Spotlight Interview: Spurge Carter

Spurge Carter: Music Artist (DJ at Lot Radio + Bandmember, Barrie)

New York City

WFU Class of 2014

Major: Communications with Media focus

Triple Minor: Entrepreneurship, Film Studies, & Japanese Language and Culture

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Spurge Carter has always had music on the mind. Throughout undergrad, Spurge was constantly working at his craft- DJ’ing and hosting parties, working at Wake Radio, and utilizing the Kirby Grant to travel places like New York and LA for music-oriented work experience between semesters. We spoke to Spurge about the pursuit of his passions, from Winston-Salem all the way to NYC.

DeacLink: You were known around campus as an active DJ; did your career path begin in undergrad?

Spurge Carter: I’ve always been interested in music, and knew I wanted to work in that field. I came to Wake having already DJ’d quite a lot in high school. I continued to cultivate my abilities throughout undergrad, with the ultimate goal in mind of becoming a full-time musician making a living off of my work.

I was listening to a lot of music and immersing myself in DJ culture whilst studying at Wake. It was cool being in an environment where I could devote all my spare time- whether outside of class or in the ‘off-season’ between semesters- to growing in this regard.

Every summer I did something different, which built toward networking and gaining experience in the music industry. The summer after freshman year I interned at Atlantic Records in NYC. The following sophomore summer I went to LA with my friend Rohan, who at the time was running a small music blog with me. We interned at a digital media agency over there, and the opportunity itself was based off of the blog we had started. Junior year I studied abroad in London where I dove into active participation in the UK music scene. I was throwing parties and DJ’ing, networking and getting my foot in the door. I learned and grew a lot from my time in London. Much of this work experience I’ve mentioned was subsidized by the Kirby Grant, which I was introduced to through the Entrepreneurship Department at Wake. It was amazing to go up to New York or out to LA completing unpaid internships with the financial support of these grants.

DL: We love the Kirby Fund too! With regards to finding, applying to, and obtaining these work experience positions, how did you go about that? Were you using personal connections, leveraging the WFU network, or online search/cold call methods?

SC: So, the Atlantic Records opportunity came through a friend of my mom’s who had worked at the label. Although it wasn’t directly related to Wake, I still benefited from the support of the grant to be in the City working for free. For other opportunities I was using a lot of social resources. This is especially important in the music industry, as it’s a dense and populated environment. People are very supportive if you’re doing your own thing and working toward an ultimate goal. I definitely cold-emailed lots of places too, and after obtaining a work stint would springboard off of that for the next opportunity. The LA internship came off the back of the music blog I was running with my WFU classmate and friend, Rohan.

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

SC: Not a crazy amount in terms of musicality. I took a light music theory course in undergrad, but the most influential lessons I learned were in the Entrepreneurship program. It gave me lots of tools, which I constantly relied upon to chart a course and survive as I pursued my goals. A lot of people in music actually have great business acumen, so I’m at an advantage as an artist who can manage my own finances, visualize and create a product, and generally apply business skills to work and life. I’m also appreciative to have learned all of this in North Carolina, removed from the environment of NYC.

DL: Can you expand further on the Wake’s Entrepreneurship program? What do you pull from the experience in your current life?

SC: Honestly, it’s my entire mentality. Both my parents are entrepreneurs and business owners so I’m wired that way. But in my career since Wake, my first job was entry-level corporate which I stayed on for nine months. From there I decided to figure out the moves required on a non-traditional path toward a musician’s career. My overall scope and perspective, I have from Entrepreneurship.

One thing in particular I learned in the program, which I highly recommend, is how to look for funding. Especially as a creative of any type, there are innumerable resources to utilize in order to continue producing the work you want. However, you have to know where to locate and obtain them. Searching for and applying to grants is so important! Most of this search can be conducted online as well.

DL: What led to your current job at Lot Radio in Brooklyn?

SC: I’ll take it back a few steps from WFU and build up. So, I graduated and went home for 2-3 months knowing my end goal was to be a full-time musician. It’s important to have a goal in mind, even if the way there doesn’t seem exactly clear. I knew my artistic confidence wasn’t high enough yet to put my work out there, as I had been making lots of electronic music on my computer based on intuition and taste but didn’t have the core musical knowledge or instrumental skills yet.

I came to NYC to grow my social network, build more musical skills, and understand how the music industry actually works. Especially in the time we live in, streaming has completely altered the structure of the industry and how money is made. I wanted to understand everything from record deals, plays, downloads, and touring- where does the artist making a solid income?

I worked in reception/mailroom at CAA (one of the biggest creative agencies in the world), to start out. I quickly realized that a significant portion of income could be made from touring. I didn’t have aspirations to be a music agent so after a few months I decided to pivot with what I was doing.

I left CAA and started interning for Electric Lady Studios, Jimi Hendrix’s studio in the East Village. I stayed on for a month and a half but the treatment - no pay, 50+ hour weeks, and way superiors dealt with us- caused me to leave. I did make friends with some great people who were interning alongside me, most of which I’ve stayed connected to and are doing great things in the industry now. I learned that it’s not always about connecting with the people above you in those situations, but to solidify relationships with your peers. The Electric Lady name has opened doors for me though; even saying I worked there causes people to listen.

I left this stint seeking growth and proper pay. I understood that if you can barista at all, you can find work in a coffee shop anywhere in the world. I started doing that and met some awesome connections in the industry through this work. At the same time I was doing some work at SoundCloud rap focused studio called Black Wax Creative. It was a very loose environment with a revolving door policy of random artists coming through. Kind of an environment where lots of people hung out but didn’t always translate to work getting done. A perfect place for networking though. We did have lots of people come through who are now of the moment and pretty big- Lil Uzi Vert, Skepta, Khalid, and Playboi Carti all came through the studio.

I left for the next thing with a decent engineering foundation and the desire for more creative input. It’s not easy to transition from the admin or assistant side of things, into the person actually making the music. I learned you need to come with your creative ideas, not just hope a creative person will ask you in the background for your input. All along this time I was making music at home but not really telling anybody. I was taking piano lessons to gain further understanding of music and its structure, beyond my own natural intuition.

The next job I took on came through a Facebook status! I put up a post saying I was super broke and looking for work, to see if anyone out there might reply with leads. Sure enough a friend got in touch with what became my next gig. I can’t stress enough how important it is to put yourself out there like this, especially in a dense city like NYC- you never know who will have something for you.

My friend was managing Chromeo, and said Patrick aka PThugg (someone I grew up listening to) needed someone to water his plants and keep them alive while he was away on tour. It was wild being in someone’s apartment who I looked up to, watering their plants daily and walking around their place. When PThugg returned and saw I’d kept his beloved plants healthy, the timing worked out where he needed a new personal assistant. I stayed on as his PA which was such a fun job. I got to learn what it was like to be a professional, successful musician who lives off their music alone. Patrick was also a great mentor indirectly; he wasn’t always talking to me or telling me things but being so involved in his affairs taught me tons through osmosis. It also helped me apply the skills I already had from undergrad in real life situations.

Seeing how he ran his own finances, tour managing, also self taught on instruments was enough to make think the same could work for me. When Patrick moved to LA I helped with the process but ultimately returned to NYC knowing that’s where I preferred being.

The another job I got came through a connection made while working in a coffee shop. I started assistant engineering at XL Recordings, who deal with big artists like Jungle, FKA Twigs, Adele, and The XX. Being in the studio with these people and honing my engineering ability helped me understand the creative process more fully. I was grateful to finally be in a studio where I was learning important skills daily, and being integral to getting things done.

I left in 2016 after an internal change forced me back a step to unpaid intern. (Many of these overlap in the timeline, by the way. Five jobs at once is a regular occurrence in New York) I had heard of an internet radio station that functioned much like the pirate radio spots in the UK- independently run and uninfluenced by funding or commercials with what they played. I came to Lot Radio in Brooklyn seeking that type of setup, hungry to join a community where people were making moves for themselves and not working under people constantly. Lot Radio had very recently opened when I joined- they had an independent structure funding the operation through a converted shipping container that was part bar, part coffee shop. They host tons of parties, guest DJ spots, and broadcasts so I could form a network in one place as opposed to running all over NYC hitting every party and gathering possible. It was a perfect fit- I’ve been here for two years and still greatly enjoy the team and environment.

DL: Sounds ideal! Do you see yourself staying on for a long period of time?

SC: I like that Lot Radio is a locus of activity and growth in the music community. I can grow my skill set, network, and support myself through working here. I have also been able to move my personal music career by working here. It’s similar to the studio system of the 60s and 70s, where one big artist would be in a room working on something, and another big name would pop their head in to see what was going on. It’s a close quarters community where everyone is in the same place, working on their own thing but freely collaborating and networking at the same time. It’s ideal for a creative space.

I am now part of a band called Barrie, which came about through a connection I’ve made at Lot Radio. We formed the group around an extremely talented singer-songwriter from outside Boston, that a friend associated with the radio discovered on SoundCloud. He convinced her to move to the City, and from there sourced myself and the other members (Noah, Dom & Sabine) to complete the group. We have been getting great exposure and plays, signed to a small indie label here, and played last year’s SXSW. It’s exciting to be moving this part of my career forward; we release our new EP on October 12th and can’t wait for people to enjoy it.

I’m also hosting parties and DJ’ing, with my own interview/podcast series with artist friends called ‘Basslines and Banter’. Every interview is followed by a performance and the conversation gets posted to my podcast series under the same name. I’m also moving toward starting my own label with a small group of friends that I’ve worked with, which will also aid the transition toward full-time music and living solely off of that.

DL: How hard is it to start your own music label, and what does the process itself look like?

SC: That’s something I’m still figuring out. You can register an LLC, and a lot from there is to figure out how you’ll be distributing. I personally am focusing on tapes to start, as I want a physical object to hand to people in my community and it’s more cost-effective than pressing records. From a business standpoint, it’s about breaking down the components: you need a manufacturer, the product is of course the music, then you have to find a distributor, decide which platforms are most optimal, and so forth. I’m definitely using the collective knowledge of my community as a resource: asking questions of people I know that have gone through the steps founding their own labels.

DL: That sort of community is an invaluable resource!

SC: Yes! And to us on the inside, we’re just a small collection of homies hanging out and making music. Growing up in Baltimore I used to look at similar networks with global reaches and feel it was so out of reach. Now living in the city and being part of the community I can see it’s this everyday thing, and all of us are making moves and trying to capture and convey the very moment we exist in now. Although plenty of my peers are blowing up and experiencing varying levels of fame & success now, it’s important to remember everyone is on their own track and to enjoy documenting and sharing the exact unique place you’re in as an artist.

DL: It’s interesting you say that, especially in a time where influencers on Instagram or YouTube are blowing up seemingly overnight. It’s an incredible time to be in your field considering the doors that thousands or millions of followers can open.

SC: We’re starting to see people gaining notoriety for their unique and authentic story and product. In our globalized present, specificity in storytelling is more attractive than anything else. Although for me being present in NYC is important and helps, it’s not actually mandatory to live in a major city these days. You actually see a lot of watered down, homogeneous material being produced due to everyone trying to be everywhere at once, and all on the same trend. If you stick to the uniqueness of your own story and your situation - that’s what’s really important.

DL: Considering where you’re at now and what it took to get this far, do you have any hopes for future programming and development that Wake could offer students seeking to be in the music world like you?

SC: I came to Wake understanding that although I wanted to pursue a career in music, the university is not a music industry school. I actually think that’s fine- I benefited from a liberal arts education and doing what I’ve done on my own career-wise was incredibly valuable for my personal growth.

I will say that it’d be great to have a clear and accessible list of alumni working in the same field as me. I think that what you’re working to build, [with DeacLink] for instance, would be greatly beneficial for us all. Having that transparent list could help us all connect more work, and even discuss the ways in which we have all arrived at our respective jobs. We as creatives all know what crazy things you end up doing to fund your endeavors- I’ve written essays for college kids, and even yesterday spent a few hours posting missing dog flyers. In college, I would have loved to be able to learn and trade stories like this with others who have chosen a less conventional path like me. I think it’s important.

DL: Finally, what advice do you want to leave with us today?

SC: Trust yourself. You will jump around from place to place, working multiple jobs and doing so much to gather experience and money to fund yourself. Keep your end goal at the forefront and trust yourself along the process.

You also have to understand the process and its timescale is entirely relative. It can feel like everyone around you is rising up and you’re going slower or not achieving as much, but remember that everyone’s own trajectory is individual and can’t be compared. I look at myself nearly five years out since Wake and am happy with where I’m at, especially with the sense of forward motion I keep about myself.

Lastly, present yourself as worthy of paid work. People will always take free labor. You have to be confident enough to state what your time and effort is worth, and ultimately you determine where that bar is going to be set.

Spurge and Barrie’s new EP dropped 12th October 2018- CLICK HERE to check it out!

Subscribe and watch ‘Basslines and Banter’ on YouTube featuring Spurge and numerous great musician guests.

Follow Spurge on Instagram - @sspurgee

Spotlight: Julia Young

Julia Young: Studio Manager, Sterling Ruby

Los Angeles, CA
WFU Class of 2012
Major: Art History

Julia Young lives and works in LA, managing the daily ongoings of artist Sterling Ruby's studio. Since graduating from Wake in 2012, Julia's path has led her through multiple cities and experiences. Julia recently shared her story and great bits of advice with us.

 

DeacLink: I know that you were an Art History major at Wake. What led you to choose that major?

Julia Young: I’m a DC native, so growing up in the city where art was always at my fingertips was a huge part of my upbringing & my falling in love with art. The Smithsonian Institutions were just a metro stop away, so as kids, we often wandered down to the Mall just to take in all these cultural icons. I went to public high school in DC, where my AP Art History teacher Mrs. Huberman, first introduced me to the 101s of art’s history. I have a very clear memory of taking a field trip to the Phillips Collection, where she asked each of us to pick out a piece that we wanted to talk about. It was the first time I saw an El Greco painting so intimately; the piece is titled The Repentant St. Peter. I remember first putting into words how the light in the painting made me feel, and how the figure’s gaze was so remorseful and hopeful simultaneously. It was the first time I considered what might be beautiful in an artwork, and how an artist uses the medium to start a conversation. I’m sure you can remember the first time you had a visceral reaction to a piece?  

I fell in love with the important job the viewer has when taking in a piece - to describe those feelings one feels, to consider the artist’s actions, the sociopolitical realm in which the piece was made. Anyway, it was inevitable I would choose Art History as my major after that. 

At Wake, the Art History community was so small and intimate, I truly felt that every professor wanted you to do well and to use their expertise as much as possible. David Lubin and Harry Titus largely influenced me, and I consider these men to be true mentors and supporters of my interests and ambitions. I was also an athlete in school, but after a back injury in 2009, I left the field hockey team. While it was heartbreaking, the opportunity to study abroad in Rome arose, which only further fed my love for art. When one door closes, another opens. 

I spent much of my senior year in 2012 helping David build a curriculum focused on Italian Modernism. The independent research, self-learning and exploration I embarked on during that time became invaluable to me, and certainly reignited my interest in returning to Italy.

DL: Since graduating, how has your career unfolded? What’s been the biggest surprise?

JY: All of it has been a surprise! I feel I’ve taken the less traditional “art world” route, but every turn I’ve made has given me a new set of tools and insights I would have never known before. 

Before graduating from Wake, I was recommended by David Lubin to apply for the Peggy Guggenheim internship in Venice. When I was accepted into the program after graduation, I promptly packed up and moved to Venice. That experience fed my yearning for the story of  art. Peggy’s story is unique, and so is her villa that houses her impeccable collection. There, I came to understand the contemporary patron, and that these famous artists - the ones the canon and market have turned into untouchable icons - they too needed support, and were once not famous. Learning about Peggy and her support for the arts honestly encouraged me to explore how we support artists in our communities today.

Right after leaving the Guggenheim, I moved back to DC and began working for Transformer, which is a non-profit artist-run initiative that supports local emerging artists. At Transformer, it was cool to see how a small art space could garner so much cultural support and integrity in the art field, securing funding through numerous commissions and foundations, including The Andy Warhol Foundation since the gallery’s inception. The focus at this space was different: we didn’t curate the art, we curated the artists. It was pivotal point in my career where I began thinking about whose story am I was trying to tell. I began to understand the importance of developmental support for young artists, how to encourage post-collegiate growth, and how to treat their work as their profession. 

At Transformer, I was the Gallery Manager and Exhibition Coordinator for three-and-a-half years. While there, I met my fiance, who is a sound artist, and was based in DC. I brought him in to work with several sound artists for a project and exhibition. We soon began dating, and in 2015 we found ourselves looking to explore new horizons. We moved to LA that spring. 

LA is a very different art world than DC or NY. My initial job once settling in LA was with the Tappan Collective, an online gallery ambitiously introducing emerging artists to the commercial world.  Founded in 2012, it came about when Artsy was beginning to take off, and the idea of selling work online was becoming less taboo. Tappan rode that wave. I joined Tappan’s small team (at the time) as their first Artist Manager. My goal with Tappan was to bring developmental & professional support to these artists through the online platform, not just sales. With this in mind, I began their artist residency program, and created a developmental component to the company that truly supported the artists through feedback and professional support outside of sales. It was an artist-centric approach to whole online experience. 

Tappan is fantastic and continues to do well, but I left last spring in search of finding time to meditate on what my passions really are. I felt that my vision for an artist support system could not truly be created within a sales-centric platform.

And now, I’ve found myself nestled somewhere in the middle... In August I began working for an LA-based contemporary artist. At his studio, where I am one of nearly 25 other employees, I’m learning how he has built a true business around his production. I manage administrative work for the studio, and assist the studio director with managing deadlines with galleries, museums, and commissioned projects. I’m grateful to be a part of such a production, and I’m learning so much about the business necessities artists should consider for finding success. Studios that function at this scale are so impressive, and it certainly does not happen overnight!  

This position has given me some personal time back, which I’ve used to do grant writing for an LA-Bangkok based non-profit, make strides on my own artist consulting, and plan our wedding.

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

JY: Greatly - I had support from professors who encouraged me to explore all sorts of interests, and not try to fit my ideas into one box. 

DL: What has it been like working for an artist, and what’s are some of the big takeaways?
  
JY: There are a few. Despite the number of people working for him, he has a commitment to his practice. It should resonate with everyone in the field, you have to commit to it to see success. Coupled with his commitment to the studio, and the studio model itself, it’s amazing to see what can happen when you have your commitment to your work in check. I’m learning about the underbelly, the artist’s own system that needs to be in place in order to see success. These days I often think of how I can advise artists on organizing their own businesses. There are certains setups and standards that you need to put in place to be successful, I don’t think a lot of art schools are necessarily teaching these things. Your system may differ in size, but there needs to be a system. 

DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had? Applications? Networking? A combination of both?

JY: It’s been a combination of both. With the Guggenheim, I was recommended by Lubin. Transformer, I applied on my own and interviewed with them. I had heard of Tappan, but an artist friend introduced me to me to the founder. With my current position, I used the New York Foundation for the Arts, which is a great resource for job opportunities and grant resources. 

I’ve explored many facets of the art world, and I think that’s helped me. I am not tied to one idea of where I should be. I am still taking in information and considering the systems in place. If I’m still learning, it’s not time to leave yet. Experience only helps clarify your vision the longer you keep at it. I apply for things occasionally, just to see if there’s something else out there. Even if you are employed, I think it’s healthy to always have an idea of what else is out there. A diverse CV with lots of experience in the art world isn’t a bad one. There is certainly no one straight path in this field, and it’s continuing to diversify. 

DL: Often times as undergraduates, students are pushed into academia or into the curatorial track at a museum. What advice do you have for readers interested in taking their own route?

JY: It might sound silly, but go after what makes you feel excited. You spend four years as an undergrad, liking some things, not liking others, and then there is this moment where you can still choose your own adventure. People’s circumstances are different, but don't just settle for security right off the bat. You’re going to get there eventually. Find something that opens your mind and makes you excited, that perhaps makes you think about something in the art world a little differently. You need to keep your doors open.  

DL: Most students have their eyes set on moving to New York after graduation. How do you like living in Los Angeles? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in the city? 

JY: LA is an incredibly eclectic, sprawling and beautiful place. I’ve lived here almost three years, and am honestly just beginning to feel like this is home. I don’t recommend coming here for a long weekend and determining after that short experience whether or not this is the city for you. You’ll be disappointed. LA reveals itself to you the longer you spend time getting to know it. When I got out here, I didn’t have a job lined up. I had given myself a little cushion to explore options and get settled before I jumped into a job. 

There are many levels and layers of the arts here, from museum institutions, to commercial galleries, performance spaces to artist-run galleries, arts activist initiatives to non-profits, artist studios and museum-gallery hybrids. It’s all here. It’s vague advice, but I would recommend to any student that immersing yourself in the place is the best first step. Get in the habit of checking job listing websites on the daily while planning what spaces, lectures, and openings you might attend that evening. Put yourself out there and ask questions.


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

JY: I think they should consider having a visiting artist/arts professional program, setting up a mentorship program to support current students. It would be so awesome to be an undergrad and have these types of resources.

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

JY: You build your own expectations for yourself. You are at the helm of your own ship - there is a lot of soul searching that happens after you finish school. You create your own rules and guidelines, and if you don't like them, change them.  I have kept that in mind with every opportunity that I encounter, and it has been really helpful for me and keeps me motivated. 
 

Spotlight Interview: Rudy Shepherd

Rudy Shepherd: Artist & Educator

New York City

Assistant Professor, Penn State University School of Visual Arts
WFU Class of 1998
Double Major: Studio Art & Biology

Rudy Shepherd completed a double major in Studio Art and Biology in his time at Wake Forest. Since graduation, Rudy has established himself as both an artist in New York and an educator in Pennsylvania (which is no easy feat). We recently asked Rudy about his journey since WFU, and what it takes to find balance as a practicing artist.

DeacLink: What are you up to right now?

Rudy Shepherd: I am a professor at Penn State University’s School of Visual Arts. I’ve been here since 2010, and just got tenure in 2016.


DL: Congratulations! Walk us through your path to this position since leaving WFU.

RS: I majored in Biology at Wake, and spent my first year out of undergrad doing research in Winston-Salem at a dialysis center. During this time I was researching and applying to grad school programs, and using the facilities at Scales to compile a portfolio with the help of John Pickel. 

I got into the MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a full scholarship for sculpture, and spent two amazing years there. While I was in Chicago I applied to residencies in New York and was accepted into the PS1 Contemporary Art Center’s artist in residence program. I was given studio space for a year in downtown Manhattan’s Clocktower Building. Across that year I had to piece together making work and making money, which was tough. I’d have open studios and visits to meet people.. I also worked at Starbucks, and did tours at MoMA and PS1. This was actually the year that I came into contact with Mixed Greens gallery, through fellow Wake alum Mary Leigh Cherry. She was in town from LA and brought the MG people along for a studio visit. 

After the PS1 residency I was hired by a non profit which placed artists in public schools to teach art. I taught Pre-K through 3rd grade for two years which was a definite challenge- I had no previous experience or training. Next I joined another non profit, working as the Operations Coordinator at The Drawing Center. The five years I spent there was great for building up a network and being known in the community; by working in the arts I met a ton of people like artists and curators, was at every opening, doing the installation of each show. 

During my time at both jobs I was making art, having shows, and developing my own practice. I was still having meetings with Mixed Greens approximately a year and a half since the first meeting via Mary. It took time to get to know one another, but the relationship was long-lived from that point. I had shows with them for 14 years until they closed in 2016. It was a good run, and by this juncture I was ready to go another direction.

My ultimate goal was to be a college professor, because it was a more reasonable and balanced way to maintain my artistic practice whilst working full time. I started adjunct teaching and then got a job at the Parsons School of Design as an academic advisor. I spent two years there, and kept making art and teaching at other places at the same time.

When the Penn State job came up, having The Drawing Center and Parsons on my CV proved very useful. The actual artwork I was producing was a factor as well. I’ve been at Penn State for seven years now and it’s been the perfect marriage of teaching and producing work. After working as much as I have explained, like three jobs at once and still trying to make art, this position allows me to balance work and artmaking so that neither is battling the other for precedent. I thrive with the extra time I have.. I can apply for grants, get the summertime off, and step back periodically to reflect and examine the work I’ve done in depth.

DL: Were you set on being an artist throughout undergrad? You double-majored in Studio and Biology…

RS: Coming into Wake I had zero designs of making art; I hadn’t even done it in high school!  I was three years into the Bio/pre-Med track before I took my first art classes. I took Dave Finn’s class my junior year and a lightbulb went off- I was like, ‘This is awesome’. Compared to the hours of cramming biology notes at the library and regurgitating information, the critiques and open discussion in art classes were incredible. I loved having an individual voice.

DL: There can be pressure for Wake students to complete majors like Biology or Business; were your parents supportive of your sudden switch to a Studio focus?

RS: They were supportive because they saw how passionate I was about it. Of course it was worrisome to leave a track that’s so well paid career-wise, to jump into the void and just go for it. 

I’d also say I got off to a pretty good start as far as artmaking and understanding that process, what it’s about. Prior to taking that class with Dave, I thought art was purely about skill and making pretty pictures. I learned it could be about something entirely different, like dealing with issues of the day and communicating with people. The small size of the art program at Wake was great because the professors were able to directly play roles in the development of my artistic direction. They were incredibly supportive. It was also great that Wake’s format requires all students to study different subjects- religion, history, science.. All of that made me more well rounded than if I had attended an art school for undergrad. The theoretical backgrounding was added during my time obtaining the MFA.

DL: How did you locate and apply to all of the various jobs, programs and residencies you’ve obtained?

RS: When I graduated in 1998 there was an internet, but things weren’t online the way they are now. For me it was teacher’s recommendations, library research and hearing things from other people. The advantage to word of mouth or inside rec’s is that they’re already vetted; for instance I tell my students, don’t apply to be in shows that require you to pay a fee. That’s a business model, not a show you want to be part of.

DL: What other advice have you got for students aspiring to be an artist in NYC?

RS: Come to town with something to do and get involved in. Showing up empty handed can be pretty tough. If you arrive for a residency or job… even an unpaid internship, you have a starting point. It begins with small things like these, and you’ll be hustling around, meeting people and forging connections with your peers who will then invite you to things, get to know you. However, the key is to juggle all that whilst still making your work. It all comes down to keeping your work at the forefront. If you meet Mary Boone and she asks to see your website, you’ll obviously want to have something to show her. 

DL: So if you could boil this down into a mantra for the readers, what would it be?

RS: The main point: stay on your game and keep the faith! There will be times when you’re making your work and wondering if it’ll come to anything, if you’ll ever get to show it to someone. If you put in the work everyday and keep the faith the right moment will come along and you’ll be ready.
 

 

Check out Rudy's artist website here

 

Spotlight Interview: Thaddeus Stephens

Thaddeus Stephens: Artist & Entrepreneur

New York City

Founder, Brady Brothers Lumber
WFU Class of 2010
Double Major: Studio Art & Economics

Artist and entrepreneur Thaddeus Stephens is a true hustler, having developed myriad skills across his time at and after Wake Forest. Currently running his own business in Brooklyn, Thad was kind enough to walk us through his story and impart some very good advice.

 

DeacLink: What are you up to right now?

Thaddeus Stephens: I work in fabrication making custom products in wood, metal, glass, plastics and whatever other materials are needed. I also have my own small business (Brady Brothers Lumber) making sculpturally inspired bags and home goods mainly from leather and textiles. Finally, I try to make sculptures and collages, when there is time left over.

DL: Take us through your journey from Wake to where you are now.

TS: I worked in restaurants both during and after my time at Wake Forest doing everything from cooking on the line to tending bar and waiting tables. Having that kind of experience gave me confidence in my ability to find work wherever I decided to go; there are restaurants everywhere. I bounced around a little bit and ended up in NYC. I got tired of working nights and weekends and decided that I didn’t want to stay in the restaurant business. I got some event production/set building work, did a little art handling, and ended up going to work in custom fabrication. I worked making custom designed chandeliers and lighting for about three years learning brass, aluminum,and glass skills. I just recently moved to a larger production shop. I want to continue making custom furniture and high end products but this current shop is a good place for me to get experience on some bigger tools and CNC tools that I have never used before. 


DL: Who was your primary mentor/influencing professor while at WFU? 

TS: Leigh Ann Hallberg, Paul Bright, and John Pickel. I’m still close with them and we always manage to get together when they’re in the city.


DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

TS: The art department taught me how to put a design into action and how to design an object, sculptural or otherwise, intentionally. 


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

TS: Wake arts could emphasis the the need to become an expert in hard skills that can be applied outside of an artistic context. Making art is great but you also need to pay the bills! For example, if I had concentrated on becoming a journeyman level carpenter while I had unlimited access to a great shop at Wake, it would have been easier to find work after I left. The same could be applied to things like photography and Photoshop. If students get really good at one of these things then they’ll have some skills to shop around. It’s a lot easier to find work if you can say and show that you are a Photoshop wizard, or a technically expert photographer who can shoot weddings, for example.

DL: How have you found and applied to the jobs you've had? 

TS: I have mostly found jobs through the internet (NYFA, Craigslist) and people I know. A lot of the stuff I do is gig based and you can find your way in through freelance or temporary positions. 


DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

TS: Having the hard skills to shop around. You can BS all you want to in an interview but if you get in the shop and can’t do what you have said you can it is apparent pretty quickly. 

 

DL: How did you like living and working in NYC? Do you find it conducive to your larger goals?

TS: I don’t want to live anywhere else. Living is hard here and you have to get tough but it’s exactly where I want to live, work, and raise a kid. It’s a city of hustlers, everyone is working hard and getting things done. 

 

DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in NYC? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move to move there?

TS: For people who want to move here: just do it. Get a couple thousand dollars together, find an apartment with a hundred roommates, and just move. You’ll be able to find work right away. It might not be exactly what you want to be doing but you can find a way to pay the bills while you get your feet on the ground. 


DL: What and where is next for you? 

TS: Staying in New York, working, and raising a baby. 


DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

TS: I think Wake students often obsess over getting a “Job” as an almost mystical end unto itself. Don’t worry so much! Also don’t get scared away from doing what you want to do by parents or anyone else who are worried that it’s not a “stable career path.” You’re an adult and if you’re a capable, competent person you can land on your feet. If you’re already making compromises for the stake of stability at age 22, it’s not going to be any easier to do what you really want to at age 32. Just try to figure out how you want to live life and concentrate more on that and less on a stable income. Competence will out!
 

Spotlight Interview: Bentrice Jusu

Bentrice Jusu: Artist

New York City

WFU Class of 2013

Double Major: Film Studies & Studio Art with Honors Distinction

Artist Bentrice Jusu is best described by the word ‘passion’. Every project and venture she carries out is infused with a palpable and pure energy. Take for instance ‘Both Hands’, a non profit youth arts program which Bentrice founded in 2011 as a sophomore. Purposeful, fiery and refreshingly honest, Bentrice catches us up on all things in her world.

 

DeacLink: Tell us about what you’re doing right now.

Bentrice Jusu: I’m a full-time artist. Everything I do is about creatively composing ways to use my professional and educational skill set to make money, earn a salary. 

In addition to making work, I’m still Executive Director of Both Hands [founded in 2011 while at Wake], and Founder and Creative Director of the Become Club, a fashion and interactive multimedia business which incorporates fashion, music and videography. 

All three of these operations combined are definitely not sustainable, so I have to think creatively about how to be a good artist, how to work in media I excel in, and how to utilize the business mindedness I honed before and during my time at Wake. The key is applying business savviness to your artistic practice.

 

DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.

B: I founded Both Hands while at Wake in 2011, so coming out school that was my primary focus, keeping that going. In 2015 I went into research development for the Become Club. And throughout my time since Wake I’ve been producing artwork of my own and executing commissioned projects... I try to seek commissions all the time. I had a showing in Trenton at the New Jersey State Museum recently, which was an annual showing for my organization as well as my artwork. I also have a few potential events brewing in Philly and NYC. My website and social media accounts will announce those projects officially in the near future.


DL: Did you consider a graduate degree after Wake? 

B: I literally just hit ‘submit’ on my applications last week! I’m applying to a few MFA programs. One particular program I had my eye on, I’ve just missed the deadline for. It’s a dual MFA and MBA at NYU. Through my other research I discovered another great program- UPenn offers a Masters in Liberal Arts now. 

 

DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

B: Everything revolved around Both Hands from the moment I started that business. I consciously enrolled in classes that would apply positively to building and impacting my business… I made my course load work for me.

Intentionally, I stayed true to my art. I came to Wake with my sights set on a business major but I failed. I had to retake a few classes but even then I still didn’t end up majoring in it. The intent there was to become amazing at running a non-profit. The only problem is, the Wake business major is intensive on corporate avenues and profit, and not necessarily non-profit success. But in the end I simply adjusted, shaped my brain to think about other ways to run a business.

I owe a lot to Polly Black’s tutelage in the ICE Department (Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship). It allowed me to see business in an innovative and creative way… Professor Black was pivotal in bringing the educational and professional aspect to my Wake experience.

 

DL: Did Wake’s Art Department help prepare you for life as a full time artist?

B: I say this without any reserve: Wake’s Art Department DID in fact help me in my post graduate career. Shout out to Wake Forest Art Department- TEAM ART! Hallberg, Pickel, Joel, Finn, Faber… all of the professors were amazing.

We didn’t have access to a rich, popping arts culture like schools in New York does.. And you can’t blame that on the University because that’s just Winston-Salem, NC. But I say without any hesitation that Wake did expose me to different art, different practices, and to challenges which made me become my own, better type of artist without conforming to one certain medium. I felt free to explore. 


DL: Prior to what you’re doing now, what other sorts of jobs have you had? How did you find and apply to them?

B: I interned for the Shalom Project, the Diversity Immersion and Inclusion (in non-profit management), One Simple Wish in New Jersey, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF Freedom School), and was an Americorps Fellow. Some of the opportunities were from personal and internal references, while others came about from me seeing an ad posted in the pit and applying from there.


DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

B: Being taken for granted. It’s easy to get exploited because your artwork is either tangible and expensable, or replicable and can be done by any and everybody… people think you’re posting your materials for free.

So yeah, the hardest part is penetrating the professional art world without starving to death- you have to do a million and three things for $2 an hour. But you need to believe in yourself enough to know your artwork is meaningful beyond your fingertips. 

You’ve also got to overcome feeling bad about being judged and criticized as capitalistic when you switch your medium from a canvas to something portable like a CD or a song. I mean, I have a background in oil painting and all of that… I know how long it takes to construct and work at a painting, or write a proposal to get into a gallery space to display that painting. If you haven’t graduated from Yale, it’s hard. 


DL: You’re still based in New Jersey, but looking to move to the City permanently soon. Have you got any advice for students looking to move to NYC?

B: Don’t be a wimp. New York is like every other place, but they’re raised to be themselves. And if you are afraid and intimidated you will not exist there. I haven’t even penetrated the NYC scene like I’m planning to in the next year, but from the time I’ve spent there… you simply can’t be a baby.


DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in New York? 

B: Nothing. It’s everything you’d expect from a metropolitan art scene. 


DL: So we know about grad school, but what’s next for you, art-wise?

B: I’m beginning to focus more on my performance practice. It’s still video installation, still multilateral… but much more centered around the music and performance aspect now. It’ll manifest through the Become Club website, and the actual performance and music will be good enough to reach audiences who can really feel what I’m talking about. The content is based around you becoming the artist you want to be. Viewers can purchase the song for one dollar. Five bucks buys a print, and you can become a member of the club to have access to special projects and opportunities for selected prices from $100.

I’ve also got a show coming up at START gallery, with fellow alumna Emma Hunsinger. More information on that will be showing up on the gallery’s site.


DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can pass on, or currently go by?

B: Don’t forget where you came from… don’t be afraid of your past. You cannot forget that. 
 

Visit Bentrice's website here

Follow Bentrice on Instagram and Twitter @beni_jusu

Spotlight Interview: Kristi Chan

Kristi Chan: Artist

San Francisco

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Studio Art

Minor: Art History

Artist Kristi Chan is a vivacious soul, characterized by an even balance of optimism and tenacity. The recent graduate and travel pro explains how she ended up on the opposite side of the country from her North Carolina home, pursuing what she loves most: creating.

 

DeacLink: What are you up to right now?

Kristi Chan: Right now I teach elementary and middle school art at Presidio Hill School, three days a week. I was also recently working for photographer McNair Evans in the city, which was really great. In addition to these, I do commission works on a regular basis and write/shoot for an online magazine called The Bold Italic. I have always had side projects, or ‘hustles’ going on. 

In my spare time, which I feel there’s never enough of, I’m working on personal painting and photography projects. I’ve just been accepted as a studio resident at ArtSpan, a local arts organization in the city which provides studios for applicants who have never had a space to work in before, or have been displaced from their studio. I move in the next couple weeks, and can’t wait to get started there. Prior to this, I’ve been carving out two areas in my apartment to create work- one in my room and a corner of the shared living room. Most studios I had looked at were more expensive than my apartment, so I had to make it work! 


DL: Take us through your journey since graduating from Wake.

KC: I graduated in 2015 with a teaching job lined up in Argentina for that summer teaching a high school study abroad course on photojournalism and social change. Afterward I came back to the States, but didn’t go home to Charlotte. I had applied for journalism jobs up in DC and New York, so spent time interviewing there to understand the environment and how life would be if I were to go that route. I realized I wasn’t ready for an office job, and neither city was really for me. I participated in a photography workshop in Provincetown, Cape Cod where a few friends of mine were already. Once the workshop concluded, I was beyond inspired to continue my work, but had to face the facts- I had no money, no ticket home, and no car. I caught a ride out West to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I was working on hot air balloon rigs for two months to have an income, until the opportunity to catch another ride arose. My friend picked me up on his way to see family in Montana. From there I hopped to Seattle, and trickled down the coast via train until I landed in San Francisco. I’ve been here for a year since.


DL: Did you consider a graduate degree after Wake? 

KC: Yes, and I’m still considering it. I don’t think I’m ready just yet, but with more time I’ll have a better grasp of how things work in the crazy art world, and then return to school. I want to have a few more shows and publications under my belt before applying to programs, and a more complete portfolio in general.


DL: Did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

KC: Yes, very much so. I was encouraged by my professors to pick art as a major while at Wake, though most people were worried about a potential future in the arts, and advised against it. Despite the voices in my ear saying, ‘You won’t be able to do anything with art,’ I chose what I loved and felt all the more motivated to prove that opinion wrong. Wake’s prevalence of Business and Science, and more directly career-oriented majors can create the pressure to be boxed in, but the professors in the Art Department were so supportive that I chose something I knew I would love doing even if the path was really undetermined.

The best skill I acquired while in undergrad was the process by which I learned to make artistic decisions. Having to make and defend the reasoning of my decisions with each image and painting I produced helped create a process that taught me to consider the intention and impact of each of those decisions, a process that carried over into my life. It's also probably a big reason behind why I like to travel, and have worked for opportunities that allow me to do so. I learned to be comfortable with the constant ambiguity in an art career or while traveling, which I've learned is a pretty valuable transferable skill! I apply the same process I use when painting to navigate the extreme uncertainty of life as an artist now. There is no one to tell you how to make decisions in painting, and life is the same- both are very open and up to the individual. I feel extremely free and capable to take the steps I need to, and time my decisions with confidence.


DL: Do you think Wake’s art program prepared you for life as an artist in the real world?

KC: While there are many wonderful things about our art program, I don't think it's really designed to train career artists. It’s pretty uncommon for Studio majors to graduate on to careers as artists. I loved my classes, and while I acquired a great amount of studio skills, I didn’t learn enough business skills to know what it would take to be, say, a small business owner or sole proprietor. As an artist you have to be your own business, which of course requires business skills- something I felt that I was lacking in. I had a little knowledge of budgeting and business basics, because I took entrepreneurship classes, but if you look at how Business majors are prepared across their time with resume reviews, internships, mock interviews, etc... you'll realize where there are some potential gaps in our program. The closest simulation to networking I had was gallery openings where the artist would visit, and you try to get a moment with them. 


DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

KC: I think it’s really easy to see how big the art world is. It’s hard to avoid comparing yourself to other artists, and equally difficult to devote the required time, money and space to create work you believe in.

It can be discouraging when you’re producing work that no one is seeing or buying. But you have to wholeheartedly believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile, and pick yourself up by the bootstraps. It’s already been a year in this city, and I understand that I have a far way to go. But I know this is what I should be doing, and that keeps me going.


DL: How do you like living and working in San Francisco? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move there?

KC: I love living in San Francisco. The Bay Area is really vibrant culturally, and there’s a rich history in the arts here. While a lot has changed with the growth of the tech industry and many artists have been pushed out of the city, there remains a creative, can-do spirit that I draw a lot of motivation from. I meet artists, makers, and creators everywhere I go, and the arts are something that people really value here.  The outdoors are also a big part of my life, and so being able to climb, surf, and backpack on any given weekend is a huge plus. SF has surprisingly good surf, and I can be on a trail outside the city within a 30 min drive.


As far as advice for students wanting to move here--it is a really challenging city to live in. They say it takes about a year to feel like you live here. This isn’t news to anyone, but it is extremely expensive. I feel like I won the lottery with my housing situation, but for the most part average rent for a room in an apartment with roommates is about 1200-1600. A lot of artists have moved to Oakland across the bay, but even that area has gotten really expensive. Some days I think to myself half-jokingly that I probably picked the worst city to decide to be a “starving artist” in, but most of the time I couldn’t be happier to be where I am now.


DL: What piece of advice do you currently go by, that you can leave with us?

KC: Say yes to every opportunity until you can’t… if you aren’t challenging yourself then you’re just making excuses. No one’s gonna do it for you.
 

Visit Kristi's website here

Follow her on Instagram @kristi_chan

Spotlight Interview: Kovi Konowiecki

Kovi Konowiecki: Photographer

Los Angeles / London

WFU Class of 2014

Major: Communications, Media Concentration

Minor: English

 


 

After graduation, Kovi moved to Israel to play with a professional soccer club called Hapoel Kfar Saba F.C. After some time, he realized that photography was what he really wanted to be doing with his life. We spoke with Kovi to learn how this revelation has impacted his journey since.

 

DeacLink: Tell us what you’re up to right now.

Kovi: I just finished my MA in Photography  from University of the Arts London and have two if my images being displayed at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.

I am currently polishing up a series called 'Delivering Flowers to Grandpa Jack', which I began creating to capture the uniqueness of Long Beach, California—the people and places that I thought made it different from everywhere else. But as I spent more time documenting my hometown, I realized that its uniqueness does not stem from the people who live there or the streets that comprise it. Rather, it is the things that don’t stand out that make Long Beach like nowhere else for me. The series pays tribute to the elements of Long Beach that many would find commonplace and un-extraordinary, highlighting the beauty of familiarity that can transform the mundane of one’s hometown into something very personal. The photographs’ devotion to the elements of the everyday signifies how the special feeling one associates with their hometown does not come from the place itself—it comes from being from the place. Undefined by a specific era, the people depicted in the series exist in a setting created by my perception of home—a place that remains intimate and ageless—an embodiment of the feeling that no matter how many years pass, and no matter how many things change, there are certain things that never change.


 

DL: How did you end up in a Masters program? What were your biggest incentives for enrolling?

K: Going back to school was really appealing for me at the time-- the process of collaborating and being in a creative environment was really exciting to me. Because I played soccer at Wake, I never really had that experience in college-- to be completely immersed and driven by photography.


 

DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

K: Wake allowed me to really figure out who I was, both an as individual and as an artist. I was rather different in a predominantly homogenous community, which perpetuated many of my artistic endeavors. I wanted to create platforms for social change.

I was also fortunate enough to have some really engaging professors that allowed me to form some of the ideas that are the basis for much of my work today.


 

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

K: I think college is all about finding out who you are. For some it takes longer than others. For others it never really happens. I think Wake could do a better job of giving students more opportunities to explore creative outlets. It is very easy to get sucked into the code of getting good grades.

 

DL:  What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

K: It is highly competitive! Everyone's a photographer these days. It takes a lot of trust in yourself and your sense of authorship. It also takes a lot of patience, as it can take years to establish who you are as an artist.

 

DL: How did you like living and producing work in London, versus back home in LA? Is there a significant difference in the quality of your work, the ease of producing, and the reception of your work, between the two places?

K: I like the negotiation  between LA and London. I sort of get the best of both worlds. London is like an incubator for me, I get tons of inspiration from all of the creative outlets. LA is a more of a place for production and reflection for me. Everything runs at a slower pace in LA, which can be great at times.
 

 

DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in London? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move to move there?

K: If you put in the effort to make connections and see what is out there, London can really be a fantastic place to grow. My biggest advice would be to take initiative-- there is too much going on to sit back.

 

DL: How about in LA?

K: With regards to LA, the art scene is growing a lot. There seems to be a movement of people coming from NY (I think people are starting to get a bit tired of the cold). But like London, there are tons of collaborations and opportunities waiting to happen.
 

 

DL: What and where is next for you?

K: I wish I knew...I am using this time to reflect and figure out where I want to be... and where will be best for my career.
 

 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

K: Be patient and let things happen naturally. And the work is always more important than self promotion or getting your name out there-- the work has to always be at the forefront.

 

Visit Kovi's website and follow him on Instagram