Just what can you do with an art major?

Each fall, studio art and art history majors have the opportunity to take a networking trip to a city of the faculty’s choice, generously endowed by Alan Mirken ’51. This year’s trip was to New York City and took place over fall break. The nine students were accompanied by three faculty members, Ankeney Weitz of the art history department, Bradley Borthwick, a professor of sculpture, and Anna Fan ’15, the Assistant for Special Projects at the Colby College Museum of Art.

Socrates Sculpture Park is home to many weather-friendly art pieces such
as Tanda Francis’ Take Me With You (2017) as part of their annual exhibition

Art history major John Egner ’18 said, “It was an engaging and insightful trip that allowed us seniors to get a glimpse of all the possible avenues for an art world career.” New York’s bustling art economy was evident in the passionate art professionals the students met with over the four days in the city. Some highlights of the trip included a chat with Katherine Gagnon ’11, an artist and gallery director on the Upper East Side, a visit to the Noguchi Museum in Queens, a tour of Peter Soriano’s P’16 studio in Long Island City and a meeting with Maria Bowe ’15 at Christie’s auction house.

Students also had the opportunity to visit the conservation lab at the Whitney Museum for American Art in Chelsea. There, students also had the chance to speak with head conservator Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, along with other members on the staff working exclusively with the Whitney’s collection to repair and preserve works of art. Mancusi-Ungaro said she actively pulls from three categories in day-to-day operations – equal parts chemistry, artistic talent and art history knowledge. This was a side of the art world that many students had never been exposed to before. Students had the added benefit of being able to step inside the Peter and Paula Lunder lab where works are physically washed, adjusted and matched for pigments. Nora Hill ’18 said of this portion of the trip, “This was definitely my favorite meeting, in large part because I’ve read a number of articles for different courses about some of the creative and theoretically challenging conservation work they’ve done there in recent years.” The students also had the chance to wander around the museum beforehand, exploring several exhibits of note such as “Calder: Hypermobility” and “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from The Whitney’s Collection, 1940-2017.”

Another avenue that students explored were careers in art law and arts communications. They first stopped at the office of Goldman Sachs to meet with Meg Dodge ’08, Senior Vice President of Estate Services. Dodge discussed her decision to pursue law after graduating from Colby with a dual degree in Art History and Government, and how her job now perfectly embodies how she had hoped to incorporate art into her career. Directly following this meeting, the students headed back to Midtown to meet with two employees at Polskin Arts, an art  communications firm representing cultural institutions such as the Colby College Museum of Art. These two intriguing yet different visits offered the students ideas of art related career paths that are outside of the box, or atypical compared to strictly museum work.

Katie Ryan ’18, another art history major said of the trip: “The Mirken trip was a great experience and opened my eyes to so many different careers in the arts.” She went on to say, “All of the alumni we met with were so willing to talk with us and help us figure out our next steps after graduation.” For an “off ” day on Sunday, the students along with their professors were given a private tour of the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long park raised up above street level. The students delved deep into the park’s history as told by a fiery New York City native/tour guide. This space, formerly a railroad, had been completely reimagined in the late 1990’s to serve as an integration of nature and art. The tour guide mentioned that all the art along the High Line is curated by a single woman with weather-friendly artworks in mind – all works woven into the High Line were specifically designed to be in a garden setting.

From the perspective of a studio art major, Rachel Bird ’18 said, “The Mirken trip was a lot of fun, but it was also useful in that it opened my eyes to the huge variety of career paths that are open to students with an art background. Growing up, I had thought that the only ways to have art involved in a career was to be an artist, but in this trip we met with people in professions ranging from estate lawyers to arts marketing specialists, and they all found ways to focus on art and incorporate it into their careers.” She continued, “The trip as a whole definitely helped relieve some of the post-grad ‘will I get a job’ anxiety a lot of us were feeling, and for me personally it was also inspiring to see all the different options.”

The trip ended on a positive note: mingling and networking with alumni, parents and friends of the art department at Galerie Lelong. The Associate Director Liz Bower ’08, another Colby alum, offered yet another glimpse into a New York City art world position. On view was work by Lin Tianmiao’s work, a contemporary Chinese installation artist, whose embroidery work filled the space in a unique way, allowing participants to walk in and on it, interacting intimately with it.

Overall this trip was an excellent opportunity to make valuable connections within the Colby-New York network, but as a residual effect, it was reassuring to many students who are becoming increasingly anxious about securing a job post-grad. Hill reflected this sentiment by noting: “For me, the most valuable aspect of the trip was the wide range of professions we encountered – I feel like we got great exposure to the many different opportunities we’ll have after graduating with a degree in art.”

I want to personally thank the family of Alan Mirken who provided this wonderful opportunity, as  well as Leslie Rubin and Jane Zenker, daughters of Alan Mirken who joined us for the last day of the networking trip. Without them and the guidance of our professors, this trip would not be possible.

  • seththayer

    I wish Alan was here to read this article. He loved art education and would have been so proud of everyone involved. I am so glad the students have this opportunity, something that we didn’t have back in the 80s. Colby has always been incredibly supportive of its students. Nice work.