Spotlight Interview: Nicole Hillman

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

Minneapolis, MN

WFU Class of 2013

Major: Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DL: What brought you to Minneapolis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Interview: Kat Shuford

Kat Shuford: UI Designer + Owner/Founder of Catbat Shop

New York City

WFU Class of 2009

Major: Studio Art

Double Minor: Spanish & Latin American Studies

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Kat Shuford is a multitalented creator, leading a dual career in web design and fashion. Kat graduated from Wake with a Studio Major in 2009 and has since carved her own path in New York. She spoke with us recently to outline her journey since Winston-Salem.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? What was the job market like upon graduation?

Kat Shuford: I majored in Studio Art, with a concentration in Sculpture. I double-minored in Spanish & Latin American Studies.  I had been told that you can always be an art teacher at a private school the year after you graduate, but the Great Recession had hit teaching jobs hard, and my applications went unanswered.  My other idea was to teach English abroad, which I had done the previous summer, and I was accepted to a program through the Spanish government to teach in Mallorca for a year. When graduation finally came though, I was too exhausted from travelling during my years at Wake Forest (Santiago, Chile and Querétaro, Mexico) and thought that it would be hard to continue an art practice doing that.  

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

KS: I decided to move back home to Atlanta and save money to move to New York to pursue my art career. I had a number of odd jobs and internships that year, and I didn’t have much more than 3k saved. I figured that I had handled a big city before in a different language and culture, so I should be able to navigate New York. I only knew one or two people there and no close friends.  I managed to line up an internship as an artist assistant for Dustin Yellin through Craigslist (unpaid) and decided to go ahead and move since I could network better from New York than sending out more resumes from Atlanta.

I worked at the Dustin Yellin’s studio for several years, mainly doing collage work.  He happened to get a big commission right around the time I was going to have to stop interning there and get a paid job elsewhere. It was lucky timing. The team of assistants was up to 20 people at one point. In many ways, it was a dream job. I was doing art everyday and working alongside talented people, but it was physically taxing. I was exhausted by the time I got home.  My own art practice seemed so small in comparison.

After a few years there, I was growing restless. I wanted to have my own studio and the energy to work on my own art. I saw that working in the art world would always be a hustle. I got burnt out and quit. I started teaching myself web design with online videos and by building my own websites.  Web design appealed to me for the same reasons I liked making art: I put something out in the world, and someone on the other end would have to make sense of it without me there alongside them.

I was able to find internships by applying online, and one of those turned into steady gig. I got connected with my current job at BrightCrowd when a friend introduced me to one of his buddies from Business school at a mixer as SXSW.  I’ve been a UI designer at BrightCrowd for 4 years now. It’s a directory of helpful alumni that was started by two Stanford alumni and has spread to 20 more top universities. I do everything visually-related for them- from graphic design to front-end templating.  

And what happened to those dreams of being an artist? Once I started working as a web designer, I had enough money and time to get a small studio. I loved having a space to create in, but I didn’t like being alone in a tiny windowless room when there was the entire city of New York around me! I somehow found my way into designing capes that could be worn everyday, and it led me back out into the world, going into factories and warehouses in Brooklyn and New York, touching and learning about fabric, meeting incredible models and photographers, having an eye out for photoshoot locations. You can check out what I do at http://www.catbatshop.com/ or on Instagram @catbatshop.


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

KS: I was pushed and challenged, but it was very much within an academic context.  Some of that translated to the larger world, and some of it didn’t. There were a lot of gaps. Many people competing for the same art jobs I was came from art schools, so they had a really strong network and more technical skills.  I felt like I had a critical eye and that I understood the dialogue in the art world, but those skills didn’t translate to getting a job.


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

KS: Craigslist… I think a lot has changed since I was an intern. First of all, interns get paid! Almost all of mine were unpaid. If you want a job from an internship, I do think you have to go above and beyond what the other interns are doing and to become friendly with people in the company. Even in the most casual work cultures, you still have to be top of mind. Even if they can’t hire you, they’ll feel confident recommending you or passing your name along if you have been helpful. I also applied through NYFA frequently, but I never had much luck with it.


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

KS: I remember they had a How to Interview panel, but the panelists worked in finance and sales. There wasn’t a tailored experience for students in the arts. As I mentioned before, the people I met in New York who went to art schools had big networks and the skills that put them at an advantage in getting jobs in the arts. Making sure every studio art major knows their way around the Adobe suite, specifically related to photo and video editing, would be a good step. I’m happy to talk to anyone who’s just graduated and trying to figure out what to do.


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

KS: I was sold on New York during my first week here.  I loved being able to ride a bike most places, and I met so many interesting people it made my head spin. After 8 years, I still think it’s the people. A perfect day for me is to ride my bike into Manhattan bounce around to different cafes, bookstores, parks -- people-watching and eating.

I’m a bit out of touch with the art scene, but I saw Like Life this summer at the Met Breuer. I loved the mix of time periods. When I was younger, I only wanted to see contemporary art-- art of ideas. The Met knocked that out of me.

DL: What is your favorite part about owning a clothing line? What about web design- what are the perks of that?
KS: Designing the capes brings me in contact with new places and talented people.  It’s inherently collaborative. I get my fabric from a deadstock fabric supplier named Danny in Chelsea. Five generations of his family have been selling fabric out of the warehouse, and now he’s got a Zaha Hadid apartment building across the street and hotels all around him. It’s a remnant of an older New York.

As for web design, I like being a part of a team and knowing my creative skills have real value for the team. If you like to be constantly learning and you are happy spending the day not talking to anyone, web design is a good fit.


SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: Meagan Hooper

Meagan Hooper: Founder & CEO of bSmartGuide.com

New York City

WFU Class of 2004

Major: Theatre

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Meagan Hooper graduated from Wake Forest with a Theater major and enormous amounts of ambition. She soon found herself balancing auditions with part-time work at a hedge fund in New York. Meagan speaks to us now as founder and CEO of bSmartGuide.com, an online platform for women to network and mentor one another. Learn how Meagan’s path since Wake led her to founding this incredible online community.

DeacLink: Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

Meagan Hooper: When I graduated in 2004, my husband and I moved to Italy for the summer for him to teach English and music. In the Fall we moved to New York - a condition of his proposing. ;) I was an aspiring actress with a film and TV agent and manager. I had worked for a regional theater company, the Williamstown Theater Festival, that won a Tony Award and had a film reel from student projects at UNC School of the Arts. I began auditioning for anything and everything from soap operas, Netflix series, network pilots, and feature films. I auditioned for How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, Law and Order, and High School Musical to name a few.

During this time, I had a freelance job working in finance. Through a fellow WFU Theater Major, Melissa Jones, I met a family who needed a part-time babysitter. The gentleman I babysat for ran an emerging markets equities research firm. I asked him if I could be of any help to him and his business as I was looking for extra work. Being a Wake Forest University Theater Major, I felt confident I could help edit the stock reports and create a monthly newsletter featuring emerging market sectors and stocks. I was really grateful for my liberal arts education because I could apply my versatile education to a field like finance. I worked for his firm on a freelance basis while I auditioned. I gained a tremendous education in finance that year learning on the job. I learned how to value a company, how the stock market works, how to read financial statements, and much more - I found it fascinating! Then, in 2006, I was babysitting again. This time for another Wake Forest graduate and Theater Major, Cambra Overend (key tip here - your college friends are your professional network!).

Through this babysitting job, I became acquainted with a WFU Babcock Business School graduate, who managed a hedge fund. I told him I was an actress who worked for an emerging market equities research firm. He shared that his COO could use an assistant and asked if I would be interested in the role. I accepted on the condition that I could go on auditions as they arose and he agreed. This job exposed me to investment management, which proved even more interesting, dramatic, and fabulous than any of the movies I was auditioning for (including Wall Street 2!).

I continued auditioning, but I realized more and more my heart was back at the office. I would put a stock trade in the market, run to an audition, watch the markets while auditioning for MTV or Nickelodeon, then run back to the office. I found myself really loving the office environment and the people. I was scared that if I booked a part - no matter how big, I would lose this place and the feeling it gave me. I was presented with touring theater opportunities but turned them down to stay, but stayed open to film and short-term national commercial bookings.

In 2008, my mentor and COO of the hedge fund decided to retire. I put myself forward to fill the position, and after much consideration and candidate interviews, was chosen for the role. Fortunately, I was still allowed to leave for auditions even with this increased responsibility. The hedge fund was completely supportive of my performing arts dream, which made endeared them even more to me.

During this time I was experiencing a tremendous amount of success, professionally and personally. An increasing number of people were asking me to get coffee to pick my brain about how to get a raise, a promotion, or what I had learned about personal finance. It became clear to me how mentorship and advice was in scarce supply for women in this industry. I was also noticing firsthand how few women there were in senior positions, not just in finance, but in all industries.

I decided to do something about it. I created a post-college guide - a curriculum for women on how to be successful after college. I drafted a nonfiction book proposal, conducted interviews, pitched the sample publishing houses, and got rejected. I then thought ‘Nobody can stop me online’... so I set up a website. My goal was to create a community where people could share content about how to be smart and mentor each other online.

I launched the site in 2010, providing a place for women to share their advice, watch video interviews featuring smart, successful women, participate in masterclasses, and more. The key at the heart of all this was networking online. Women needed easier access to help one another, in order to share information and increase the number of female leaders and decision makers. Men conduct business with their friends. So if women are going to get ahead professionally, we need to do business with each other.

DL: You launched your site eight years ago. It’s almost as if bSmartGuide.com was ahead of its time.

MH: It definitely was. People didn’t understand the concept of a community blog with a variety of writers, let alone know that bSmartGuide.com was a blog itself. At the time Huffington Post was the only recognizable ‘blog of blogs’ and Facebook was the only online platform people felt comfortable creating a personal profile attached to their name.

DL: Networking seems to be the fulcrum of your platform, and your journey in total. How important is networking to you?

MH: Democratized networking with easy access will be the key to increasing the number of women leaders and decision makers globally. Unfortunately, women are socialized to view networking as ‘asking for something’ or ‘being a bother to someone.’ Instead, the successful men I worked for viewed networking as looking at your circle or the people around you and asking yourself, ‘How can I be helpful to them, and how can they be helpful to me?’ That is the foundation of utilizing your network. If your circle is only comprised of people who don’t want to be helpful to you,, then you should build a new community around yourself and your goals. A woman I recently interviewed shared that you can host a meetup group, create a student group, or move to a different city, to give a few examples for creating your network. It’s very important to be proactive about your network. You can have a LinkedIn connection or a bSmart connection, but it’s only useful if those connections are utilized to help each other.

DL: What is your favorite part about being the Founder of bSmartGuide.com?

MH: I love seeing people recognize their potential, then take action towards that potential. It’s amazing to see that light go on in someone’s mind, realizing their capacity is far bigger than they thought it was. That’s the whole mission of bSmart, for us to help users realize and take steps towards their full potential in our online community and through our content.

DL: Have you got a kernel or two of advice for theatre majors?

MH: I cite my Wake Forest Theatre Major as one of the most influential factors of my success. I was able to capitalize on opportunities by applying the myriad skills I obtained in Theater. I learned how speak with a mantra while performing, how to understand and enact the concept of status, to identify my objective and try different tactics to achieve it, leverage a high emotional intelligence, and developed the ability to make choices with my body and my voice based on the professional role I enacted. All of these things were the cornerstone to crafting the person I wanted to be as a professional.

When I entered the world of New York finance there were very few women leaders, so I borrowed the mindset, characteristics, and behaviors of the men that were successful. Through my ability to play with status in real life situation, identifying my objective whilst trying different tactics within the office environment, I was able to navigate the waters quickly and create the reputation I wanted. I essentially cast myself in the role. Now corporations bring me in to train their associates and managers on the same strategy. I call it “Acting for Success.”

As a theatre major, you have every opportunity and option available to create the life you want. You will always have to learn on the job - even if it’s accounting or finance like me - so don’t limit your vision!

At the conclusion of our interview, Meagan imparted a special message to all female students and alumnae, inviting YOU to join the bSmart movement:

bSmart women utilize our platform for mentorship and networking and have told me they view it as ‘LinkedIn for women.’ We’re flattered by that comparison and to make mentorship and networking even more accessible, we’ve just launched our app for Apple and Android. We’d love for the women of Wake Forest to join us as members or apply to be Campus Ambassadors. If you do join, be sure to say hello and connect with me on bSmart here and join my mentorship group here.

Spotlight Interview: Anna Raines King

Anna Raines King: Architect & Entrepreneur

Beaufort, North Carolina

WFU Class of 2010

Major: Art History

Minor: Studio Art

Anna Raines King is a fantastic example of pursuing one's passions whilst making a difference. The Co-Founder of the eco-conscious architecture firm 2Kings explains how her career has taken shape since leaving the Forest.

 

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

Anna Raines King: I graduated Cum Laude in 2010 with a major in Art History and a minor in Studio Art. At that time, I planned to complete an MFA in printmaking, so I began to apply to graduate schools; meanwhile, I worked part time as a studio assistant for Professor David Faber. However, during that year I decided on a different career path. Having worked throughout high school and college for an architecture firm, Owen Architecture, in Winston-Salem, I realized that architecture would be a good fit for my both my art history and studio art interests and abilities. I entered UNC Charlotte’s Masters in Architecture and graduated with Honors in 2014.  

During graduate school, I cast a pretty wide net. I sought out design studios taught by practicing architects. I took interdisciplinary classes in Urban Design, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and real estate development. My thesis focused on the occupation of public space and architecture; more specifically, how spatial occupation, manifested as demonstrations as acts of protest, and the appropriation of public space in contemporary protest culture, relate to and physically alter the architectural and urban environment(s).

 

DL: Would you mind telling me more about 2Kings?

AK: I met David King, who’s now my husband, in architecture school. He, too,  was working on an interdisciplinary thesis. Although by the time we graduated the economy had improved, the field of architecture was-- and still is--  experiencing a period of fluctuation. The field is navigating new relationships with technology, computing, and the licensure process. The large firms that were hiring in 2014  were not what we were looking for.  We chose to found our own design-build firm at the end of school as an intellectual exercise, and it quickly became our full time job. We have an unlimited general contractor's license as well as our real estate brokers license. Our passion is responsible coastal development - our clients are mainly high-end residential; however, we also partner with other professionals in both the public and private sectors on pocket parks, temporary installations, and redevelopment projects. Currently, we are in the midst of town approvals for our first low impact development in a neighboring town.

 

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

AK: This was an amazing time to be at Wake Forest! Students in the business world and the art world intermixed! The newly created Entrepreneurship minor was cross-listed with the Art Department, and that interdisciplinary approach facilitated, for example, the creation of the START gallery in Reynolda Village -- a student-run gallery where art classes could exhibit and sell their work. Professors like Jan Detter and Lynn Book were extremely dedicated to helping students develop their own “kit-of-parts” needed to navigate future careers in creative fields. The successful realization of an idea relies on a donor, a grant, a kick-starter or a residency program, etc and, the “kit” developed in those classes is what I relied on to navigate the practical realities of finding success in a creative field.

 

DL: Architecture and design seem to be  popular career paths for art alums despite the fact there are no real programs for this at Wake. How did you know this is what you wanted to do? What’s the hardest part about breaking into the field?

AK: To answer the first part of your question-- In addition to my work with Owen Architecture in Winston-Salem I took advantage of as many arts-related opportunities as possible at Wake Forest outside of the required curriculum. The summer of my sophomore year I interned at the Westminster Archive Center in London, England through a joint internship placement program with Wake Forest and Boston University. There I helped examine the physical condition of newly acquired documents and collections to develop basic working database for conservation and preservation. The next summer I was awarded a 10-week, $4500 stipend for a scholarly research collaboration through the Research Fellows Program with Professor Harry Titus in Paris, France.  Professor Titus helped guide my research in the advancements and problems of architectural vocabulary within revival-style church building in Second Empire Paris, as well as its significance within a broader context of modern art and architecture.  During the school year I worked for 3 to 4 Ounces, the student art and literary magazine, eventually becoming editor-in-chief. My senior year I chaired the Media Board, which oversees all seven of the student publications and media organizations. Taken as a whole, my experiences in each of these various paths during my time at Wake Forest allowed me to confidently choose a career path upon graduating.

To answer the second part of your question-- In architecture, one of the most difficult challenges to breaking into the field is that you need life experience. Architecture professors will say “Architecture is an old man’s game.” An accumulation of knowledge --building codes, materials, budget timelines, best practices and public/private partnerships- is necessary in the field.  And that takes a lot of time to learn.  For recent graduates, this can be frustrating. Additionally, architecture has been primarily a “man’s game” and so there is that aspect of being a female architect and outside the norm.  

 

DL: How do you like living in North Carolina? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career outside of a major arts hub?

AK: There are pluses and minuses. Because we live in a coastal area, with a small year round population, access to resources such as print labs and fabricators is challenging. On the positive side, we are influencing and changing the built environment in a way we couldn't in a larger city. Fortunately, we have the fastest internet in our town, and with cloud-based technology we can connect to a larger community via the internet.

David and I are passionate about climate change and sea level rise, and what it is going to mean to live on the coast in 10-100 years.  Few coastal communities have the architects and other resources like those available to the coasts of New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. On a personal level, it is important to us to know that we will be here in this community and will be able to help with the imminent climate effects.

 

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

AK: The existence of cross disciplinary experiences is good. However, the school needs to continue to provide a variety of experiences beyond the classroom.Taking advantage of off-campus opportunities in Winston-Salem and in Europe made a big difference for me. Having the ability to take risks, especially formative ones in a low risk environment, in college is so important. The arts world can be harsh. Having that confidence gained through experience and support through people that believe in you is something that you can draw on when times are tough.

 

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

AK: In the greater world, the arts field tends to be undervalued. This shows up in the idea that creatives should intern or work for free for years or charge less for the service they provide. This type of thinking undercuts the importance of the art field. So my best advice would be to value yourself and your abilities. Recognize that what you offer is as important as other fields. You can’t expect others to value you if you don’t value yourself.

 

Check out the 2Kings 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: Adelaide Knott

Adelaide Knott: Entrepreneur

Edinburgh, Scotland

Founder & Florist, ASG Flowers
WFU Class of 2012
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Art History

Adelaide Knott was part of the WFU Women's Field Hockey team and majored in Studio Art- a unique combination for her four years at the Forest. Coming away from the START Gallery fellowship and a gallery role in Edinburgh, Adelaide realised her true passion for hands-on creation. Now two seasons into her own floristry business, Knott speaks on her path since Scales.

DeacLink: What are you up to these days?

Adelaide Knott: I’m currently a self-employed florist working out of a studio in Edinburgh. As we speak I’m in Perthshire at my parent’s house, growing flowers. It’s a real advantage to have the space and affordability here, plus if I’m out meeting clients my parents pitch in with the watering. Depending on what’s required, I’ll be in either Edinburgh or Perthshire. I move back and forth.

This is the second full season of my floristry business, and it’s a lot to balance but very rewarding. I employ freelance florists for events, and I grow my own flowers. 

DL: What’s is like working for yourself? 

AK: It can be scary! The key is ensuring the time I spend working can cover all costs, after which I can pay myself. There’s no paycheck at the end of each month, it’s touch and go. So it’s a different way and pattern of work. Creating prices and compiling quotes can also be tough, but with each new project you find your way. 

DL: To go from the START fellowship to floristry is a jump! Tell us how you arrived at this point.

AK: My year in START Gallery was crucial in laying the foundations for my understanding of running my own business. I learned so much about marketing, social media, pricing, and client relations. I realized how important it is to build a real relationship with clients, to earn their trust- you never know when a connection will come in handy. 

While at START my favorite aspects were the physical tasks- installations, painting walls, hanging the space, and so forth. Particularly, my experience with installation comes into play now with my floristry. 

After START I took a year off to travel. I did a road trip across the US, followed by time back in Scotland before finishing in South America. This time off allowed me to mentally reset and realize what I truly wanted to do next.

I went back into a gallery job after travelling, but I wasn’t getting much out of it. Unlike START, this position wasn’t hands-on. I was essentially a PA to the gallery director, and although I learned a lot about traditional Scottish painting, my heart wasn’t in it. I began applying to other galleries but ultimately decided to go a new direction.

I started doing work experience with a local florist, and after time took the plunge into a short course in Bath called Tallulah Rose Career Changing Course in Floristry. There I was able to develop business skills and launch the service I provide now. The majority of my bookings are weddings, which is great because you can have a direct impact on the special day of your client. 

DL: Was it difficult breaking into the floristry scene? How did you manage to get those first key bookings?

AK: My website and Instagram were pivotal during the launch, and are still vital to my business now. Half the battle is appearing professional and leveraging your online network to announce your presence and business. I was lucky to have a friend give their advice and help on my own website, and I can say it’s definitely important to know and use every resource at your fingertips. Still now though, it’s all trial and error, you have to go with the flow, learn from your mistakes, and not be too hard on yourself.

To survive in this industry, it’s very important to build trusting relationships with your clients. Keeping them informed about every single detail and explaining each charge on your quote will build trust between parties. If you can realize what your time is worth and convey it to the client, that confidence is powerful.

DL: How do you like being back in Edinburgh? Do you have any pointers for students looking to live and work there?

AK: Edinburgh is a great city because it has a small-town feel. The Highlands are close by, so you can get out of the city for outdoorsy activities very easily. Of course, my family is here so I was keen to be near them again. There are also plenty of rural areas offering that creative spark for those interested in crafting and workshops. My friends recently did a pottery class where you can learn to throw on a wheel. 

DL: What’s the art scene like in Edinburgh?

AK: There’s an interesting mix in the city, including a National and Portrait Museum plus a number of contemporary galleries. It’s a competitive gallery scene for sure. Creative Scotland is the primary governing body for funds for galleries and creative projects in Scotland, so students interested in working here should check their website for internship and job opportunities. They have a regularly updated bulletin.  We’ve also got an annual arts festival in August, including written and spoken word, the performing arts and visual art. The entire town-from the pubs to restaurants and hotels- is taken over by performances like comedy, acting and poetry. Alongside the performing arts there is the Edinburgh Art Festival and another really cool project is Hidden Door, this happens almost every year in in May.There are plenty of job opportunities and volunteering here in Edinburgh. 

DL: Sounds fantastic! Looking back, did you feel prepared for the ‘real world’ coming out of Wake?

AK: My undergrad experience didn’t set me up for running my own business, although it definitely did plant a seed for me to realize my creative passions. The START fellowship was the most useful for building an understanding of how businesses work, but you still can’t fully simulate the amount of responsibility that life after graduation brings, in the university environment. 

DL: What kernel of advice would you like to pass on to the readers?

AK: Be open to others’ advice, and take on as much as you can. Don’t stress over the little things, because they’re all just stepping stones in the bigger picture. Things have a way of working out. Avoid comparing yourself to others, and embrace your own creativity.
 

Spotlight Interview: Nick Gray

Nick Gray: Founder and Owner, Museum Hack

New York City

WFU Class of 2004

Major: Business with Marketing focus

 

Nick Gray is a hacker. And no, not of the data breach variety. He’s the dynamic founder and owner of the wildly popular tour company ‘Museum Hack’ in NYC. We spoke with Nick to learn about his journey from Wake student to successful entrepreneur.

*At the time of the interview, Nick was Founder and CEO of Museum Hack. He has since stepped out of the CEO role to focus on other things.

 

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

Nick: We are hiring very fast, and a lot. We are making some key new hires, including an audience development team member, sales manager, and more tour guides. Along this process, we cast as wide a net as possible- posting to LinkedIn, Indeed.com, Craigslist, Facebook, local job sites, and arts pages- to get as many applicants as we can. We’re also increasing our focus on ‘team building’ as a key aspect of our service. We recently did a team building event with Facebook in San Francisco which was a really great experience. About eighty Facebook employees explored a museum together under our guidance, completing different fun tasks. We’re looking forward to doing more of these bookings in the future.

 

DL: What happened between graduation and the founding of your company?

NG:  Prior to leaving Wake I had been running a software project on campus for two years, which I wanted to turn into a company after graduation. In 2004 there was no venture capital, so I went to India with my savings to hire programmers there. It was an amazing, funny, but ultimately unsuccessful experience. After India I moved back home to Georgia and helped my parents out in the family business. We were operating out of the basement of the house, with one employee. A couple weeks turned into a couple months, and then a couple years. By then we were a seventy-employee operation. I moved to New York in 2007 to handle sales and marketing for our business up there. It was during this time that I began doing renegade tours of museums on the weekends. It was just for fun then, something different to do with my friends. They would come, hang out, and experience a place I had grown to love.

 

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

NG: The business school was huge of course, but the time I spent helping my parents was crucial to preparing me for setting up my own business.  During undergrad I wasn’t always at Calloway though, I spent some time in Scales. I was part of the Lilting Banshees as well as the inaugural class of Gordon McCray’s Arts Leadship Course. At the time, it wasn’t competitive to get into... I just took it because it sounded cool.

 

DL: Do you think Wake adequately prepared you for life after graduation?

NG: I’m so thankful for the friends I made at wake who became business models and mentors for me. The people I met there are my best friends who I keep in touch with still today.   

 

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

NG:  People try and fail in this market because they become too heady and get way ahead of themselves. We have a very simple product, and we keep it simple- we do live museum tours. We got really good at our tours, generated demand, and kept the growth slow. From that process we have created a multi million dollar business.

 

DL: How do you like living and working in NYC? What made you choose this city to set up your company?

NG: I love the spontaneity of a big city, and the freedom and flexibility it affords me.  New things happen every day.. my schedule is crazy. I meet amazing people all the time, and each day is a new adventure.

 

DL: What and where is next for you?

NG: We are growing Museum Hack very slowly on purpose, being careful about it. However, with that said, we would like to expand to other cities in the future. For now though, the biggest aim moving forward is to emphasize our team building experiences, and make ourselves known for that aspect of our service.

 

DL: Do you have a top tip to pass on to our readers?

NG:  Cash is king.

 

 

Follow & reach out to Nick on his Twitter @nickgraynews or website
Visit the Museum Hack website

Book a team building event with Museum Hack