Spotlight Interview: Caroline Perkins

Caroline Perkins: Collector Relations Associate, Artsy

New York City

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Art History

Minor: Math

caroline perkins.jpg

Caroline Perkins came to Wake aiming for a degree in Business and Math... until a single Art History course changed her entire trajectory. Caroline recently spoke with us about her time at Wake, her current role at Artsy, and tips she's picked up along the way.

DeacLink: Tell me about your path since graduating from Wake Forest.

Caroline Perkins: I graduated in Spring 2016 and went straight to The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA)  for a paid internship  in the museum’s education department. I was there for four and a half months, at which point they offered me a full time position. While opportunity provided me strong network of creative peers, I decided that I couldn’t commit to a year in a town with a population of 14,000, working a job that wouldn’t allow me to become economically independent. After a period of existential questioning, I decided it was time to move to New York. I started with a part-time job at Cristin Tierney’s gallery in Chelsea. After about a month of interviewing, I accepted a full time position at Artsy (around November 2016). I juggled both gigs for about six months until I reached a point where the 75 hour work week was a little too much! I continued on with my full-time role at Artsy, and have been there ever since.

DL: Sounds like you really embraced the New York hustle mentality. Since joining Artsy, you’ve changed roles. Talk us through the progression.

CP: I began as a Collector Support Specialist; however, at Artsy, job titles don’t mean too much. It feels like I’ve held four different roles already, although my formal title has only changed once. As a Collector Support Specialist, I managed Artsy’s support inbox, resolving questions and issues from everyone including users, buyers, galleries, and artists. The messages ranged from really important ones like, ‘I’m a collector who received a damaged artwork’ to ‘I’m locked out of my account and need to update my password’.

Over time, I have been assigned projects more closely aligned with the art buying process for our gallery partners. I collaborate with our Engineering, Product, and Analytics teams to ensure that Artsy is the best place to learn about, buy, and sell art online. I specifically work to connect buyers with our 2,500+ gallery partners across 90+ countries to facilitate sales and to make art buying more accessible. More recently, we have been striving to create a seamless buying experience similar the models used by the majority of modern online marketplaces.  

DL: The world is certainly moving that way, with titans like Amazon leading the charge. Taking it back to undergrad, how much did your time at Wake inform or drive your career path?

CP: I loved my time at Wake, and particularly loved the Art History department. I arrived at Wake thinking I’d major in Math and Business, but quickly realized that I didn’t click with the professors. I took an Art History course freshman year with Dr. Barnes titled ‘Dante, Giotto, and the Plague.’ It was the only AH course I could get into as a first-year, and I thought it would be the most boring class ever. To my surprise, I not only loved the course, but did well and grew close to Dr. Barnes. I declared my major early and interned at Reynolda House that summer in the Education Department. This was my first experience of working in a museum, and it was hugely impactful. I loved the team at Reynolda House, I continued working with the museum throughout my time at Wake. I joined their student committee, interned in the Development Department, and assisted with their public programming. 

Every semester, I tried to take as many Art History classes as possible. The most valuable of all experiences was definitely the Arts Management Course. I came out of it with the confidence and connections to make a run at the art world after graduation. I don’t think I would’ve considered coming to NYC if I hadn’t acquired so much knowledge from the AMC, as I personally had zero connections to the city prior to moving. The AMC granted me the ability to reach out to Cristin’s gallery, which was hugely important as my first work experience in the city. 

The ACC/IAC Grant process was also hugely impactful for me while at Wake. I’d encourage those who are still in undergrad to look into this program, as it is not well known. I wouldn’t have known about the grant if it weren’t for my Studio Art friend Kristi Chan who used the program to gain funding for a studio practice one summer. She encouraged me to propose my own project. At the time, I was still interested in pursuing a career in museum education. I submitted a proposal focused on learning the various in-gallery education practices employed at the Met, MoMA and Museum Hack (founded by fellow Wake alum Nick Gray). To my surprise, the committee quickly accepted my proposal. They direct-deposited funds within a month and turned me loose. It was my first time independently navigating New York City, which was a learning curve in itself. 

Lastly, Dr. Jay Curley’s Venice Biennale course was unbelievable and impactful for me as an undergrad. My mind was blown for the entire two weeks our class spent in Venice; I’d never before seen so much contemporary art. We were able to exercise our knowledge of theory and directly relate it to the artists’ practice, global politics, art production, the market and so forth. Living on the Grand Canal with friends for two weeks was also a dream! 

DL: How did you find and apply for the various positions you’ve held? Have you got any tips for those readers currently going through the application and interviewing process?

CP: When it came to MASS MoCA, I actually was surprised to have been accepted. Considering I knew nobody in the actual program, I applied ‘cold’ online through their site. I only knew of the opportunity because a fellow Wake alum (Laurel McLaughlin) recommended it as one of the only paid internships in the arts that she knew of. I applied to three total positions at MASS MoCA after looking over their site. 

Outside of Laurel’s recommendation, I was scouring NYFA’s Classifieds constantly. I would apply to any post I felt was interesting and relevant, paid or unpaid, telling myself (after a tough patch of accepting this fact) breaking into the art world was going to be tough. The MASS MoCA fellowship was actually the only position I got before graduating, out of the 16 roles I applied for. I felt very lucky to have a place to go after graduating, in lieu of heading home.

I did find my Artsy job through NYFA, despite not having connections there either. It felt like another lucky surprise to get an interview there. However, I did apply to Artspace at the same time as Artsy, which is their primary competitor. And I worked an albeit soft connection to Artspace (a Wake friend who’d previously interned for them) which did help get me in the running. So one tip, definitely use your connections even if they’re soft- and be shameless about it! 

Aside from perfecting the ‘light name-drop’, make sure to know about the company you’re interviewing with, and be sure to explain how you’ve come to know about them. It gets you on common ground faster, especially in my position where I had no connection to the person interviewing me. Find that 4th or 5th degree of connection and don’t be afraid to push that link.

Last tip, and for me it’s a big one—keep your cover letter short! I was lucky to have friends from the MASS MoCA fellowship cross-check my resume and revamp it to be more visually compelling and concise. When it came to the cover letter, which is always going to be hard to write, I learned that keeping it pithy is notable and impressive for the person who ends up reading piles of them daily. I’m going through reading applications now at Artsy for our intern cycle and can understand from a new perspective now, people appreciate a short and powerful cover letter.

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

CP: I think the Arts Management Course should not only be open to more students as an opportunity, but could even become a mandatory experience for all art majors (AH or Studio). I wish it hadn’t been so exclusive, because without that class, I truly believe I wouldn't have a clue about how to carve out a career in the arts.

I also wish there had been more crossover between the two majors in our department. I was so focused on Art History that I overlooked opportunities to collaborate with the people in our department making amazing work in the studios. Especially now I’m out of school, understanding an artist’s practice, why they make what they make and choose their materials and process is key to appreciating and working with the art objects themselves. I could’ve picked up so much more knowledge in the way of curating, installing/deinstalling, writing exhibition descriptions, and building ideas around theory and how it relates to what’s been made. Perhaps in the future the START and Hanes programs could facilitate a greater collaborative attitude or space between the Art History and Studio majors.

DL: What is the best part of working at Artsy- give us the lowdown on cool perks!

CP: Our offices are pretty cool! We work downtown on Canal Street, right near SoHo and Chinatown. Beyond location the actual office itself is beautiful, has a fully stocked kitchen, and really is a tech company through and through. The access we have to galleries, fairs, auction houses and other art world events is pretty great, thanks to Artsy’s partnerships. I was even able to travel to Miami this past Fall with access to all six major fairs.

The biggest perk of the working experience at Artsy for me, is chances for collaboration with a group of seriously talented and smart people. Because Artsy covers so many areas, I have learned about structures of art fairs, to auction house practices, even picked up engineering and website design skills along the way. I have learned new ways to approach and solve problems, working alongside analytically minded people and picking up on how they tackle issues that face a marketplace we all genuinely care about. Also being able to put my Math minor skills to use has felt great; I love being able to use both sides of my brain in the same workday. Artsy’s core value as listed on our website is actually ‘Art x Science’- I can build my business acumen and make different business decisions because I get the numbers which is powerful in the conversation.

DL: What and where is next for you?

CP: I’m very happy here at Artsy and don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I don’t ever see myself leaving the Art World in the larger career sense, but we’ll see what happens. Long term I’d love to open my own gallery and support artists more directly on a smaller scale. A lot of what I’m doing at Artsy helps me understand the business side of things, along with being able to meet and learn from a range of badass female gallery owners making it happen with their spaces in the present. I also hope to do a graduate degree at some point, but I find it hard to find too many mentors in the art world. I hope to keep finding others in their late 20s working in this field, to foster a sense of community and fellowship which is very important for growth. For now I’m focused on that- meeting more people in my field, especially more artists!

DL: Have you got a final bit of advice for the readers today?

CP: Listen to more artists! Find people who speak a similar visual language to you and advocate for it. Be aware of what language people in the art world use, because people talk about art in so many different ways. There’s a lot of power in being able to articulate what resonates with you on a personal and political level through art-driven discussions.