Julia Young: Studio Manager, Sterling Ruby
Los Angeles, CA
WFU Class of 2012
Major: Art History
Julia Young lives and works in LA, managing the daily ongoings of artist Sterling Ruby's studio. Since graduating from Wake in 2012, Julia's path has led her through multiple cities and experiences. Julia recently shared her story and great bits of advice with us.
DeacLink: I know that you were an Art History major at Wake. What led you to choose that major?
Julia Young: I’m a DC native, so growing up in the city where art was always at my fingertips was a huge part of my upbringing & my falling in love with art. The Smithsonian Institutions were just a metro stop away, so as kids, we often wandered down to the Mall just to take in all these cultural icons. I went to public high school in DC, where my AP Art History teacher Mrs. Huberman, first introduced me to the 101s of art’s history. I have a very clear memory of taking a field trip to the Phillips Collection, where she asked each of us to pick out a piece that we wanted to talk about. It was the first time I saw an El Greco painting so intimately; the piece is titled The Repentant St. Peter. I remember first putting into words how the light in the painting made me feel, and how the figure’s gaze was so remorseful and hopeful simultaneously. It was the first time I considered what might be beautiful in an artwork, and how an artist uses the medium to start a conversation. I’m sure you can remember the first time you had a visceral reaction to a piece?
I fell in love with the important job the viewer has when taking in a piece - to describe those feelings one feels, to consider the artist’s actions, the sociopolitical realm in which the piece was made. Anyway, it was inevitable I would choose Art History as my major after that.
At Wake, the Art History community was so small and intimate, I truly felt that every professor wanted you to do well and to use their expertise as much as possible. David Lubin and Harry Titus largely influenced me, and I consider these men to be true mentors and supporters of my interests and ambitions. I was also an athlete in school, but after a back injury in 2009, I left the field hockey team. While it was heartbreaking, the opportunity to study abroad in Rome arose, which only further fed my love for art. When one door closes, another opens.
I spent much of my senior year in 2012 helping David build a curriculum focused on Italian Modernism. The independent research, self-learning and exploration I embarked on during that time became invaluable to me, and certainly reignited my interest in returning to Italy.
DL: Since graduating, how has your career unfolded? What’s been the biggest surprise?
JY: All of it has been a surprise! I feel I’ve taken the less traditional “art world” route, but every turn I’ve made has given me a new set of tools and insights I would have never known before.
Before graduating from Wake, I was recommended by David Lubin to apply for the Peggy Guggenheim internship in Venice. When I was accepted into the program after graduation, I promptly packed up and moved to Venice. That experience fed my yearning for the story of art. Peggy’s story is unique, and so is her villa that houses her impeccable collection. There, I came to understand the contemporary patron, and that these famous artists - the ones the canon and market have turned into untouchable icons - they too needed support, and were once not famous. Learning about Peggy and her support for the arts honestly encouraged me to explore how we support artists in our communities today.
Right after leaving the Guggenheim, I moved back to DC and began working for Transformer, which is a non-profit artist-run initiative that supports local emerging artists. At Transformer, it was cool to see how a small art space could garner so much cultural support and integrity in the art field, securing funding through numerous commissions and foundations, including The Andy Warhol Foundation since the gallery’s inception. The focus at this space was different: we didn’t curate the art, we curated the artists. It was pivotal point in my career where I began thinking about whose story am I was trying to tell. I began to understand the importance of developmental support for young artists, how to encourage post-collegiate growth, and how to treat their work as their profession.
At Transformer, I was the Gallery Manager and Exhibition Coordinator for three-and-a-half years. While there, I met my fiance, who is a sound artist, and was based in DC. I brought him in to work with several sound artists for a project and exhibition. We soon began dating, and in 2015 we found ourselves looking to explore new horizons. We moved to LA that spring.
LA is a very different art world than DC or NY. My initial job once settling in LA was with the Tappan Collective, an online gallery ambitiously introducing emerging artists to the commercial world. Founded in 2012, it came about when Artsy was beginning to take off, and the idea of selling work online was becoming less taboo. Tappan rode that wave. I joined Tappan’s small team (at the time) as their first Artist Manager. My goal with Tappan was to bring developmental & professional support to these artists through the online platform, not just sales. With this in mind, I began their artist residency program, and created a developmental component to the company that truly supported the artists through feedback and professional support outside of sales. It was an artist-centric approach to whole online experience.
Tappan is fantastic and continues to do well, but I left last spring in search of finding time to meditate on what my passions really are. I felt that my vision for an artist support system could not truly be created within a sales-centric platform.
And now, I’ve found myself nestled somewhere in the middle... In August I began working for an LA-based contemporary artist. At his studio, where I am one of nearly 25 other employees, I’m learning how he has built a true business around his production. I manage administrative work for the studio, and assist the studio director with managing deadlines with galleries, museums, and commissioned projects. I’m grateful to be a part of such a production, and I’m learning so much about the business necessities artists should consider for finding success. Studios that function at this scale are so impressive, and it certainly does not happen overnight!
This position has given me some personal time back, which I’ve used to do grant writing for an LA-Bangkok based non-profit, make strides on my own artist consulting, and plan our wedding.
DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?
JY: Greatly - I had support from professors who encouraged me to explore all sorts of interests, and not try to fit my ideas into one box.
DL: What has it been like working for an artist, and what’s are some of the big takeaways?
JY: There are a few. Despite the number of people working for him, he has a commitment to his practice. It should resonate with everyone in the field, you have to commit to it to see success. Coupled with his commitment to the studio, and the studio model itself, it’s amazing to see what can happen when you have your commitment to your work in check. I’m learning about the underbelly, the artist’s own system that needs to be in place in order to see success. These days I often think of how I can advise artists on organizing their own businesses. There are certains setups and standards that you need to put in place to be successful, I don’t think a lot of art schools are necessarily teaching these things. Your system may differ in size, but there needs to be a system.
DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had? Applications? Networking? A combination of both?
JY: It’s been a combination of both. With the Guggenheim, I was recommended by Lubin. Transformer, I applied on my own and interviewed with them. I had heard of Tappan, but an artist friend introduced me to me to the founder. With my current position, I used the New York Foundation for the Arts, which is a great resource for job opportunities and grant resources.
I’ve explored many facets of the art world, and I think that’s helped me. I am not tied to one idea of where I should be. I am still taking in information and considering the systems in place. If I’m still learning, it’s not time to leave yet. Experience only helps clarify your vision the longer you keep at it. I apply for things occasionally, just to see if there’s something else out there. Even if you are employed, I think it’s healthy to always have an idea of what else is out there. A diverse CV with lots of experience in the art world isn’t a bad one. There is certainly no one straight path in this field, and it’s continuing to diversify.
DL: Often times as undergraduates, students are pushed into academia or into the curatorial track at a museum. What advice do you have for readers interested in taking their own route?
JY: It might sound silly, but go after what makes you feel excited. You spend four years as an undergrad, liking some things, not liking others, and then there is this moment where you can still choose your own adventure. People’s circumstances are different, but don't just settle for security right off the bat. You’re going to get there eventually. Find something that opens your mind and makes you excited, that perhaps makes you think about something in the art world a little differently. You need to keep your doors open.
DL: Most students have their eyes set on moving to New York after graduation. How do you like living in Los Angeles? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in the city?
JY: LA is an incredibly eclectic, sprawling and beautiful place. I’ve lived here almost three years, and am honestly just beginning to feel like this is home. I don’t recommend coming here for a long weekend and determining after that short experience whether or not this is the city for you. You’ll be disappointed. LA reveals itself to you the longer you spend time getting to know it. When I got out here, I didn’t have a job lined up. I had given myself a little cushion to explore options and get settled before I jumped into a job.
There are many levels and layers of the arts here, from museum institutions, to commercial galleries, performance spaces to artist-run galleries, arts activist initiatives to non-profits, artist studios and museum-gallery hybrids. It’s all here. It’s vague advice, but I would recommend to any student that immersing yourself in the place is the best first step. Get in the habit of checking job listing websites on the daily while planning what spaces, lectures, and openings you might attend that evening. Put yourself out there and ask questions.
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
JY: I think they should consider having a visiting artist/arts professional program, setting up a mentorship program to support current students. It would be so awesome to be an undergrad and have these types of resources.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
JY: You build your own expectations for yourself. You are at the helm of your own ship - there is a lot of soul searching that happens after you finish school. You create your own rules and guidelines, and if you don't like them, change them. I have kept that in mind with every opportunity that I encounter, and it has been really helpful for me and keeps me motivated.