Mattos Paschal: Former Graduate Student
New York City
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.