9-5 in the Arts: Alumni Discuss Careers in the Art World

Students here are known for being intellectual powerhouses. As a result, it comes as no surprise that a large number of graduates go on to attend graduate school or take on jobs as educators.

But what about the arts sector? Last Wednesday, Swarthmore Career Services invited alumni who work in museums and graphic design to talk about their experiences.

Invited to the panel was Saralinda Lichtblau ’72, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Hudson River Museum, Carolyn Stillwell ’92, an information design consultant who runs a private design firm, and Karen Ohland ’81, Associate Director for Finance and Operations at the Princeton University Art Museum.

The panelists began by talking about their time in Swarthmore and their careers.

Lichtblau graduated as an honor art history major. After graduation, she went on to work in private art galleries early in her career. Later, she took an interest in education and settled into her current role at the Hudson River Museum. Lichtblau discussed the collaborative nature of museums, auction houses and galleries, as well as the large amount of social interactions involved in the gallery trade.

Stillwell, like Lichtblau, was an Art History major. While Lichtblau had a rough plan of her career path, Stillwell discovered her career by chance. She began work as a graphic designer, first gaining experience designing publicity material during her time as a junior administrator at Swarthmore. Even though she was an Art History graduate, she learnt most of her skills on the job, or in her own words: “learning by fire.” She talked about the courage required to start a business and emphasized the importance of being open to learning.

Ohland surprised the audience when she said she was an art lover who majored in Engineering and Biology. Starting out in the field of medical research, her career in art only started after her employer downsized. Being hired as a financial consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art gave her an avenue to utilize her practical skills while still allowing her to engage with her love of art. Ohland described how her practical experience and skills allowed her to move between industries easily.

Christopher Moyer ’15, an Art History major, asked Lichtblau how she got her first job. Lichtblau described her process as “multi-pronged approach” of connections, agencies and professor recommendations, the last of which she credited with leading to her successful initial employment.

In fact, interpersonal connections was a recurring theme throughout the session. Many of the tips dispensed were related to forming long lasting and meaningful relationships with professional acquaintances. All three panelists encouraged the students present to engage people with interest without being too concerned over the actual prospect of hiring. Ohland also recounted personal experiences in working with career coaches. She believed that the coaching helped increase her level of self awareness and was helpful during her interviews.

The panelists also recounted the financial difficulties a new career in the arts entails.  Lichtblau described the initial challenge of self sustenance, and the small initial pay that large famous institutions offer new employees. As a matter of fact, all three panelists cited their love in the nature of their work as reasons for them working in the industry. Stillwell enjoys the opportunities for learning her career provides her, and Lichtblau cited her love of bringing people and art together.

The event ended with a short reception, during which many of the students engaged in conversation with the panelists. Administrators from the Swarthmore Career Services were also on hand to answer questions.

The panelists’ openness allowed many of the attending students gaining an insight into the art world they would otherwise not have without work experience.

Featured image courtesy of http://swat150.swarthmore.edu/


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2 comments

  1. 0
    George Telford says:

    Hey, alum Laura Raicovich, recently appointed Executive Director of the Queens Museum would have been a great addition to this panel and a great resource for arts-interested Swatties!

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