Spotlight Interview: Emily Ortiz

Emily Ortiz: Graduate Student [ART THERAPY]

Washington, DC

WFU Class of 2015

Double Major: Studio Art & Psychology

eortiz.jpg

Emily Ortiz came across the 'hidden' profession of art therapy after completing a double major in Studio Art and Psychology at Wake Forest. Emily is currently completing her master's at The George Washington University's Art Therapy & Counseling program. We were lucky to steal Emily from her studies for a moment to discuss her path since WFU.

*Posted September 2017- Since her interview, Emily has moved to Winston-Salem to begin her career in Art Therapy with Sawtooth School of Visual Arts in the Healing & Wellness through the Visual Arts program.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? What led you to pursue a degree in Art Therapy?

Emily Ortiz: I was a double major in Studio Art and Psychology. I didn’t go into Wake knowing I wanted to do art or psychology. With the liberal arts program, I had the chance to take lots of different classes, and fell in love with those two subjects. My dad is an artist, so I had that background, and I think I rejected it a little because he was one, too. I eventually got involved in both majors, but I wasn’t sure how to combine them. Then I interned for Arts for Life at Brenner Children’s Hospital, and there I learned about art therapy. It’s this wonderful mental health profession I had no idea about. It combines my love of psychology, the human mind, and the mental health benefits of working with art. I did research on a lot of Master’s programs, and found GW, which was one of the first art therapy programs to be established. I applied and went for an interview, and fell in love with the field and DC.

 

DL: Would you mind telling me more about your program?

EO: It is a 2 year program if you go full time, and I will graduate with my Master’s in August. You get a very thorough education and learn general therapy and counseling theories, techniques, and processes, while also learning how to incorporate creative processes, stages of artistic development, and so on. So it's a really an education that's quite unique to the field of art therapy. In order to do this, you need to have some undergraduate training in art and psychology, but not necessarily a major in those fields. A lot of people come from art or psychology backgrounds, but many of my classmates came from graphic design, teaching, interior design, and other backgrounds.


While in school at GW, you do two full-year internships. I interned at an inpatient psychiatric unit and a local county’s behavioral health department. So there’s a lot of hands-on learning that happens from your supervisors and directly from your clients. For instance, when working in this field with a client, you learn to stress the process and not the product. Not focus on what you are making or the end result, but how the process of creating and expressing oneself can be beneficial.

As another part of my program that really drew me is the abroad program that's tied into the cultural diversity course. I’ll be going to Abu Dhabi and India, and while there I will be learning about how art therapy is viewed outside of the US and how to work with diverse populations. There are a lot of considerations, for instance, how different colors or materials might have cultural implications and how your practice is dependent upon availability or acceptability of materials, which might vary from practice in the United States. Also, it will be really interesting to see the role the arts takes on because of the language barrier.

 

DL: What sort of work experience/exposure to the field have you gained? What’s your plan for after graduation?

EO: I recently finished year two of the 2 one-year internships. In our program, you work one year with adults and the second with children or adolescents. I did a bit more work with adults. My first one was inpatient psychiatric unit in DC. We did an art therapy group daily and worked with the patients there. It was an acute psychiatric unit, so the people were in crisis and only there for a short time. We used a variety of artistic media and processes to see how we help with people working towards stability. It was powerful to see how people can express themselves through artistic processes when they may not be able to speak about painful or traumatic experiences.

My second internship I just finished, and it was was with a local county’s behavioral health services. I started in Child and Family Services and then transitioned to Behavioral Health which was adult services. We did groups for outpatient clients, and I did groups with homeless outreach services. I had individual clients, and I co-lead a group for domestic and sexual violence services. It was a wide range of clients and it was really great to work with so many different people on any given day.

Our program also gives us the chance to work in an onsite community trauma clinic where we work as student therapists. As part of GW’s trauma training, each second or third year student works individually with a client in the George Washington Art Therapy Clinic. With client permission, our sessions are recorded so that we can bring the video to supervision and learn to critique ourselves and receive feedback. So that's something I found to be a really unique and important part of the learning process.

When using art as therapy, you are providing the materials or themes and letting people do what they feel they need to do in what might be a more open studio approach. You are there to support emotions that come out as people are creating, or help them process through the imagery or ideas that arise. Then there might be more directive art therapy, like some groups I do a more directive project and do projects that are related to their treatment goals, such as trauma processing or emotional regulation. There's a lot of learning to assess the client and what they need in that hour that you're with them.

 

DL: This is a field most alums don’t think about. How did you make the transition, and what is the hardest part about breaking into this field?

EO: Knowing that this field exists is the hardest part. People see coloring books that are labeled as “art therapy”, but that’s not really therapy. It can be so much more impactful for people. I think that’s a shame, and I wish I had known about the field sooner. It is such a powerful thing, and as an artist you know intrinsically that art is important and that the creative process can be healing, but most people don’t know the field is there and that there's an opportunity to bring that to more people.  

 

DL: What will you be doing after graduation?

EO: After I graduate, I will be moving back to Winston-Salem and looking for a job. My goal is to work with the adult population. Ideally, I’d like to work part time with that population, and start something else on the side. There is such a vibrant and growing art culture in Winston-Salem, especially community art. I think there's a lot of potential there for some sort of community art therapy initiative and I'd love to work on that. I've become very passionate about preventative mental health care, and I really believe art can help people deal with stressors of their daily lives. I would like to start something along those lines. It’s also been exciting to see things like THRIVE at Wake which tackles some of this.

 

DL: How do you like living in DC? What’s the arts community like?

EO: I really enjoy DC. It’s so exciting when you have a free day and are able to just wander into the National Gallery and be around this incredible artwork. It is such an exciting place to be. There’s obviously a lot going on politically in the city, but there’s much more than that. It’s also been interesting to see how people express political ideas through art. It's also great to see the arts culture in the cities around D.C. I live in Arlington, and in Alexandria there’s the Torpedo Factory which has over 100 artist studios and gallery and is a really inspiring space.

 

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

EO: I was not prepared for life after graduation, in the way that I think some of my classmates in other majors were. Wake focuses so much on business, but some of that is missing with art. The OPCD is a generally a good resource, but I'm not sure they were really aware of some of the more non-traditional options that are out there and how students might prepare for those paths. But I think some of that is changing from within the department. My senior year, Leigh Ann Hallberg put together a video meeting with Wake art alums in different fields, including an art therapist. It was amazing to be in touch with a therapist who had gone to Wake and to learn about her path, so I really appreciated that opportunity. I think more of that would be helpful for the majors that don't get as much attention from the school, like art. Wake needs more “Lunch and Learns” and things like that video meeting to increase exposure to non-traditional career paths.

 

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

EO: It’s important to stay serious and do the research in terms of of what’s out there, so that you can find out about these more “hidden” career options. By doing your research, you are preparing yourself and opening yourself up to more experiences. Also, really getting to know yourself so you can figure out what you want to be doing and how that's going to match up to what you're passionate about. Grad school was definitely difficult, but what kept me going was a passion for what I was doing. I think if you find that passion it'll drive you towards where you need to be.

Spotlight Interview: Mattos Paschal

Mattos Paschal: Former Graduate Student

New York City

NYU's IFA Masters Program

WFU Class of 2014

Major: Art History (Honors)

Mattos Paschal graduated with Honors in Art History from Wake in 2014. At the time of the interview, she was in the process of obtaining her Master's degree at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts. In her interview, Mattos explains the realities of grad school and gives insight to life after undergrad.

 

DeacLink: What have you been doing since graduation? 

Mattos Paschal: After graduation, I interned at Cristin Tierney’s gallery for the summer, and then I applied for different gallery roles in New York. That didn’t pan out, so I moved home and spent two years working as a Children’s Arts Educator at a museum in Greenville. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Realistically, I wanted to use my brain a little more, and not be sanitizing these incredibly interesting artists for children. So, I decided to go back for and get my Masters. I have to say that the application process is a beast. Thankfully, I got into almost all of the programs that I applied to. I applied to Christie's and Sotheby's, which are auction house centered programs, and I applied to academic centered program. I went with latter since ultimate goal was more closely aligned with what I would study on the academic side. This fall, I began studying at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts (IFA).

Right now, I live on the Upper East Side close to the IFA’s campus. At the IFA, I have been dropped into their alumni network, which is international in scope. Through these connections, I have had internship interviews with two alumni at the Whitney, and I am also interviewing with alums at Met. The connection to the IFA has been very helpful. You can apply to something, interview the next day, and accept the next day. Within five days, I applied, interviewed and accepted role at Gagosian. The quick turnaround is made possible because of proximity. Also, it helps that there are so many opportunities in galleries, and my IFA/WFU education has helped me stand out. 

DL: What has your first semester been like? What has surprised you the most? 

MP: At the IFA, you only take 3 classes per semester, and they meet only per week. That was a big change from undergrad. I find myself studying a lot in my free time. I have to say, I am lucky coming from Wake. We have this capstone class where you focus on theory. At Wake, I did that in our foundational class. Some of my classmates have had trouble taking theory based classes they have only been in object based classes. Wake has definitely prepared me for grad school, and has given me a leg up. 

Also, in grad school, you have to work a little harder to find balance, and you know that you are purely in charge of if you sink or swim. Wake is small, tight knit community with safety nets. If you aren’t performing well, professors will talk to you. In grad school, classes are smaller, but those professors are writing their own books or preparing big lectures. And, they are also teaching undergrads, so they aren't as focused on your performance. You have to take the initiative to get help. Also, you have to be very open to criticism. People here can be blunt. 

Another thing that has been an adjustment is that you are mixed in classes with PhD students, so you have to quickly get up to speed with your peers. There are times you have 400 pages of reading per week for a class, but then you also have to do background research to get caught up on an obscure topic that your classmates may know more about. Grad school demands a lot of you, but Wake prepares you well. 

There is one last things that is very different from undergrad. You are expected to produce original work all of the time. I had to do this when I wrote my thesis, and Professor Curley often wanted original work in final papers. But most of my papers as an undergrad where just applying theories to something or just tweaking someone else’s theory. But here, that doesn’t fly. Also, you are expected to be able to read in a foreign language. Everyone was joking that you just have to scrape by in another language, but that’s not the case. I am learning German and French. However, I am taking classes to become fluent in these languages. The IFA has reading proficiency classes to become fluent in French, Italian and German. 

DL: What are you planning to do after graduation? 


MP: The IFA is pro-PhD program. The first week on campus, everyone asks you what PhD programs you are applying to. I am going to apply to a few. Modern/Contemporary is hyper-saturated right now, and as a result, is very competitive. Also I will be applying to jobs and relying on the IFA and Wake alumni network. Knowing that my area is so competitive, I might take a break year before pursuing my PhD. If I do this, I am thinking about working directly with collections in loans, or as a registrar. In order to do this, I am trying to get collection management skills. I had an internship last spring as a collections assistant. Going forward, I need to pursue roles with more prominent collections. Also, I need to gain experience with The Museum System (TMS), which is a computer cataloging system for museums. You are required to know it if you want to work with a big name collection. So TMS experience is the next skill I want to learn. 

I think there is value in a gap year between finishing a MA program and starting a PhD program. It helps you focus on what you want out of your career. Recently, I applied for four curatorial internships, and interviewed for two of them. I didn’t get one of them because I wasn’t an expert in a specific subject area. You will realize that curatorial jobs are sexy. Everyone wants then. It would be really interesting and powerful position because you are in charge of how someone views a work of art. At the same time, that is not the end all, be all. There is so much more going on behind the scenes that helps the curator mount a show. For instance, the registrar coordinates with other museums regarding loans of works. And these days, museum shows are all blockbusters, so there a lot of people who are coordinating the movement of works. Registrars work with art shippers and development to physically get the works to move, and fund their inclusion in a show. 

DL: Have you ever considered a role in development? 

MP: If you are in development, you are basically in sales. You are selling the museum. I have considered a role in development. My passion and enthusiasm for this field will translate well to selling an institution without coming across as cheesy. And if you think about it, without development, a museum couldn’t exist.  It’s interesting though. Development is one thing that universities and MA programs don’t focus on. You will hear about other career paths in museums, but they don’t ever want to talk about the critical role that is development. 

DL: I know the New York art scene is robust, but is it approachable? 


MP: Yes, because there are Wake alums working in all facets of the art world. This really helps you break into different fields. In terms of breaking into the New York gallery world - you can’t have pride or shame. You have to send resume to everyone and just get your name out there. Getting an unpaid internship really is key because one internship will lead to another. Also, if you do want to work in the gallery space, don’t discredit working with START. I have that on my resume, and people always ask about it in interviews. 

DL: What kernel of advice would you give to anyone reading this? 


MP: I would get an internship as early as possible. From that, I was able to get a job. Start building your resume as early as possible, and diversify it. That way, you can pull from more types of experiences. Also, don’t be afraid to go for the crappy, less sexy position if it gets your foot in the door. And, don’t pigeonhole yourself too early. If going into the academic or museum world, there is a tendency to get sucked in and stuck on a track. At time, I feel like I have pidegon holded myself in arts education. I wish I had continued to diversity my experiences until I was absolutely certain of a track. And, be prepared for your track to change. Originally, I thought I Wanted to teach, and now I want to run a collection. Also, I recommend pursuing unpaid internships while you are in college. However, when you get out of college, don't expect to get the perfect job or paid internship you want. You might have to struggle and do unpaid internship dance a while longer. It will work out in the end.