Spotlight Interview: Kathryn Gigler

Kathryn Gigler: Director of Education & Community Engagement, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Pittsburgh, PA

WFU Class of 2010

Double Major: Psychology & Religion

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Kathryn Gigler walks us through her path since graduation from WFU, the Pittsburgh creative scene, and quality advice picked up along her journey thus far.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Kathryn Gigler: I double majored in psychology and what’s now known as religious studies, and participated in the honors psychology program.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

KG: I went straight to graduate school at Northwestern University after graduating from Wake Forest, in pursuit of a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience, because I was really into the human brain. I started out with a focus on intervention work with older adults experiencing cognitive degenerative diseases, and ended up switching my focus to the more basic science around human memory systems.

At the same time, I realized I wanted to be doing more applied work in the world, and so I started volunteering in the field of anti-violence. I worked as a rape crisis counselor for the YWCA of Greater Chicago, and at Northwestern University as a member of their task force on sexual violence prevention and response.

It was then I discovered you could actually have a job in the field of social impact, and so I accepted the position of executive director of the Women’s Center at Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU in the UNC system. I loved the students and the work, but I still felt like something was missing. I decided to relocate to Pittsburgh, where my family is from, and I worked freelance gigs for a couple of years, serving as a consultant with HPW Associates and an advocate-educator with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

I had danced at the pre-professional level through high school, so when a position opened up at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, I was immediately interested. I had begun circling back to arts education via volunteer work in Pittsburgh, and was thrilled when I was offered the position of director of education and community engagement. I’ve been at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre since March 2019.

DL: What led to you decision to pursue a PhD, and how did you choose your particular program?

KG: When I graduated from Wake, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, other than that I wanted to have an impact and to make the world a better place. Looking back, I put pressure on myself to enroll in graduate school immediately after graduation. I googled “good programs in cognitive neuroscience” and found Northwestern University; as someone who had grown up on the east coast, I didn’t realize what a strong program it was during the application process! I ended up getting very lucky in Chicago and at Northwestern.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside references, other outlets)?

KG: My career has been almost entirely interest-driven. For example, I decided I liked the brain, so I went to graduate school; I became passionate about violence prevention, and I toggled over to the social justice arena. For me, it has also always been about thinking about how I want to make a difference.

I do think there are different ways of positioning yourself to do that. I chose to relocate to Pittsburgh because of family, and because it’s somewhere I have always loved, and so I’ve been happy to build a life here. So location has been a huge additional factor in my career path.

Of course, reaching out to people is always a really great approach. I’ve found that in general, people like to help the people coming up behind them. Once you're there, you will want to help other people as well.

DL: What led you to choose a career in community education?

KG: I knew I wanted to move into an arts organization as a next step. I wanted to return to that positive change-seeking environment and have an immediate impact. I liked that people were drawn to see performance art, and to look for social impact with that art, and I personally had experience with dance versus other visual art forms. In Pittsburgh, I got involved with a local company, Attack Theatre, and I loved the work they were doing. I got to know the dance world in Pittsburgh, and I could see myself fitting in long-term. I felt that I could use the skills I had from my research background, and I knew that I would enjoy the community engagement piece given my strong relationships with various community organizations. The interest level was there for me, and luckily my skill set made it a good match.

DL: What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in the space?

KG: Reaching out to anyone you know- or anyone you want to know- is a great place to start. In addition, lots of openings start out as volunteer opportunities, because many arts organizations are interested in hiring from within For this reason, I think it’s important to build relationships at specific organizations within the local arts scene. You want to be attending shows and talks and panel discussions. In addition, there are lots of great art-based meetups in most communities. These groups allow you to get your face out there and your profile known within the local scene.

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

KG: I do believe that a lot of this comes down to the work students are willing to put in to get involved on campus and in the community, because as an environment, Wake encourages people to pursue so many different interests. As an example, I loved the performing arts in college, but would never have attended the Secrest Artists Series if I hadn’t had a friend running that program, because I had so much else going on in my life; it took that personal connection to get me in the door. The staff and faculty care so much about the programs that are being put on, and it’s that last piece- getting students in the door- that sometimes seems to be the biggest hurdle.

Personally, I would have loved it if someone could have better linked arts, social impact, and science for me. I do think that Wake is now taking a more intersectional approach to the arts and sciences, and hopefully that is helpful to students like me!

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Pittsburgh?

KG: The size of the city makes it a great place to be in the arts. It’s big enough that there are always all kinds of things going on, but small enough that there is a six degrees of separation mentality within the arts community. This feeling makes it easy to get involved, as you can go to one or two events and immediately feel connected to the larger community. I believe that this is true across artistic disciplines, and that this encourages collaboration and teamwork across institutions. For example, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre partners frequently with partners like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. There’s a lot of ecosystem building in Pittsburgh that makes it a very cool place to work in this sector.

DL: What is your favorite part about your job?

KG: I love relationship building, and I love working to make sure that the relationships I am building are based in trust. I love getting to know people and organizations, and cooperating to figure out what we each can do to improve each others’ experiences. Of course it’s fun being the one building monster puppets with kids at community festivals, but at the end of the day, it is for me about the larger social impact arts organizations are able to have, and that starts with one-on-one relationships.

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

KG: I always say “try everything.” I wouldn't be where I was if I hadn’t done so at Wake, and I’ve been even luckier in my career path. I am a research nerd - I look everything up, and I deep dive into everything I’m interested in. As you can tell, I am passionate about a lot of different things! If you are interested in something, pursue it. The creative professions tend to be more vocational than typical 9-5 jobs, which can make careers difficult, but also so worth it. I believe that you know it when you feel it; follow your intuition as you make your way through your career path. Lots of good things are happening in the arts right now, and following your gut will help you find them.

Spotlight Interview: Heather Sullivan

Heather Sullivan, TV Production Associate

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Communications (Media Studies Concentration)

Minor: Film, Theater & Psychology

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Heather Sullivan walks us through the opportunities, experiences, and decisions that led her to work as a TV production associate in Atlanta! The 2016 Wake grad shares her insights on networking and finding the path to your passion.

DeacLink: What did you study while at Wake?

Heather Sullivan: I majored in Communications, with a concentration in media studies, and I minored in film, theater, and psychology. I’m a 2016 Grad.

DL: How did you pick that trio of minors?

HS: I always knew I was interested in film and theater. Those were kind of the obvious. And then I took a psych elective and was obsessed with everything about it. I was like, I want to take as many of these classes as possible, so I'm just going to minor.

DL: How have you been applying for these fields? Do you mind walking me through how your career has unfolded since you graduated?

HS: So I knew I was interested in working in the creative producing side of things, so a lot of my focus and theater was more directing. I acted, but I was more focused on directing and creative world building. And film at Wake - it's a lot of criticism. So you're looking at things from the content side and less about like anything specifically technical. I didn't know how to get a job in TV without any contacts, but I knew there was work in Atlanta, so I basically moved here, took a restaurant job and just applied to any job that I could find online until I got hired.

This is how I ended up doing what I'm doing right now, which is for this company that produces two TV shows: Couples Court with the Cutlers and Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, so it’s conflict TV. This is not what I fully expected, but it's a 10 month contract every year, which is so rare in TV and that kind of industry. It’s steady work, and I'm learning a ton. It's kind of amazing.

But when I first graduated, I worked at Wake for a year, and I worked for IPLACe, which is an interdisciplinary performing arts center. I did that for a year before I moved to Atlanta.

DL: Is that within Wake Forest?

HS: Yes, it sits within Wake. A theater director is the Director of it, and Christina Soriano is actually on the board. It was like a fellow position, but it is not as intense as a fellow position. There was a lot more freedom there.

DL: So what exactly are you doing for your TV shows?

HS: So I'm a production associate, so I'm part of a team that is booking the guests and producing them for the show. So a lot of my day to day role involves a lot of coordinating skills. So like booking travel, budgeting, talking to guests, prepping them for the show. I learned a lot of these coordinating skills when I worked at iplace for that year. And then on top of that I am talking to people, screening their stories, collecting their stories and getting them together as a possibility to be produced on the show. And then once they get here I am following them around and getting them ready to be on TV. I’m walking them through anything they need to do, including all the tests. I’m taking them to the lie detector tests and scheduling their DNA tests and different studies, stuff like that. It’s all of the prep work that goes in before the show and then day of show coordination. It's really cool as far as TV goes, because I'm doing both pre-coordinating and day-of show planning, which aren't two things that you get to typically do in the same role.

Conflict TV and talk show TV are very similar because those are things that are being produced - you're producing a lot of content. Pre-show coordination is a lot more technical and it's a lot of physical coordinating versus creative producing. So on top of doing that and learning a lot of the pre-production type stuff, I'm also learning day-of producing, which has more of the creative producing of preparing people for the actual show. That means being there, leading them along, and getting them ready for what to expect. So a lot of times like you'll have two different people in those jobs.

DL: What do you see yourself doing next?

HS: It’s interesting talking about working in reality TV because I think a lot of people see it as kind of shallow. I don't think that people will recognize a lot of the creativity that goes into it. I think this comes a little bit from my psychology minor, but I love working with real people, getting them to trust me and making them feel comfortable enough to share their personal life basically to a national audience. And so that is a lot of what a creative producer does in reality TV is it's basically befriending somebody and making them trust you enough to be their authentic selves. So that what I love about it. I'm a people person. I've always loved doing that and I get to create these relationships with people in order to create interesting TV out of real stuff and real stories. It's both challenging and super fulfilling because it's all based on your ability to connect with somebody else.

So goals for me include... I'm a Bachelor superfan and my executive producer actually used to work on The Bachelor. I would love to work in that kind of environment. With competitive or dating shows, you get several months with the same cast.  I would love to creatively produce on that. I want to be the person behind the camera talking to the person on camera. It’s pretty different than the kind of show I'm on right now where the relationship I'm building is going to last for two weeks, and they're only physically here for two days. With a show like The Bachelor for two months you're the only person these people are talking to. They don't have cell phones, but that is amazing. I love that kind of environment. It's a little bit messed up. I feel a little manipulative when I talk about it, but I just really enjoy it.

DL: How did you land your current role?

HS: Essentially a lot of online applications. I literally got my friend a job like a month after doing this job. The easiest way to get into TV in particular is networking and having a connection and basically talking to anybody looking for available PA work. But I kind of skipped that step. A lot of people start out as day players, where you're getting hired for a day or a week on a shoot that just needs people to carry equipment around or do a craft table or stuff like that. I just was really uninterested in that. I knew that was the first step that most people were doing, but I also heard from a lot of people that it's not necessarily a clear path forward. There's no ladder in TV. It’s not like “first you're a PA, and then they'll hire you as an associate producer and then they’ll hire you as this.” Instead you get a job, you hope people like you, and then you hope that you get the opportunity to improve. You can do whatever you want to do.

So I was trying to apply to stuff above my level a lot of the time. This job is a production associate, so it's still a lower level like a PA, but it's more of that creative intensity that I was looking for. I ended up applying online. I got to the interview and a lot of what I was doing for IPLACe as an Administrative Coordinator was similar to this kind of work. I focused on that in the interview and I got hired.

DL: Tell me a bit more too about your time with IPLACe.

HS: IPLACe is a center that I worked with a lot as an undergrad. I would act as a mock client for the graduate counseling students, which was really fun cause I was involving my psych and theater degree at the same time. IPLACe paid us to do this for these students, and the students got to work with life-like clients. It was great for both of us, and we were getting paid acting experience. So that was a project I was really involved with on top of a couple of my own projects. Then when I was close to graduating, the Director approached me about working as a coordinator. As the coordinator, I was pretty much the sole employee of the center other than a student assistant. So I was responsible for doing the budget. I was doing guests travel and accommodations, event planning, event coordinating, all that kind of stuff. But it was basically whatever the center needed, I had to do. And that's a lot of what working in TV is like, especially like lower level positions. It’s a lot of doing whatever your boss asks, and if you don’t know how, figure it out.

DL: How have you liked working and living in Atlanta?

HS: I love Atlanta. For years in college I was thinking “I’m going to live in New York, live that life. I'm going to try to act or maybe I'll work in PR. It’ll be great.”  And then I went on some career treks through the OPCD and I realized it might not be that feasible for me to live in New York. I didn’t have money my parents weren’t backing in any way. I had very few connections, and it's expensive. So I did some regrouping, and that's why I ended up in Winston for another year. I kind of didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I really got interested in working specifically in production, and trying to get similar level jobs there, which I couldn't do in North Carolina. But Atlanta had a ton of film and TV stuff going on. The industry was booming and it was a five hour drive from home. It was still warm, and in the south.

I had a friend who was moving at the same time, and she asked me to come to Atlanta with her. I thought it sounded great, and it’s been the best of both worlds. You get all of the big city aspects of diversity and accessibility, and there's tons of things to do, there's different sorts of people here, but then you also have southern weather and southern hospitality. I walk around New York and everyone’s frowning, whereas in Atlanta everyone's smiling, and it just feels like a happier place to live. There's more green and access to nature, and it's drivable. I mean people say that traffic is bad, but you just learn how to deal with it.  Location, as far as an apartment goes, is the number one thing in Atlanta.

From a film perspective, there may be slightly less work than LA, but there's more of a need here because not as many people are based here. You're coming to a slightly smaller market, but it's not an oversaturated market at this point. They are still building crew. That's one of the reasons I actually got hired at my job. They were sick of bringing people in from LA and New York. They were looking for local talent.

DL: So what advice do you have for students thinking about coming to Atlanta?

HS: I think my biggest advice would be to connect with people. Alums are great, but reach out to anybody. Even if they're not in the industry you're interested in, if they're living in Atlanta, they likely know somebody they can introduce you to. I think many people see someone working in marketing, and don’t want to reach out, but half the time the people in marketing are also working with TV and film people. There are those connections in places you don't expect.

The other thing is that if you have a passion for a field, just keep applying to it. There comes this kind of burnout from rejection, and especially in a field like like film and television, but really any kind of artistic field. But you never know when somebody is going to give you a chance, but they can’t give it to you unless you are constantly putting yourself out there.

DL: So what do you think Wake and/or Wake Arts could have done to better prepare you and other students for life after graduation?

HS: I think an awareness of what jobs are available to you with a liberal arts degree would have been helpful. There's not a lot of technical training at Wake, so this is just my specific field, but you're coming out with a very applicable set of skills, but a set of skills that people are not directly asking for in their job postings. So learning how to present those skills in a way, and finding your niche in a market, that would be really important.
For instance, I don't know everything there is to know about editing or post work, which is a lot of the technical stuff that goes into film. I don't know a lot of the terms I'm supposed to know when I'm on set because we didn't have those classes. It was a liberal arts film education. So when I came  here, I didn’t know those things, but what I do know is that I can problem solve anything, and it's because of my education. The question is how do you translate that? And just just because I don't know this now, doesn’t mean I won’t learn it by the end of the week. So it's really emphasizing that just because you don't have the skills posted doesn't mean that you don't have the ability to do the job.

You also need to realize that it's not going to be a set path. There’s no one entry level job that you can do to start your career.

DL: So what would you say is the best bit of advice on any topic you could give to readers?

HS: The biggest thing is to say “yes” to as many situations as possible. So if there is a random networking event, go do it. If someone from Wake hits you up about getting coffee, once again, they're not in your field, go and talk to them because you never know how these connections are going to play out in the long run.






SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: CAROLINE NELSON

Caroline Nelson: Executive Director's Assistant and Researcher, The Estate of David Smith

New York City

WFU Class of 2013 

Major: Art History

Minor: Psychology

 

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Caroline Nelson graduated Wake Forest University with a major in Art History and minor in Psychology. After graduation she found herself interning at the Bruce Museum. She later pursued her Master's at the Courtauld  Institute of Art in London. Caroline is now based in New York City doing wonderful things at the Estate of David Smith. We recently spoke to Caroline about her love for the arts, her career path, and  her advice to young art history majors. 

 

Note: Since conducting the interview, the Estate of David Smith has seen a number of changes, including Caroline being promoted to Exhibition Manager, in addition to remaining a researcher for the Catalogue Raisonné.

 

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

Caroline Nelson: I was an Art History major. I was initially pre-med, but by the end of Sophomore year, it had become pretty clear to me that my heart wasn’t really in it. My whole family is very science oriented. Veering off this path was not without its challenges, but certainly worth it in the end. I distinctly remember emailing Morna O’Neill from my bed in Piccolo my second year, desperately trying to get into what would eventually be the first Art History class I took at Wake - except it had begun weeks before. After some discussion, she let me in the class, and her support has proved incredibly influential ever since. After doing an independent study with her my junior year on 18th and 19th-century art, which also tied in with an exhibition mounted at the Reynolda House, I decided to pursue an honors thesis on John Constable prints. Because Morna was on sabbatical, though, I ended up working with Jay Curley as my advisor. His own interests and modernist insights led to new sources in my research and pushed me to think in ways I hadn’t before.

Despite all of this, I really had no idea what I wanted to do once I graduated. I wasn’t ready to go directly on to grad school. Looking back, I think I got pretty lucky. I didn’t apply to very many jobs, didn’t have a very strong sense of direction, but ended up landing a 9-month residence internship at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT. It was a broad role, maybe a little more directed toward curatorial type stuff. It was paid so was more like a job than an internship. It was a great experience. Just being up north, I was able to go to New York on the weekends and get further immersed in art. I am from West Virginia and have always been attracted to the city, but that hasn’t been my background.

Once I was “in” the art world, I realized that I wanted, as well as needed, another degree. That fall, I applied to a number of different Master's programs and a few PhD programs. I eventually chose to attend the Courtauld because they had a class specifically on late 18th / early 19th century British Art. I had studied abroad in London and fallen in love with it. It wasn’t a difficult decision to go back. I was a one year program as opposed to two, which ended up being a love-hate thing in a way. It was incredibly difficult and demanding. The Courtauld is sort of like Wake in that it prioritizes interacting and discussion based classes over lecture, but also required a lot of independent study, especially since everything was being consolidated into a shorter time frame. But I have absolutely no regrets about it.

What I ideally wanted to do was stay in London and try to find a job relating to the early modern British art I had been immersed in for almost a year. But I wasn’t able to balance looking for jobs while I was still in school, so I waited until after I turned in my dissertation, which left me with very little time to find something before my visa expired. It was a difficult market to break into anyway, especially for an American. So I moved back home to West Virginia, and I tried to make the most of it. I was there for about six months, and I got a job working as a secretary for a state senator. This was not entirely in line with anything I had done up until that point, but a lot of the skills that I sharpened there are completely applicable to any job, and definitely my job now. There is also a small museum in Charleston called the Clay Center, and as far as art goes, that’s pretty much it. I emailed the curator, Arif Khan, and worked with him a bit in addition to my job at the capitol. Most of it was exhibition research and I wrote some wall text. I got a stipend which was nice. Arif was a very positive influence and the opportunity helped to keep me motivated to continue applying to art jobs.

DL: Would you mind telling me more about what you're doing at the Estate of David Smith?

CN: All of this time, I never thought I wanted to be in New York. But I realized that if I wasn’t going to be in London, and if I wanted to truly take a stab at the art world, it’s where I really needed to be. It’s where the jobs are. On the NYFA website, I found this position at the Estate of David Smith, which is half administrative (I am the Executive Director’s assistant) and half research-based.

Working with modern sculpture is a huge jump from 18th/19th century British painting. I have learned so much since I started, though, and I have been here a little over a year now. I do a lot of outreach. We are represented by the gallery Hauser and Wirth. We have a big exhibition opening next month, and that’s been taking up a lot of my time. The other part of my job is geared toward an updated catalogue raisonne on Smith’s sculpture, which is projected to be released in full in 2021 I think, but our first deadline is also next month.

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

CN: I got an internship at the Weatherspoon in Greensboro the summer before my senior year. But I really think Morna and Jay were the biggest influences for me as mentors. They were always encouraging but at the same time very realistic about this field. The relationship I had and continue to have with them is why I wanted to go somewhere like Wake Forest. My friends at bigger schools never had these kinds of interactions with professors - especially beyond graduation. Both have written me recommendations and given me a wealth of advice. It’s something I am continuously thankful for.

DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had?

CN: I found my current job on NYFA. That seems to be the way to go. When I was looking, that was the best source. In terms of Wake, the career center helped me tweak my CV, but there wasn’t anything specific set up as far as helping students go about navigating the art world. There was really no way to know about all of the different niches and things you can do with an art history degree.

DL: How do you like living in New York? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in the city?

CN: It was definitely an adjustment. And there are still times where I can’t believe I live here. It is a nonstop place. But you have so much right at your fingertips. It’s almost the opposite problem of a small town like home: it can be a little too much at times. Still, I feel like for someone in the arts in their 20s this is an amazing place. Networking is important and I’d even say essential for finding a job here. My advice to anyone thinking of moving here would be: It doesn't hurt to reach out. Most people were in your same position when they first moved here. Keep pushing yourself to meet and connect with new people. Most people are really receptive.

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

CN: Maybe a new class or even a whole career center for the arts. Something that allows you to feel a little more supported. I think it was my junior or senior year, Jay organized an arts field trip to Richmond one weekend. Things like that get you excited. Wake can be a bubble, and students need to get out and see art in the real world. Students should be encouraged to look beyond the gates of campus. It might make more people feel like a career in the arts is actually doable. Art can be boring when you’re just looking at it in a book or on a projector. Seeing things in person can make a huge difference.

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

CN: Something I struggled with in my transition to art from the pre-med path I had assumed I would follow was acceptance, both inner and outer. A big part of me found it difficult to seriously consider an academic pursuit (let alone a future career) focused on a subject I not only genuinely enjoyed, but one that many others also seemed to believe to be for enjoyment only. While this is something I admit I still occasionally wrestle with, I think much of this doubt is based in mere stereotype. This is a field that can be both extremely fun and extremely rigorous. Not everyone will understand what exactly it is that you're doing, but some will occasionally give you the opportunity to show them. I really do believe that if you are invested in what you're doing, the rest will follow.

 

 

 

Spotlight Interview: Emily Ortiz

Emily Ortiz Badalamente: Graduate Student [ART THERAPY]

Washington, DC

WFU Class of 2015

Double Major: Studio Art & Psychology

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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.