the art work and making connections, was networking. The Management in the Visual Arts class was more focused on the breadth of the art market, including all the facets of art industry in NY and I was able to learn about careers I’d never even been aware of. The art buying trip also allowed for good opportunities to connect and build rapport with people in the gallery industry that were not necessarily connected to Wake Forest.

DL: Those sound like amazing opportunities. So, how did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held that led up to your position at David Zwirner? Do you have any tips or suggestions for Wake students on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs especially in the art world?

DG: The Summer before I came to Wake, I was an intern with the Registrar & Exhibitions Manager at SECCA. I grew up in Winston-Salem and had met the Registrar previously, so this connection helped, but this internship gave me my first taste of working in the arts.

The next Summer I interned at the Mint Museum in Charlotte with the Advancement department, working with clients and donors. And I had an internship at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Since I wanted to work my way up to an internship at the Smithsonian, the Met, or MoMA before graduation, I was looking for internships that would help prepare me. I worked 2 days a week at the Mint, dealing with affiliate groups, members programs, and working to analyze data about memberships. I was at Reynolda House the other 3 days a week, with the education department. There I was learning about the house and the art, as well as giving tours. I also completed a research project and presentation on work selected from collection and analyzing it in context of piece of literature and music from same year.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years, I interned with Cristin Tierney at her gallery in NY. I met Cristin during the Arts Management trip, but I was initially introduced to her through Allison Perkins, the Director of Reynolda House. When I was applying for that internship, she knew me and knew that I was interested in working in the arts, so my previous interactions with her definitely helped me.

My last internship was at Christie’s in the 20-21st Century Decorative Art and Design group and the sale and photographs department. When I applied, I didn’t really know any alumni at Christie’s, but Cristin did help me by making a few introductions with her contacts from her time at Christie’s.

In terms of tips for interviewing, I would say recommend that you always try to be authentic and let your genuine interest show. I think when we are preparing for an interview or deciding how to talk about ourselves, it’s easy for things to feel too rehearsed. As for networking, just go for it. In my experience, Wake alums are always interested in helping out students and fellow alums and I’ve always had great conversations with them. LinkedIn is really useful as well, for seeing what people are up to and for making that first connection.

DL: Thank you for walking us through all those amazing internships! While looking back on these internships, is there anything you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

DG: The Business School requires an internship between Junior and Senior year which I think is a great thing. It would be great for the university to encourage that for everyone because it really does help you figure out what you want to do and it makes you more marketable for other internships or jobs down the road. There’s really no downside to having additional internships. Career services at Wake does the best they can with art/art history students and is still improving in this arena. Right now, art students have to make things happen for themselves which isn’t easy, but it is beneficial for the people who come out of it. But that’s part of the reason DeacLink exists, so arts alumni can help current students or recent grads.

DL: In New York, what is the most interesting thing going on in the art scene there at the moment, in your opinion?

DG: Working at Zwirner and being so plugged into the art world has given me access to an immense amount of art. New York really is the centerpiece of the global art world, so there are dozens of great shows happening at any given time. Especially if you like post-war and contemporary art, I think there really is no better place. There was a show at Pace a couple of months ago of Louise Nevelson sculptures. I am a huge fan of her work and Wake has one of her pieces in it’s collection. The Met Breuer had a phenomenal show of Edvard Munch paintings, which really displayed the breadth in his work. I also got to see Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at Christie’s before the auction. Overall, I feel like I’ve been able to take advantage of all these amazing opportunities and I’ve gotten to see some really incredible works of art.

DL: Wow, that sounds incredible! Do you have a favorite part about working for Zwirner?

DG: There was a Richard Serra show opening earlier this year, and he (Serra) took the entire staff on a walk-through of the show. We got to talk about all the work including the sculptures and prints. Overall, it was such a rare opportunity where I was able to hear the artist talk about his work in person. I also really loved seeing the 25th anniversary show for Zwirner. I really got to see the history of the gallery and a lot of great work from all of our artists. It was amazing to see the arc of the gallery and our artists since its creation.

DL: What’s next for you?

DG: I was recently promoted to a new role within department, so I’m working on that transition. Right now I’m focused on my work at Zwirner.

DL: Do you have any advice you would like to give to the readers?

DG: Aside from internships and general networking, I would recommend getting to know your fellow students at Wake. I am still in contact with some of the Seniors from when I was a Freshman. I followed their example and they have helped me make a lot of connections. Other than that, just take advantage of all the opportunities you can at Wake!

Spotlight Interview: Lucy Zimmerman

Lucy Zimmerman: Assistant Curator

Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

WFU Class of 2009

Major: Art History

Minor: Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise

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Lucy Zimmerman is currently the Assistant Curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University. Read on to see how Lucy’s senior thesis jumpstarted her museum career.

DeacLink: Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job.

Lucy Zimmerman: It was a bit of serendipity, in a way. I’m from Cleveland, graduating in 2009 it was pretty rough time to be out in the world looking for a job and had planned to move home. Jay Curley (my thesis advisor) knew Jon Seydl (then the Vignos Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500-1800 at the Cleveland Museum of Art). Some of my coursework overlapped with an exhibition Jon was organizing, so Jay suggested we meet.  I interned for Jon for the summer, then was hired as a curatorial research assistant. 

The exhibition I worked on with Jon was about Pompeii and the modern imagination, considering how Pompeii has served as a shifting mirror for contemporary ideas about decadence, apocalypse, and resurrection. I did research on all of the modern and contemporary works in the show (Warhol, Rothko, Allan McCollum, Tacita Dean, Lucy McKenzie, among others) for about a year—research trips to the Warhol and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art were some highlights. 

I went to the MA program in the Humanities at University of Chicago in the fall of 2010; which was a fast and rigorous yearlong program. After that year, I came back to the CMA and wrote entries for the exhibition catalogue, as well as authoring didactics. I gave gallery talks and tours, produced and cleared rights for reels of film clips, and worked on an audio guide. It was a great learning experience to see many facets of the show come together, and Jon was an incredible and empowering mentor. 

 After that I worked in the modern art department in Cleveland for about a year, and I worked on special exhibitions primarily and some acquisitions research. Both of my jobs at the CMA weren’t full-time to be totally transparent, so I was cobbling things together on the side. I worked as a private chef for a family for a little bit, and then a full-time job opened up at the Wexner Center for the Arts where I was hired as a Curatorial Assistant in the fall of 2014, and recently was promoted to Assistant Curator of Exhibitions. This was a natural next step for me, as it was more aligned with my goal of working with contemporary art and living artists.  

DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path? 

LZ: The two most formative experiences for me at Wake were both in my last year there: being selected to be part of the student union art acquisition committee and writing my honors thesis. It was such a unique experience to go to New York and interface with galleries, talk with contemporary artists, and purchase art that felt relevant to put in the collection to mark our time. Additionally, I wrote an honors thesis senior year, which was challenging, but it satisfied my passion for research. Both of those experiences opened many doors for me, and the honors thesis was a valuable experience in utilizing the student to teacher ratio and thinking with more nuance about my ideas through conversations with Professor Curley.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside reference, networking etc)? Please share tips and suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs.

LZ: My experience was unique, I guess had the right coursework and proved myself with my research skills and by being resourceful. I would recommend looking at art as much as possible, going to talks, events, and visiting museums when you travel; this way you will be ready when opportunities present themselves to have an informed opinion about what you like and don’t like and why. Keep at it. Museums jobs are highly competitive, and there is a super qualified applicant pool; if this is the career path someone wants to take, it requires persistence. 

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

LZ: Part of me wants to say it’s not what Wake could have done better but what I could have done better; in terms of being more proactive and engaging in the art on and off campus. Wake can be a bubble, so students should be thinking about using local and regional resources to see art in North Carolina whether it’s at SECCA or Reynolda House, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke, Ackland Art Museum at UNC, etc. 

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Columbus? What is the most interesting thing going on in the art scene there at the moment, in your opinion?

LZ: I used to be apologetic about living in Ohio and not in New York, but Ohio is a quick jaunt to New York or Chicago; so, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m missing out on being in the center of art world. I like that Columbus has a slower pace, it allows me to have some headspace, though there is still a decent number of things happening. There’s a pretty active DIY culture, art collectives, and galleries run by artists that are bringing in young names. Being connected to the university is exciting because you have all these resources and the energy of the campus and students. 

DL: What is your favorite part about working for the Wexner Center for the Arts?

LZ: The Wex is a nimble institution by virtue of not having a permanent collection and has a reputation for being a laboratory for contemporary art. The artist residency program is amazing and has defined this place since the center opened, almost 30 years ago. This annual award supports the creation of new work and encourages artists to try something complicated or new. Everyone here jumps at the opportunity to nurture and support unique and challenging work and ideas, and it has been such a joy working with great artists.

I have been fortunate in the last year to work with an array of terrific artists: Anita Witek, Ruth Root, Stanya Kahn, Mickalene Thomas. Kahn is an artist I advocated for acquiring on the buying trip at Wake, so it was such an honor bring her to Columbus and speak with her on a stage about her most recent video. 

DL: What and where is next for you?

LZ: I am working through exhibition proposals now and some ideas for the future while continuing to work in collaboration with the senior curator and the curator-at-large on supporting and providing input on their shows.

DL: Do you have a kernel of advice you'd like to impart to the readers?

LZ: There’s a lot going on outside of NY/LA—it’s certainly more affordable when you’re starting out—so don’t be afraid to consider options between the coasts.

Other than that, I guess always be looking, reading, and thinking. The field of contemporary art is so vast that it can feel unknowable, so to get anywhere you have to be active. I read ArtForum, reviews in the NYT and LA Times, Texte zur Kunst, Mousse, and listen to Modern Art Notes podcasts.

Special Feature: Reflections

Reflections on 2018 by Caitlin Berry

Gallery Director, Washington DC

Hemphill Fine Arts

WFU Class of 2009

Next up in our special ‘Reflections’ series is gallery director Caitlin Berry. This heartfelt recap on 2018 is both inspiring and encouraging. Read on and enjoy!

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2018 has been quite a year. Personally and professionally, I’ve been busier and more fulfilled than ever. I kicked off the year by marrying my best friend and ended it with an inspiring trip to Miami for Art Basel and its satellite fairs. The market itself inflated to epic proportions with the auction of a seminal David Hockney painting that sold for a price approaching $100 million dollars while middle market galleries across the world closed at an astonishing rate. We’ve seen the work of women artists and artists of color come to the fore commercially and curatorially. It feels as though we have arrived at a watershed moment in the art world and I hope that we take a turn for the more supportive and inclusive. No one’s ever accused me of being a pessimist!

In October, I hosted the Wake Forest DC area alumni group, inclusive of Wake Washington’s crop of students from the Art History department, shepherded by Dr. Bernadine Barnes, at Hemphill Fine Arts. Exhibiting artist Renée Stout spoke to the group about her exhibition “When 6 is 9: Visions of a Parallel Universe” which takes viewers on a journey through her world of voodoo and hoodoo, laden with references to African and Caribbean spirituality, music, and the tumultuous political environment in which we find ourselves today.

At year’s end, I joined the board of Greater Reston Art Center, run by the indefatigable Lily Siegel. It is a jewel of an institution in Reston, VA. Their robust programming and cutting edge exhibitions are due in no small part to Lily’s vision and breadth of depth of art historical expertise. I’m excited to see what is on the horizon for this small but mighty organization.

Perhaps more than anything this year, I’ve been struck by the strength of the women in my life from artists to colleagues to friends to family members. Magnifying this sentiment has been my commitment to ArtTable, as co-chair of the Washington, DC Chapter, alongside design dynamo Ruth Abrahams. As a former New Yorker, I was a bit adrift when I landed in DC 5 years ago. Joining ArtTable instantly connected me to the broad network of women arts leaders here in DC and now I consider many of those women my close friends. Particularly now, it is absolutely essential that women bring each other up as they advance professionally and grant access to women from a diverse range of backgrounds. We have everything to gain from each other. The art world is notorious for vaulting men to positions of power at the top of institutions and galleries while women hold the majority of positions in supporting roles beneath them. ArtTable is working tirelessly to provide support and access to women leaders to change this dynamic. I hope to see what people are calling “the year of the woman” turn into the first of many.

-Caitlin

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Special Feature: Reflections

Reflections on 2018 by Laurel McLaughlin

PhD Candidate and Curator, Bryn Mawr College

WFU Class of 2013

Our ‘Reflections’ series continues with the brilliant Laurel McLaughlin sharing her thoughts on 2018, contributing an aptly titled feature called ‘2018 in Hindsight: Timescales of Relationality’. Enjoy!

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2018 in Hindsight: Timescales of Relationality

by Laurel McLaughlin

In this contemporary world so focused on the present, how do we look at our past—especially considering milestones and project-based work which seems to compartmentalize academic time—and the future, wherein goals attempt to overpower all else? As a PhD candidate at Bryn Mawr College, it’s something I’ve been considering after a mammoth year of doctoral exams, symposia, two major exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), two retrospectives at PAFA and Bryn Mawr College, and the development of a programming series. I’ll share two experiences from this past year, which have proven to challenge this conception of “production” between the past, present, and future.

This past fall, I had the pleasure of working on Tania El Khoury’s residency: ear-whispered, her exhibition: Camp Pause, and a related programming series at Bryn Mawr College. El Khoury’s practice relays the experiences of subjects caught in political upheaval. Her “live art” performances and installations tell the stories of refugees, migrants, and political activists in the Middle East, particularly in the regions of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. Alongside Bryn Mawr College’s Curator for Art & Artifacts, Carrie Robbins, I developed a series of programs throughout the fall semester that activated the themes in El Khoury’s work, including migration, diaspora, memory, and trauma, with scholars, curators, and artists from interdisciplinary fields, such as anthropology, archaeology, art history, performance, poetry, political science, and urban studies. The extension of the programming throughout the Fall semester enabled a meditative engagement with El Khoury’s practice that related to my Masters work at The Courtauld with Sarah Wilson, my current dissertation with Homay King at Bryn Mawr, and an upcoming presentation at the College Art Association with Carrie Robbins for a panel investigating migration in contemporary art. Drawing these past, present, and future endeavors together caused me to consider the types of knowledge that both moved and challenged me. Rather than acquiring or mastering such knowledge, the experiential seemed to function within a type of relational structure, as I learned with the subjects in the works, the artists, and the regions in which they practice.

Another experience which challenges me to consider the past within present terms, and vice-versa has come from my doctoral prelims. At Bryn Mawr College, we define four major fields of study, select advisors from each, and then embark upon a year-long study program until we sit for four written exams and then an oral exam. I studied Post-War Monuments and Trauma Studies with Christiane Hertel; 20th–21st-Century Performance Art and Studies with Homay King, my primary advisor; Global Contemporary and Post-Colonial Theory with James Merle Thomas; and Feminist Video and Installation Art with Kaja Silverman. The opportunity to research works and texts, develop bibliographies, and think alongside such dedicated and brilliant scholars, was fascinating and simultaneously humbling. I found that as I examined the canon in the beginning of the process, and reviewed my bibliographies in retrospect, the holes and even erasures within the canon and my own thinking as well emerged. But these lacunae somehow continue to fuel present and future goals, in this kind of ever-evolving exchange with the past. These reminiscent thoughts ultimately stem from a kind of internal resistance to seeing milestones or personal accomplishments as such—as “products” of an art world, or an emblem of “mastery” over a field—but instead as generative and continually-evolving encounters with others.

Special Feature: Reflections

Reflections on 2018 by Kovi Konowiecki

Artist, Los Angeles

WFU Class of 2014

DeacLink is pleased to present a new blog series titled ‘Reflections’. As 2018 comes to a close, a selection of DeacLink Panelists consider the year they’ve had and share those thoughts with you. Enjoy these recaps, absorb the lessons relayed, and get excited for a great 2019!

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Hello everyone and thank you for taking the time to read my post. If my blog post helps in any way to open up your mind or perspective in life or in art, that would make me very happy. Below is some very simple advice, but something I remind myself of everyday amidst the daily struggles of being and artist.

For those of you that are artists or pursuing artistic endeavors, have you ever really asked yourself what you want to say with your work? This is not the same as thinking about your work, or what you want it to look like, or what you want your work to be about. What do you really want to say with your work? Whether you are taking photographs, painting, making sculptures, etc., it is really important to consider the essence of what it is you are doing. I can spend an entire month making pictures every day, and the hardest thing to do is constantly bring myself back to that simple question. What am I saying with these photographs? For me, this is the difference between someone who makes beautiful art and someone who is an artist.

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Let me take a step back and say that acting on emotion, spontaneity, color and light is very important. Often times when I take photograph on the road, I am acting on some sort of inner compass that is not predictable, nor does it make much sense. But I am also working within a certain framework, and this is very important to me. Rather than creating something visually beautiful, I try to use photography to express my feelings with real depth. There is a very dense world out there with so many important stories to be told and voices to be heard. It does not matter if you're shooting with a digital camera or an analog camera, or using a paint brush versus a pencil. What matters is the message and the voice behind the work, and I challenge all of you to think about this idea. Really think about it.

A shot from the project ‘The Hawks Come up before the Sun’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘The Hawks Come up before the Sun’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Your message matters, you philosophy matters, and your work matters! Find your own path, find your own language, and find a way to share that with the world.

I hope you can take something positive away from this.

-Kovi

A shot from the project ‘Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Keep up with Kovi’s career by following him on IG @kovi.konowiecki

Visit his website for the latest projects at www.kovikonowiecki.com