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.

Spotlight Interview: Rebecca Gleichenhaus

REBECCA GLEICHENHAUS: Former Negotiator at OMD (Optimum Media Direction)

New York City

WFU Class of 2014

Major: Art History

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At the time of the interview, Rebecca Gleichenhaus was a negotiator for Optimum Media Direction (OMD).  Rebecca moved to New York City with no job and only a dream to make it in the City. Two weeks before she was going to move back home, OMD gave her a position. The rest was history. Now on her third year in NYC working for OMD, Rebecca talks to us about her journey and her connections that got her here. 

*Rebecca is now the Ad Operations Manager at Hyperallergic.

DeacLink: Tell us about your path since graduating from Wake.

Rebecca Gleichenhaus: I graduated and went straight into the START Fellowship for a year. After START I moved to the City and completed two internships in the arts. I was then connected to OMD through a friend from Wake; we were RA’s together on campus. I’ve been with OMD ever since! I’m so thankful for the Wake network because having City connections is how most people get jobs here.

 

DL: Very true. Did you arrive in New York with a job already secured?

RG: I didn’t have anything in place job-wise, actually, I just moved! Another Wake friend very kindly offered the spare room in her family’s apartment while I was starting out. I was given three months and luckily the OMD position came up just two weeks before I had to head home to Colorado. The timing of their offer couldn’t have been better.

 

DL: What was the interview process with OMD like? How important was it to have an inside connection like your WFU pal?

RG: OMD was actually the first place I interviewed upon arrival to New York. I didn’t hear back from them until my three months was nearly up. Like many agencies in this industry, OMD hires mostly based on inside reference. Having a friend pass my name along was crucial.

 

DL: What sort of skills from undergrad or work experience has translated to your role at OMD?

RG: Honestly not a lot. Here they train you from the ground up, so it's mostly learning as you go. I wasn’t really told about the industry prior to being in it. There are practical things I learned at START Gallery, such as sending a professional email and being meticulous with a process which carried over of course. But otherwise, I had to start from square one.

I’m also not on the creative side of advertising like a lot of people may think. There are two separate entities within agencies- the sales side and creative. You can’t hop from one to the other easily, either. Cracking into creative for instance would require me to start all over again, and to learn a new skill set.

 

DL: Did you feel prepared for the working world coming out of Wake?

RG: No, but not for the same reason as a lot of people. The START fellowship was such a great first job and my mentors such as Paul Bright and Leigh Ann were wonderful. I had a lot of responsibility and freedom working at START since I ran all aspects of the gallery. It was a pretty cushy setup because I got to work with professors and students I already knew and people trusted me to do my work well and be innovative. Going from that into huge corporations put me into an opposite situation. Being the lowest on the totem pole without a soul who knew me was difficult. It does, however, force you to step up and prove yourself.

 

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

RG: The education system is just so different from working in the real world. At school, you’re talking entirely in theory and you learn how to think critically but you're not really doing anything that practical.  I really liked that in a way but unless you’re a business student, the skills you pick up in undergrad won’t directly translate to life afterward. That said, I wouldn’t have changed my educational experience just because it’s different. I think there is a lot of value in the liberal arts education because it teaches you to think critically about the world and gave me time and space to explore new ideas.

 

DL: Are there any seminal learning points or experiences from Wake that have stuck with you?

RG: All of Jay Curley’s art history classes were stellar. The Management in the Arts course was also very impactful for me. It’s the only l art course that I took that discussed the art market and how business and art interact outside of an academic setting. It was very eye-opening and showed me what sort of avenues exist for those wanting to pursue careers affiliated with Art World. I did have a lot of private conversations with professors in the art department, where I got the real world advice I was after about what working in the arts post-undergrad was like.

 

DL: What sort of work experience did you garner while in undergrad? How did you find and apply to these roles?

RG: I did a local internship at SECCA during undergrad, which the WFU art department helped facilitate. I also did a summer with Denver Art Museum between junior and senior year. My mom’s friend knew someone in the curatorial program so I came in once a week to help with provenance research. During a semester abroad, I was linked to University College London’s gallery internship.

The two internships I did in New York after Wake were also thanks to Wake connections. I was with ArtSpace, a competitor to Artsy (both online marketplaces for contemporary art). I was put in touch for an interview by Marie who worked for Cristin Tierney. Even though I’d only met Marie once, she was kind enough to pass my name along. I can’t state enough how useful connections are in New York!

My other role was a sale internship at David Zwirner, which lasted just three weeks due to my job offer at OMD. A Wake friend who used to work at Zwirner referred me. Although this was by far the biggest and best gallery I’d been with, I knew I didn’t want to work in an environment like that. It’s a very particular person with a particular look working there. On top of that expectation, the competitive, pressured nature of daily work was rather intense. Everyone working there is very well connected and I felt that was never going to be my world. It was cool to see it for even a short time, though.

 

DL: Tell us about your role at OMD and what it’s like working at such a big advertising agency.

RG: Negotiators do all the media buying on behalf of our clients. I work for a specific client, go into a marketplace and buy all the media for them. It’s the sales side of the industry, so it can be very stressful at times. Clients are always calling for updates and adding new ideas to the pile, and it’s difficult to manage expectations. One major perk offsetting the stress is our access to lots of events and tons of free swag and merch. Everyone’s favorite time is ‘Up Front Week’- all the agencies have parties and host performances by big and emergent talent. You get to enjoy all the freebies and meet the performers, which is really cool.

OMD is a bigger agency as well so there’s lots of job security, which I like. If you lose a client at other agencies you can get fired. Here if that happens you usually get transferred to another team. It’s not the side of the industry I want to be on forever, but I am considering prepping to break into the creative side at some point. It’s possible my mind could change but in theory I’d like to switch over in the future.

 

DL: Could you talk more about how buying media works? It seems like it could get complicated.

RG: When you’re watching TV and see commercial, we’re negotiating the ad space that the video is airing in. For instance, if my client wants to air during a specific show say, ‘This Is Us’ on NBC, I’d have to call the network on their behalf and negotiate that ad space. We do national buying although there are local buying departments too. My company formerly only dealt with TV ad space but now we’ve expanded to the streaming realm and other online video platforms.

There is a set negotiation if you’ve been buying from someone for a while, with a certain inflation or a percentage of what you bought last year expected in the price. Both of my clients buy ‘up front’ which means buying ad space for a full year. When you buy ‘scatter’ it’s for a quarter and networks can charge more because their inventory is really tight. That’s where the negotiation really happens. I have to advise clients on the most effective use of their ad budget, which is always a difficult discussion.

Streaming wise, full episode players like Hulu are really good spaces to be in because it’s a solid network without much fluctuation and they have quality programming that is brand safe for advertisers. Places like YouTube are less predictable because the content or programming is user-generated ie the inventory isn’t as easily controlled. Clients can never be sure what type of content their ad will appear on or around.

 

DL: Any advice for readers wanting to work in your industry?

RG: If you get an interview with an agency, never tell them you don’t follow TV! You should be in the know of television shows and what’s going on, able to share on new developments you find exciting, and so forth. You also definitely need to reach out to someone who’s already working in this space. So many agencies only hire through reference so it’s extremely helpful to have a connection- even if it’s ‘soft’ or multiples degrees away. A name gets you in the door. For instance, there are already 4 WFU alums working at OMD.

 

DL: What other skills are essential to working at OMD?

RG: To be on the media buying side, the most important thing is to be able to build and maintain good relationships with people. Because it is more on the sales side of the industry, it is very social and it really helps to have strong relationships with the networks reps you work with! To be on the creative side you need digital video and editing skills. It’s mandatory to have a portfolio and expertise in the software they’re using.

 

DL: So name game and Adobe suite- check. Let’s play a scenario before we wrap up. Let’s say you don’t know a soul at any agency and you’re a student in your senior summer. What would you do to infiltrate the agency world?

RG: It’s funny you set this up because it’s similar to how I’ve operated before. There was this one creative agency I would love to work for, I would ask around when I met people in the advertising world and even joined a book club to branch out further in hopes of a connection to someone working there. It so happened that a book club acquaintance had a high school friend at the agency- I asked to be put in touch. Essentially, talk to everyone possible until you wiggle in and make it stick.

Another key piece of advice is to be in the city (or at least pretend you’re already in the city) if you want to get a job here. It really helps to list a New York address on your CV if you want to be in the city. There are so many qualified people applying to jobs from within the city; even if you have to fudge it like I did and use a friend’s address for a while, it’s worth doing. I have had friends use my address from outside since!