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: William Crow

William Crow: Former Managing Educator

New York

Former Managing Museum Educator, Metropolitan Museum of Art
WFU Class of 1995
Double Major: Studio Art & Spanish

At the time of the interview, William was based in New York and working at the Metropolitan Museum. Since then, he has moved to Pennsylvania and is currently the Director of the Lehigh University Art Galleries.

DeacLink: You were a studio art major at Wake. How has your career unfolded since?

William Crow: I was a Studio Art and Spanish double major, and it has been a winding road to get to where I am today. It has been one that really draws upon the different experiences I’ve had. My senior year at Wake there was an artist in residence working on a project at SECCA. I got to know her and her work, and she was based in New York. I knew I wanted to pursue art as a career, and she invited me to be her assistant in the City after graduation. She also recommended I apply for role as a Site Supervisor for Creative Time.

I moved to New York the summer after graduation. The experience exposed me to contemporary artists, and I really learned what it is like to make art and be engaged with others around the making of art, curating and mounting exhibitions. I learned the logistical details in addition to the physical creation. It was a great experience. 

Parallel to that, I also knew that I was really interested in exploring some kind of teaching. I had a sensibility for working with young people, and I wanted to pursue an education line of work along with an art practice. I took a job at an all boys independent school where I taught AP Art History, Studio Art and Spanish. I was able to access skills that I had learned and studied at Wake, but in an independent setting. The school was part of a Benedictine monastery, and I lived on campus. I learned a lot about teaching in addition to learning more about myself and my own interests. The entire time, I continued my own creative practice. 

I taught for a few years, but then went to Hunter College/CUNY to get my MFA in painting. It was a great opportunity to dive in and immerse myself in my artistic practice. I learned what it would take to break into the art scene in New York. My studio space was near Times Square, and it was walking distance to the Chelsea galleries. I built on connections I had made with other artists. I quickly learned that being an artist as a professional career path was not what I wanted to do. In addition to lots of long, hard hours in your studio, you also have to market yourself and engage in the the business of art and getting gallery representation. I had solo and group exhibitions, but I wasn’t as interested in the marketing piece of myself as an artist. 

Then I realized I wanted to pursue another teaching route. Fortuitously I had this teaching background at the school, but then a neighbor of mine suggested I consider teaching in the informal learning environment of museums. She had experience teaching as a freelance educator in a museum. So I started teaching in the Morgan Library. I worked mostly with school groups and connecting the Morgan’s collection to school based curriculum. 

I also started doing freelance work as an educator at the Met. I started in teaching programs for families on weekends. That quickly expanded to teaching access programs, and programs for teachers. I did that from 1999-2003. My main work was as a freelance educator across programs at the Met and Morgan Library, meanwhile continuing my artistic practice and holding artist residencies. I had a residency in World Trade Tower 1, which ended in the summer of 2001. In 2003, a full time position became available at the Met overseeing school programs. I took the position, and I have been at the Met since. I have gradually moved into positions of greater responsibility with different audiences. I now oversee Teaching and Learning, covering audiences ranging from newborns to families and teens to graduate students. I also am responsible for teaching practice across all audience areas. I am surrounded by people engaging with and asking questions about art. I immensely enjoy finding ways to make art relevant to their lives in different ways. I am constantly thinking through how to engage a wide variety of learners. I also do some university teaching. I am an adjunct professor at NYU in their M.A. Museum Studies program. I also teach online in the M.A. Program in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins.

I did end up going back to grad school again--twice actually--after earning my MFA. As I learned more about the field of museum education, I realized that it is a profession in its own right, and I wanted to learn more about museum management and education theory. I earned my masters in Leadership in Museum Education at Bank Street College. I also wanted to learn more about empirical research methods as they relate to museums and how we can utilize the tools of social science to improve visitors’ learning experiences. Over the last decade there has been an embrace of empirical research methods in museums to determine success and measure impact. What kinds of methods can we use to demonstrate that we are making a difference in people’s lives? I just finished the PhD program in Cognitive Science at Columbia, focusing on how people think about works of art.

DL: What do you think is the hardest part about breaking into this field? 

WC: One of the great strengths of museums is that the more you get to know people who work in museums, the more you realize that they have really diverse backgrounds. They might have been an artist, or have been interested in another field or another career before museum work. Museum professionals have a lot of different interests, and museums are places where those diverse interests can be fed. 

My advice to undergraduates is don’t let go of the passions and interests you have, since there isn't a linear trajectory into the museum field. They should follow their passion and what they are excited about. Museums are places where they can find those passions. There are opportunities for direct teaching about objects, you can be on the side of research and scholarship about collections, or you can be presenting exhibitions to the public. We also have a huge number of people that are related to the business of a museum - development, marketing, strategy, merchandising, physical operations, and engineering. There is a huge spectrum of opportunities. I didn't grow up thinking about museums as a career opportunity. I grew up in rural southwest Virginia where there were not a lot of museums. The idea of being a museum professional didn’t occur to me until college and after college.

I recommend people interested in museum work reach out to people in the field and have informational interviews and ask to shadow them. That’s a great way to see what it is like to work in a museum. Whether a formal internship or not, it can be helpful to find out if its a fit. And honestly, it is just as important to know what you don't want to do. 

DL: How do you like living in New York? What are some of the realities of living there? 

WC: The perception of New York being inaccessible is true. I moved here in 1995, and when I am talking to recent graduates, most aren't looking to live in Manhattan anymore. Real estate is so competitive. Instead, people are living in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and New Jersey. In those places, the cost of living is less, but those neighborhoods have also started creating networks of people in arts communities. So if someone is thinking of moving to New York, they might need to see what the communities look like in the other boroughs and what are the job opportunities in places in addition to Manhattan. Recent graduates need to think strategically about creating a plan for themselves. It is important to experiment and try new things. I recommended they take some risks and allow themselves a few years to try out New York. They should give themselves a budget to experiment and see all that New York really has to offer. 

DL: Is the art scene hard to break into in NY?

WC: The ways to break into communities have changed since I moved to New York and started out. The internet was new when I came here. As a result, a lot of the way you networked was through in-person introductions. You had to go in person to gallery openings. Also, you introduced yourself with slides to a gallery. It was a very analog process. Honestly there is no replacement for a face to face conversation and impromptu meeting, but there are now communities in the digital sphere and on social media. It might not make things easier in terms of getting a job or gallery representation, but there is a greater level of transparency. You can see who the people are and how you can get involved and subsequently learn more. There is a higher amount of information, especially at the emerging artist level. 

Most of my opportunities did not come from established people in the field or from professors/former instructors. Instead, they came from peers. With your peers, you can create your own group exhibitions or work together to explore an opportunity. 

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

WC: All of the experiences I had in college, including the challenging ones, subsequently led to great opportunities. It is hard to look back and see what ended up serving me best. Academia has often been a self contained sphere that doesn’t want to address the issues of career realities and the logistics of what happens after graduation. Whether it’s through engagement with professors, the career center, peer to peer, or alumni networks, I do think that students should actively be putting effort into thinking about what their time after college will look like. They should be thinking about what are the beginnings of a road map, and think about that just as much as academic interests. You don’t want to map out your life to the detriment of not exploring opportunities, but you also need to really think about what is best suited for you in terms of where you can thrive and how people can help you. It does take a certain amount of confidence and willpower to reach out to someone established in their career. But students should definitely do that and treat it as a learning experience.