Katy Reis: Co-Founder, Reis Leahy Art Advisors
WFU Class of 2004
Double Minor: Art History & Studio Art
Katy Reis (pictured left) is the co-founder of Reis Leahy Art Advisors in Columbus, Ohio. Katy recently walked us through her path from Winston-Salem to the burgeoning Midwestern art scene.
DeacLink: Please walk us through your path from graduation day to your current job.
Katy Reis: Once I graduated, I began with an unpaid academic-year internship at the Corcoran Gallery of Art working for the Curator of Prints and Drawings. I simultaneously worked full-time at the National Gallery of Art in the gift shop during that time. Once that internship was completed, I took on two part-time roles at the Corcoran, one in the traveling exhibitions department and the other as membership director for Washington Project for the Arts which at that time was still part of the Corcoran (they are now an independent arts non-profit organization). Eventually, I took my final role at the Corcoran as Exhibitions Officer working with the Exhibitions Director on every exhibition from Old Masters to Contemporary Art. After doing that for a couple of years, I decided to join my husband in Columbus. I took a job in the Exhibitions department at the Wexner Center for the Arts and remained in curatorial most of my time there. My last few years at the Wex, I moved over to the Development Office working as Senior Development Officer in Individual Giving. Before I knew it, we had two children and I took a few years off to be with them before founding Reis Leahy Art Advisors with my partner Lauren Yen Leahy.
DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?
KR: As much as I may have disregarded its importance as an incoming freshman, the core curriculum requirements unsurprisingly served their purpose. The subjects I postponed taking until I was a senior are now my favorite reading and research topics. Early in my college career, I enjoyed science, math and foreign languages. After realizing that I didn’t want to go to medical school, I chose to major in Spanish partially because the deadline was upon me and partially because I knew I wanted to go abroad and would complete most of the courses for the major while I was there. I enjoyed classes with my Spanish professors, but it wasn’t my passion. While I was studying abroad, I found myself perpetually in art museums and loving every minute of it. I had always taken studio art classes for my own personal enjoyment, but never thought I could make a career of them. It (finally!) occurred to me to take an art history class upon returning to Wake the following semester. That was the pivotal moment. I realized I loved studying art. I loved studio art critiques because I found myself thoughtfully analyzing the art of my peers and seeing the visual vocabulary from art history that informed their work. I was hooked. I didn’t know enough about the field to know what my next step would be, but I knew I wanted to do something related to art history.
DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held -online, inside reference, networking in person, WFU resources, other avenues? Do you have tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?
Ultimately, I took the internship with the Corcoran Gallery of Art and just kept jumping at every opportunity that came my way. I was fortunate enough to always work under supportive leadership who let me move into new roles as my interests grew and changed. It helped give me the experience I needed to do what I am doing today. Once you have your foot in the door, if you work hard, practice patience and work well with others, there are always colleagues who will help you get to where you want to go.
DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?
KR: Truthfully, after reading DeacLink, I wish that resource had been around when I was a student. Though I know career services did a phenomenal job for many of my classmates, I always left my meetings there feeling like the opportunities were all geared towards the business school and communications majors, working with recruiters from major companies and corporations.
Though they probably had options for students looking for careers in the arts, it was challenging to sift through everything else to find that. Deaclink seems like a great way for students to make their own future and network in a way that is necessary for a job in the arts. It gives information that someone like me was eager to find as a student. I didn’t know what art history majors did beyond being a professor. I knew museum curators and auction specialists existed, but I had no idea what a regular day was like for them. Having that information at your fingertips and then also having the opportunity to contact that person directly would have been enormously helpful in finding my current role in a little more efficient way.
DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Columbus?
KR: It’s such an open and supportive city.
DL: What is the most interesting thing going on in the art scene there at the moment, in your opinion?
KR: I may be biased as a former employee, but I continue to be amazed by the quality of arts programming at the Wexner Center. And, they are in good company, the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus College of Art and Design and Franklin Park Conservatory all have phenomenal programs too. They all bring in world-class artists who otherwise would not have reason to come here. I am fortunate to have quality art programming and still enjoy all the benefits of living in a smaller city.
DL: What is your favorite part about working for yourself?
KR: Flexibility and working with clients. No two collection objectives are the same which keeps research interesting and fun.
DL: What and where is next for you?
KR: At this point, this is it. I get to do what I love and work with wonderful people. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
DL: Do you have a kernel of advice you’d like to impart to the readers?
KR: Be open to anything. You’ll surprise yourself. Be patient. I never thought I could or would start my own business when it first occurred to me 10 years ago to do so. But, when the time is right, you will know.