From left: Colby Art seniors Molly Wu, Rachel Bird, Nora Hill, and Gillian Wei in Manhattan.
Temperatures are dropping and leaves are turning, pumpkin spice is abundant, and football season is in full swing. It’s fall once again, and college seniors are getting busy mapping out possible plans for what, in the moment, feels like the rest of the foreseeable future. Just in case it isn’t stressful enough a time, they are constantly being prodded by well-meaning friends and loved ones who have forgotten the dread of being asked: “What are you going to do with your major?” The question lingers in the air, heavy with implication, before weighing down on the shoulders of a college senior.
To help answer that question, the Colby College Museum of Art, together with Colby’s Art Department, offers an annual professional development trip designed to expose senior art majors to a wide variety of career paths in the arts. Generously supported by the Mirken Family Endowment for Fine Art Practicum and Museum Practice, the visits differ from year to year in locale and types of meetings. Over the course of the four-day trip, the students are set up with professionals working in all corners of the art world, from museums and galleries to studios and auction houses to communications and law firms and other organizations. This year, the group explored the art world of New York City, accompanied by their trip leaders, Ankeney Weitz, Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jetté Professor of Art, and Bradley Borthwick, assistant professor of studio art, along with trip coordinator Anna Fan ’15, assistant for special projects at the Museum.
The range of meetings and visits offered insight into the multitude of ways to apply one’s education in art history or studio art and boosted the students’ confidence in terms of all the opportunities that await them post-Colby. Not only did this help to assuage their fears and anxieties, but the students also strengthened existing bonds within their major department and made new connections, as they handed out their own personalized business cards. Below, Molly Wu, Nora Hill, and Rachel Bird reflect upon their experiences.
From left: Ling Ding, Molly, Rachel, and Nora with artist Peter Soriano.
There’s a common narrative that’s often heard by both Art History and Studio Art majors that revolves around the difficulty of finding a job after graduation. The Mirken trip was designed to help with that dilemma. The first morning the Mirken group woke up in Manhattan we got on a subway to Long Island City and climbed up a steep staircase to a gallery and studio called Radiator Arts. Radiator Arts was small and seemed almost European with its creaky wooden floors, narrow hallways, and warm air, but it felt oddly homey and welcoming. The art on the walls was modern and interesting, ranging from a blue video of someone’s skin being pinched to a display of humorous takes on fashion magazines.
Toward the end of the visit we met Peter Soriano, an artist whose wall drawing was featured in the Colby College Museum of Art. Peter brought us through a door at the end of the gallery into his studio, where he showed us his walls, all of which were covered in spray paint, displaying pieces of past and future work that he plans to install in various museums and buildings around the world. He spoke inspiringly about the artistic journey he has taken—from the epiphany he experienced while looking inside a chocolate wrapper to the large-scale spray-paint art he creates. Hearing about Peter’s progress from art classes in college to the studio work he is doing now made it seem possible to pursue what has always felt impossible—and I think that was the magical moment for me on the Mirken trip. Art is not a dying field, it is not a useless major, and it is not an impossible future.
Peter Soriano discussing his work with students.
Colby students learn of the work that goes into art conservation.
When I took Contemporary Art with Visiting Assistant Professor Mariola Alvarez in my sophomore year, my favorite of the articles we read was an essay called “The Falsification of Time” by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, one of the conservators at the Whitney Museum. The theoretical issues she presented about the conservation of contemporary art fascinated me. So while I was looking forward to every item on the itinerary of the Mirken trip, our visit to the Whitney conservation labs was by far the most exciting for me.
Part of the excitement came from the behind-the-scenes aspect of this tour; not many visitors to the Whitney get to pass through the doors separating the galleries from the offices and workshops where the work of the museum is done. As we walked through the large workroom, where paintings and prints were laid out on tables to be worked on, and the library of museum archives, I couldn’t help but try to calculate the value (both cultural and monetary) of all the art that filled the room around me, so close I could have reached out and touched it. The real reason the Whitney was the highlight of the trip, though, was the people. Conservators Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Matthew Skopek spent over an hour with us, showing us what they were working on, explaining the work that conservators do, and happily answering our questions. When we finally left (later than we should have, given the fifteen blocks we had to walk to our next stop), my mind was buzzing in the excited way it always does after a particularly good class discussion, full of new ideas and possibilities.
Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Associate Director for Conservation and Research at the Whitney Museum, brings students behind the scenes of art conservation.
Mirken trip students meet with Colby alumni in Galerie Lelong to discuss the gallery scene in New York City.
As a fine arts major, I’ve always had the starving-artist cliché in the back of my mind while thinking about postgraduation plans. For a while, I had resigned myself to thinking of art as “just a hobby,” and I assumed I would have to find a more lucrative interest in order to support myself. The Mirken trip completely shifted my worldview, however. Not only did I and the rest of the participants meet with successful and thriving fine artists, but we also attended a networking event with alumni in a huge range of arts-related careers.
At the event, hosted by Colby alum Liz Bower ’08 at Galerie Lelong, I was able to speak directly with alumni who have worked in the New York gallery scene. They described gallery work as fast-paced and exciting, with shows happening more often than at a museum. Gallery work, which also focuses on sales, can involve more direct interaction with clients and artists. I am intrigued by the possibility of working directly with artists to help produce exhibitions that fulfill their specific visions for their work.
During the Mirken trip (with the help of other participants and leaders!) I sent a cover letter and résumé to an open call at a gallery in Boston, hoping to apply for an interview. In a serendipitous turn of fate, the gallery had an internship position available. After a whirlwind week involving an overnight trip to Boston for an interview and some last-minute calls to my academic advisers, I accepted a Jan Plan internship at the Pucker Gallery in Boston.
As an intern, I will have the opportunity to experience the full range of what working at an art gallery entails, from cataloging inventory to writing press releases for upcoming shows. Pucker Gallery traditionally organizes shows with two artists, one who works in 2-D media and one who works in 3-D media (typically a ceramicist). I don’t have a lot of experience working with 3-D media but, given that half of every show involves ceramics, I’m excited to learn as I go! I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to explore a potential career path during Jan Plan and so grateful for the Mirken trip for opening my eyes to all the options in life for people who love art.
Relaxing on Lin Tianmiao’s Protruding Patterns after an insightful trip!
The Colby College Museum of Art is grateful to the Mirken family for making this program possible. We’d also like to thank Professors Bradley Borthwick and Ankeney Weitz for their incredible efforts and expertise throughout this trip, and, of course, the bright and ever-inspiring student participants.