Lizzie Axelson: Membership Operations & Marketing Manager, Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens
WFU Class of 2014
Double Minor: Art History & Journalism
Lizzie Axelson is based in DC running marketing and operations at Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens. We spoke with Lizzie to learn how she transitioned after graduation from the Forest.
DeacLink: Tell us what you're up to in your career.
LA: After a little over two years at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, I was recently promoted to I am the Membership Operations and Marketing Manager. On a day-to-day basis, I am developing marketing materials and plans to promote the museum and gardens to bring visitors in the door while leading our membership department. We had our highest visitation in 2017 and are really excited to expand on that this year, growing our membership base and deepening visitor engagement. On a given day I can be writing renewal and acknowledgement letters, drafting social media posts, organizing events, working on the website, crafting promotional emails, and more - no two days are the same. Hillwood has really dedicated members who love our hidden gem, and we are constantly working to expand that base and better their experience, through communications and events, such as receptions and exhibition previews. I work closely with many departments - particularly visitor services, interpretation, and curatorial - to best market Hillwood to the public and further connect with those who already really enjoy it.
DL: How have you found the different jobs and internships you've had? Applications? Networking? A combination of both?
LA: Strangely enough, most of the jobs and internships I have had resulted from just sending in applications, though I strongly encourage networking, especially for museum positions. Speaking with other alums or past internship supervisors about their experience and careers is really informative and helpful, though I will say that in the art world, no two paths are exactly alike. I have tried to take advantage of every opportunity, even if they were just internships or part-time jobs, because each job teaches you something and better prepares you for the next one. Really develop relationships with the people you are meeting and working with - even if you do not start with your ideal job or internship, hard work and strong connections make a huge difference. And if you aren’t quite sure where to start, find local Wake Forest grads - I’ve been fortunate enough to meet up with a group of art alums in DC, which has been really interesting and rewarding.
DL: The non-curatorial route in museums seem to be a popular career option for art alums. How did you make the transition, and what is the hardest part about breaking into the museum field?
LA: Perhaps shockingly, my goal was never to go the curatorial or collections route post-grad. Marketing was where I wanted to be because I love the idea of encouraging people to visit museums and take advantage of their beauty and accessibility and the amazing resources they offer. I really enjoy sharing museums with the public and expanding the number of visitors. Perhaps the hardest thing about breaking into the museum world is that it can be pretty small, there’s not always a lot of movement - often people love their jobs and stay at institutions for a long time. A lot of it can be networking, and you can’t be above taking any job, even if it’s not perfect or glamorous. Starting early, especially in undergrad, through internships and informational interviews and networking is vital - that and being willing to take jobs in the field that may not be your exact interest. Once you have your foot in the door in the museum world, it’s a bit easier to move around.
DL: How do you like living in DC? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in the city?
LA: I love DC. I was lucky enough to grow up here and knew that I wanted to come back after graduation, at least for a while. It’s a beautiful city with so much going on, both in the arts and in general, and I appreciate that it is a bit more mellow than New York. DC combines the best of a large, bustling city with the neighborhood feeling of smaller places. People tend to solely think of Smithsonian when thinking of the arts or museums in DC, so I encourage anyone interested to think outside of that more traditional box. There are a fair number of smaller museums in addition to art galleries and arts organizations. that are really great.
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
LA: The art department at Wake is wonderful, and it is so unique that professors really take the time to know the students and develop relationships with them. However, it would have been extremely helpful to have a bit more of a focus on the art world itself. One of my favorite classes was the Arts Management course since it fleshed out the art world from a business perspective and really provided an idea of how to transition a love and appreciation of the arts into a career.
Rather than graduating with just an amazing knowledge of art history, I had a solid foundation for the practicalities of art in the real world and how I could apply what I had learned. While that particular class is limited in size, it would have been quite helpful to have similar courses to deepen that understanding and really prepare students for life in the arts after graduation.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
LA: Honestly, and it sounds so corny, but find and follow your passion. A career in the arts is not always easy - there’s not always a traditional path and it is not as financially lucrative as other fields - but if you love what you do and find your job rewarding, it makes it worth it. Talk to people and learn all the different aspects of the arts, in terms of the business and careers available - there are so many opportunities out there in the art world. Make the most out of your network - social, alumni, professional - anything helps and try to get any experience you have. All jobs provide a learning experience that can push you to the one you really want. Focus on your love of the arts and where you want to go, and that will push you pretty far.