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Life After Art School: Disappointments and Future Plans

Artist_collage

BY MEGAN BONKE

What happens after art school? We all become famous and earn loads of money from making and creating. It's really fulfilling, right? Well, that would be nice. I'm just over a year out of undergradute school, and I can still come up with a dozen answers to the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Developing a convincing platform to explain my less than stable career choice can be rather stressful. Still, artists get by somehow. In search of real answers, I sought to talk to some artists who might answer questions for the class of 2014 (and their nervous parents.)

First I wanted to know why other people go into the arts. What drives us towards an unstable paycheck and a murky career path?

For many artists, it isn't as much choice as something resembling a divine direction, or at least a calling. I remember the retiring president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) making a speech on the first day of my orientation. In so many words, he said, if you have a backup plan outside of the arts, then that's the direction you are headed, because art will not be the easy option. His message: if art is what you live and breathe and you can't function without it, then art school is where you belong.

With these words in my head, I contacted several other artists, some recent graduates like myself as well as some art world veterans who seem, to me, to have figured it out.

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Adam Levin, Writer / Creative Writing Teacher, 37

ali lander-shindler, Graphic Designer, 24

Allen Vandever, Artist, 43

Amelia Fletcher, Photographer, 25

Antonio Brunetti, Actor / Musician, 38

Brandi Hoofnagle Stephens, Puppeteer, 27

Jodi Rosenthal Pesich, Musician / Vocal Instructor, 30

Jon Merritt, MFA Student / Teaching Assistant, 24

Macie Francis, Fashion Designer, 23

Malic White, Performance Artist / Writer, 24

Paola Cabal, Instalation Artist / Teacher, 38

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Adam Levin, Writer / Creative Writing Teacher, 37

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

Money, time, and George Saunders. I applied to MFA programs that offered full-funding for their students—tuition waivers plus stipends—because I wanted time to write without having to worry about money. Of the programs I got into, I chose to go to Syracuse because George Saunders, a literary hero of mine, was teaching there, plus it was three years long, rather than two. Prior to that, I was going to be a psychotherapist. I’d just finished a Master’s in Clinical Social Work when Syracuse admitted me.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

Syracuse: MFA in Creative Writing.
University of Chicago: MA in Social Work.
University of Illinois at Chicago: BA in Psychology.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

It is possible for a person to be both a great writer and a great teacher of writing.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

If you mean “negative stereotype,” I would say the biggest one I’m aware of is that art students are lazy. This may be true of some at the beginning—amongst first- or second-years, say—but, at least in my experience, it’s uncommon to find art students past their second year of art school who aren’t devoted to their work.

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

I was a writer, I’d been publishing, I planned to continue to be a writer who was publishing, and hoped to get a job adjunct-teaching Freshman Comp, and then later a job full-time teaching Creative Writing.

What did you do in the year after graduating from undergrad (and/or grad)?

After finishing undergrad (it was in December), I taught for a semester at an alternative high school, spent the summer giving out cigarettes in bars for a guerilla marketing agency, then started school at University of Chicago. After Syracuse, I returned to Chicago and taught at Kennedy-King Community College.

What are you doing now?

I’m writing fiction and working for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I teach Creative Writing to BFA’s and MFA’s.

What has exceeded your expectations?

How much I enjoy teaching Creative Writing.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

The rising prices of cigarettes and airfare.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

To continue to write, publish, and teach young writers.

Author of The Instructions and Hot Pink

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ali lander-shindler, Graphic Designer, 24

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

I wanted to be and anesthesiologist up until I took chemistry and then decided that that was a bad idea. I had been able to draw since I was little. I suppose that was my initial interest in going into the art field—it was something I was good at and I understood. That was comforting. Plus, I think I have always organized my thoughts like an artist.

I can't remember why I wanted to go to Chicago really badly, but I did. When I looked at schools SAIC had a very interdisciplinary curriculum, and that’s what drew me towards it.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

I got my BFA at SAIC. I emphasized in visual communications, fibers, and sculpture, but I was kind of all over the board. I studied designed objects heavily, and I did wood working. So, that’s pretty varied.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

To embrace happy accidents.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

That it’s easy. That it’s a natural talent. That’s kind of what I think is funny. When I went into art, I initially did it because it was a natural talent, but then I realized that having an initial talent is nothing in comparison to the amount of work you have to put in in order to get something out of it.

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

Right after I graduated I was going to be a practicing fine artist, and I worked as a bartender while taking commission jobs.

What did you do in the year after graduating from undergrad?

I began interning for a record label, and after a while they hired me full time. So I became a full time graphic designer at the record label.

What are you doing now?

I am a graphic designer at Victory Records and do everything from art direction for album art to Facebook cover photos.

What has exceeded your expectations?

The fact that I go into work every day and someone tells me to design album art. And sometimes I am the happiest ever at it.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

The struggle is probably the fact that as much as I enjoy my job, everything I make at work isn’t mine. It’s someone else’s; it’s for someone else, and it’s representing someone else.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

I would love to eventually run my own record label, or continue working for record labels as a designer. It is rather fulfilling most days. I suppose if one day I am able to devote more time into my art practice that would also be ideal. Unfortunately right now I don’t put any time into my fine art. Because I am working in a creative field professionally, I dedicate about sixty to sixty-five hours a week to them if not more.

I suppose I’m not being fair. I have always studied graphic design, and being a designer has always been a part of me. I would never say it hasn’t been. I always just approached my art practice from a problem solving/design standpoint. Now I’m approaching my design practice from an artistic standpoint, I suppose. Both have always been integrated. Sometimes I have to focus more on one than the other.

alilandershindler.com

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Allen Vandever, Artist, 43

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

I first went to school on a full ride scholarship for football with a chemistry major and an art minor.  My art teachers always wanted me to go to art school. My grandma is a painter, so I grew up making art my whole life.  But my family always said there is no money in it; you have to do something that makes money. My mom was a chemist. I liked chemistry in college, so that’s why I chose chemistry. I really wanted to play professional football; that’s my dream. But that doesn’t happen for very many people. I was on my way. I was recruited from big schools. But then I got a spinal injury. I got laid up in bed, and all I did was draw. The next semester I took two art classes and realized this is what I want to do. I switched to an art major. It wasn’t an art school per se; it was a like a state university, which definitely had its pluses. I also got my minor in psychology. I was thinking about pursuing psychology.  Art just became a passion. I became an addict. I realized I can’t do anything else or I’ll die.

How far does your art education extend?

I started grad school, but I never finished. My wife was in law school, and law school was pretty overwhelming for her, which led to our divorce. I didn’t finish grad school in order to help her out. Then I was going to go back to grad school when she finished, but by that time, my career was already on its way, and I became a full time artist instead.

What was your greatest lesson learned from studying art in school?

I had a professor who always told me I couldn’t do things a certain way or I couldn’t use certain materials, and I was always like, 'Fuck you. I can do what I want.' I dedicated myself to using all the materials he told me that I couldn’t use.

I did a finger painting one day and he said, 'You can’t do that you have to use brushes.' So, I did a whole semester of finger painting. He told me I couldn’t use ballpoint pens; I used ballpoint pens in all my drawings throughout college.  Erotica: 'You can’t do erotica. It’s porn.' I did tons of erotica, which is present in my work now. So, maybe, rebellion?

I had some great teachers who taught me a lot. I had one teacher, in particular, who was retiring my junior year. He really took me under his wing, and I became his apprentice. He gave me a studio in his studio space, and he gave me all of his old college artwork paintings. We went in his basement, and he just started pulling out paintings and handing them to me. He said, 'You’re senior project is to paint over all 30 of these paintings.' That was the best assignment ever.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that people go to art school to have an easy way out. I think part of the reason is because there are some people that do that, but they don’t succeed. Art is a lot of work. I think art school can be easy but it shouldn’t be. If you’re going to do it right, it’s not easy

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

My best friend and I moved to New Orleans to be starving artists on the street, and on our first day out painting on the streets we got arrested. You can’t paint on the streets in New Orleans without a permit. The permit process is really difficult, and they only give out a certain number every year.  Basically, we had to wait six months before we could do what we went down there to do. We both had to get jobs. I ended up managing at a leather S&M shop for a year, which did influence my art because I had no real knowledge of that kink world: S&M, leather stuff, fetish and everything that goes with it. I still use influences from that time period of my life in my art today. Then for a year, I was the Editor / Art Director  for a women's spirituality magazine.

My art went downhill quality wise, partially because I didn’t have a big studio like I was used to having. Materials were harder to come by. I was working a lot. I wasn’t really focusing. I was making graphic art for the women’s magazine, so I guess that counts. Oh yeah, then I did a bunch of 3-D animation for a video game for a company that went bankrupt, the game got bought by another company, and they never used it. I did a year’s worth of work that no one ever saw.

What are you doing now?

Now, I’m a full time artist. I’ve been a full time artist for 13 years. It’s been pretty much my sole source of income. It’s been a roller coaster. Some years you do really well; some years you do really badly. Sometimes it seems like it should be a really good year, but things just don’t sell.

What has exceeded your expectations?

The amount of fun I have with it. It’s fully engulfed my life. Almost every social activity I do is around art. I hang out with artists. I really feel like I’m in this little bubble of this art world and it's great. I surround myself with like-minded people. I have become art.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

The financial support. Sometimes things are really, really good, and that’s great. I’ve learned how to budget that money over time. The people I really think would buy my art don’t buy my art. My friends don’t buy my art, except for very few. My family doesn’t buy my art, except for my mom. These people have the means to buy my art. They just don’t. I don’t get it.  The weird thing is I create my art for my friends and my family to have. I need to make a living off my art. I’m always willing to give them super good deals because I want them to have it, but it’s the strangers who buy my art. I wish that every friend of mine had a piece of my artwork hanging in his or her house.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

To conquer the world/art world. I’m serious when I say that. Every morning when I wake up I think, 'What are we going to do today?' It's like "Pinky and the Brain" - 'We’re going to take over the world!' (Allen says in Brain’s maniacal voice.)

Anyway, I try to think about how to make my brand big, how to promote myself, and how to make my art better. I think about what I can do to raise money to take over the world.

AllenVandever.com

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Amelia Fletcher, Photographer, 25

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields? 

Ever since I was little I've wanted to be an artist, and though I did develop other interests, it's the only thing that really stuck. I thought about entering other fields when I first started college but ultimately decided I wouldn't be as passionate or happy doing something else. 

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend? 

I received a BFA in art with a concentration in photography and a minor in art history from UNC Charlotte in North Carolina in 2011. 

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school? 

I have to make things happen for myself. While school was helpful in terms of support from my professors and peers, it didn't have very many resources or advice for job seeking post graduation. 

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student? 

Let's see... I think I would have to say the biggest misconception is that it's easy. That being an art student takes up less time and effort than other majors, and that must mean artists are lazy. In reality, my classmates and I spent many long hours in the studio and just as much time, if not more, working on various projects as other college students did studying. 

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

Photography was and is still my practice, but I did work a lot more with traditional darkroom practices while I was in school and had access to those resources.

What did you do in the year after graduating from undergrad? 

When I graduated I was hired at a start-up company that I had an internship with during college. While it was a photography start-up, most of my work consisted of scheduling, website management, customer service, etc. In the end I decided I'd rather not be sitting at a computer all day for a 9-5.  

What are you doing now? 

Right now I am planning a cross-country trip to document the people and places of the US, with a focus on small towns. 

What has exceeded your expectations?

The amount of people who have seen my work online and how the Internet has changed and shaped my goals is far more than I expected.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle? 

It disappointed me that even though I have improved and grown as a photographer, and feel I am perfectly capable of making that my sole job, money is still an issue. 

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

Keep on keepin’ on! The goal is to have photography be my only form of income (and enough to support myself) by 2015. 

AmeliaFletcher.com

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Antonio Brunetti, Actor / Musician, 38

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields? 

After high school, I went to Devry Institute of Technology for two semesters. I only finished the second semester because they were electives: English and psychology. I had walked out in the middle of the semester really questioning my choice of computer engineering. I wasn’t an actor yet; well, I had never worked on stage. After that I took a year off. Then I went to Oakton Community College (in Des Plains). My focus was psychology; through psychology I got into theater.  It turned out Oakton had an incredible theater arts department. I did eventually finish the two years requirement for an associates degree. I will say that schooling happened for me in Europe, as well. 

What led you from psychology to theatre?

I remember specifically how it happened. We were doing a case study. The name of the case was Ruth. One day, the professor asked me to play Ruth and field questions from the rest of the class to see if we were studying the case. And because I was studying Ruth, I knew exactly how to play Ruth. I remember after it was done she gave me this look, this incredulous look like wow. I suddenly realized I just acted. I auditioned for the shows in school and that’s how it started.

What was your greatest lessoned learned from art school?

This may sound generalized—but in my case being an actor—it’s not something you do; it’s something you are. I can’t speak to any other mediums. As far as theatre artists—I don’t like to say that—it doesn’t live only in the constraints of the working environment in the time spent working on a project. It permeates your every day life because, in our case, our most valuable instrument is the body but also the mind: how you view the world.You can’t turn that off.

What would you say is the biggest misconception or stereotype about an artist or art student?

Don’t trust any artist that says, 'I enjoy donig that,' because it's work. You don’t always enjoy work. You can love something, but you don’t always enjoy something that you love. Something that you enjoy or something that is fun you can stop if it’s not enjoyable. Or you can say, 'Nah, I don’t feel like it.' People always say, 'I’m glad you are doing what you love or doing what you enjoy.' Sometimes it sucks, but we do it anyway because we have to.

When you left school what did you have planned next?

No idea. I went back and finished the associates. I suppose the thought of actually getting a bachlors lingered for a few years.  I went to Europe shortly after finishing my associates, and I dropped the idea of theater for a few years while I was in Germany.

Afterwards, I realized that acting was what I’m supposed to do. That was the first time I had a real identifiable plan concerning being an actor: I need to come back to Chicago and make a go of it. And this time think about what that would entail. I knew I could come back and pound the pavement and work other jobs and it would take a while. I didn’t think I could come right back and say, 'Ta Daa. I’m here.' I’m so glad that I had the time to process, because it’s what happened. And it’s happening exactly like I thought it would, even how I had hoped it would.

What are you doing now?

I’m working on the stage a lot. I’m a part of two theater companies in Chicago: COLLABORACTION and Trap Door Theater. I have an agent, and I audition commercially. In five plus years of being a performer in Chicago, you tend establish contacts, friends, connections such as in filmmakers and producers. I was cast in an independent feature film from a production company called Soft Cage Films. They use only Chicago actors; they want to capitalize and utilize the talent that is in Chicago. The director is a friend, a fellow company member at Trap Door and a fellow band member of The Garvey Train. I’ve been a drummer longer than I’ve been an actor. It’s the most exciting music I’ve made in my twenty years as a musician. It has a theatrical element to it, of course. It’s guerilla, it’s very low budget, and it’s very unique.

I work a restaurant shift Monday through Friday lunch. It’s not great money, but it’s steady and it affords me time, which is precious. The shifts are anywhere from two and a half hours to four hours a day. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do with an eight hour shift every day. No way.

What has exceeded your expectations?

I think what has exceeded my expectations has been the decrease in the level of energy and input for things that I do on stage that previously required more effort. Not to say that it’s easier, but that my energy is then conserved for higher aspirations. Early in my career I would go through massive preparation for every role, stage, play, and every single job that I had. What I thought I needed to do to get to a certain place, I can do in far less now.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle? 

I experience occasional disappointment when I haven’t been called back to an audition or if I haven’t been booked on a commercial job because there is no rhyme or reason to it. It’s a matter of preference of producers. The disappointment of not booking that job factors into the struggle for the money; not the job. When the people I know book a commercial job I auditioned for, they get that paycheck. Then, I find myself in the position that I am right now, quite successful as a Chicago actor in some respects, and I’m still debating whether or not I can take a day off because of the money that I need to pay rent because the check from when I did book a commercial hasn’t arrived yet.

The struggle is the give and take: what desire can sacrifice for the sake of piece of mind or relaxation. I’m working hard to make money as an actor. The work that has to go into my life after receiving a pay off that still involves work afterwards: managing my schedule between serving, rehearsal, band practice, and filming. Then of course, who has time to look at their bills? I couldn’t tell you how often I find a bill a week and a half later. I guess some could say these are first world problems, whatever.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

To continue doing what I’m doing. And I have to say something to that: when I moved to Germany, it wasn’t as an actor. I met a woman and followed her back to Germany. I thought maybe I’m done with performance, and something else will come. Well, that performance beast reared its ugly head inside me and screamed for me to return. I did, and it was explosive. I tried other things, but I was pulled back; it’s the only thing that makes sense. It's the only professional work that I have true work ethic towards, will power, and self-management. So, I don’t have a choice. I’m happy with that. It makes things easier. So there is no wondering—it’s scary to say—what else could I do in case? There is no in case. It’s all or none.  No safety net. That’s the plan. Go until it goes.

AntonioBrunetti.com  The Garvey Train  2014 Superbowl Commerical

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Brandi Hoofnagle Stephens, Puppeteer, 27

What led you to art and studying art in school?

Since I was ten, I knew I wanted to act. I started researching universities when I was in seventh and eighth grade. I had a whole drawer full of pamphlets and booklets for schools in New York City, L.A. and Chicago. I received a full ride to an area university, though I auditioned at all of my dream schools. When I graduated with my BA in theater, I felt I needed more education before I leapt into my dream of living in NYC. I found a graduate program in Arkansas that only took four candidates a year, and I felt they would focus on my needs and give me the attention I wanted. Again, this was after auditioning at all of my dream graduate schools.

Did you consider other fields?

I minored in arts and entertainment marketing and only needed a full extra year to complete a bachelor’s degree. I also toyed with the idea of getting a minor in pathology. But none of the schools I went to had such a program. Even though I do a lot of teaching now, I didn't and still don't want to get an official teaching degree. But, I was never swayed from majoring in theater.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

Missouri Southern State University Joplin, Mo (B.A. in Theater)
University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR (M.F.A in Acting)
Eugene O'Neil Puppetry Conference Waterford Connecticut (3 year participant)
Walton Arts Center Fayetteville, AR (Learning and Engagement Intern)

 What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

Make your own art! Make it happen! You want to play a particular part in a play? Then put that show up! Have an idea for a show? Do it! Don't wait for opportunities to come to you! Always, push yourself.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

Many stereotypes are true, but most people assume that I am a waitress or was one at sometime. They also think I am a flaky, free spirit, and I have chosen a career in which I will always struggle with paying the bills. The assumption that we drink a lot—that's true. Last, many believe we are drama filled and emotional—for myself that's also true.

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

I wanted to move to New York City and make it. I organized and planned all the way up to that point, and leaving it so open ended was nerve wracking for me. I gave myself three to five years to make a living fully as an actor.

What did you do in the year after graduating from undergrad (and/or grad)?

I prepped for grad school. I worked that entire summer to save up. I completed my undergrad in May and started graduate school the following August.

What are you doing now?

Ha! I am living a life I never imagined! I am now living in Atlanta with my husband and running his puppet company All Hands Productions along with my own company Puppets Playing Pretend. I perform at puppet slams as part of an all female improv group, and I will be performing my one-woman show with a puppet as part of the Atlanta Fringe Festival in June. I worked at the Center for Puppetry Arts as a teaching artist but found that I couldn't make a living working for a non-profit organization. I am also directing a middle school musical.

Things went crazy in my personal life when I was living in NYC, and I needed a break from it before I began to hate the city I loved. I just happened to meet my husband along the way and he was living in Atlanta, so that is how I ended up where I am now.

What has exceeded your expectations?

Teaching! I didn’t know I would enjoy it so much! I love doing it and want to continue to do it. I will hopefully, in the near future, get a position with a university!

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

The theater community in New York was more welcoming than it has been in Atlanta. [Atlanta] is very closed off, and who you know matters even more here. There is a lot of struggle in maintaining a healthy relationship and creating a family that is supported by artists’ wages.  It's not as easy I dreamed, and it's hard to come to terms with that. I felt I had to choose between love and my dreams. (I choose love and happiness)

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

I plan to create a theater space to foster new theatrical and puppet pieces. I want to introduce adult puppet theater and puppet theater in the evening to my community. My husband and I know so many artists, but they have no venue to perform in down here! I want to create a wonderful and warm artistic space. Oh, and make a living doing it!

Puppets Playing Pretend

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Jodi Rosenthal Pesich, Musician / Vocal Instructor, 30

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

There was no question; I wanted to go to Columbia.  I wasn’t the type of person who felt like I couldn't wait to get out of here. I didn’t want to go to a big university; I didn’t want to have a random roommate. I moved out on my own and went to art school and commuted from [Northwest Indiana] to Chicago.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

I went into the theater department at Columbia. You know how it is when you’re in college. I started meeting people, took different turns, and I got swooped into the TV department.  I did a bunch of improve, and we did a television show through the TV department that got to air on local Chicago cable.

At the same time, I had just started Lying Delilah. I didn’t ever see myself being in a professional theater world even though I loved it so much. I went to Columbia for about two and a half years. In May, I decided I wanted to be a musician and make a record. This is not an excuse, but my dad passed away.  That shifted my whole world, and I never went back.  I don’t love that, that happened. I still wish I had finished, but it’s not hindering my life in any way.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

I really liked the people. One of the things that I go back and touch on about my time at Columbia is how I talk to my students now; because I have a lot of students who want to go into art school, and I massively encourage it. I have still have these resources that I found in art school: friends and teachers. I have students now that will be asking me, 'What do you think I should do?' And I call upon these people. It was the connections that I made that have helped me be a better teacher now.

When you left school what was that like, trying to be a musician and working at Highland Guitar Studio (HGS)?

It’s very blurry because it is when my dad died, and I dove heavily into writing.  It was the most unhappy I’ve ever been, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  Lying Delilah wrote our first album on it. To be honest with you, it was very exciting because we had this band forming, and we started playing everywhere. I was in a world of playing shows every weekend, traveling with Steve (then boyfriend, now husband) and his band Groovatron, and coming to work at a cool music store during the week.  And this was many years ago, so I didn’t have to get up for work until 2pm.  It was very much, to me, the time of my life.  There were some good times and bad times, but it was very fun.  And although my dad passed away, my parents were super supportive.  My dad was the one that said if you don’t want to you don’t have to go back to school. I kind of wish my parents had pushed me to graduate, but they didn’t.  It was the rock star life, and that’s what I remember.

What are you doing now?

I’ve been here at HGS for ten years.  I actually always knew I wanted my own business. As an artist you get to a point and say, 'How can I make money?' and that’s really what it was about for me when I was about 24. I looked around this place and said, 'Okay, I’m going to make this a career.' Somehow, it snowballed.  John, the current manager at the time, left, and I stepped in.  Dennis and I started from scratch, and made it more functional on the business end.  I took over marketing, and we turned this place into a school.  Now, we have opened a second location. 

So in a very small nutshell, HGS has been my baby for the last how ever many years; I love it every day. We have an incredible staff.  It’s so fun for me to watch kids find love in the arts. I think it’s really important because the schools are shutting the arts down, and I think someone in the community needs to be there, which is what we are doing.  Aside from running a music school full time, I’m still an active musician. I do a lot of demo recording for studio in Chicago.  Denis and I are in a jazz duo.  Lying Delilah has three albums, but we are in a little bit of hibernation right now.  I think with anything creative sometimes you got to breathe for a minute.

What has exceeded your expectations about the HGS?

My expectations are never exceeded because I want to keep growing and growing. Dennis often calls me a bulldog; if I see something I want, I get it in my mouth, and I don’t let go. That’s how I am with HGS. There’s no reason in the world six to seven hundred people in a town shouldn’t be taking music lessons. It has been amazing to watch the progress of this place. We’re nowhere near done. My expectations will never be exceeded because we can just keep growing until my brain explodes.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

My struggles lie with trying to be an original artist/musician.  What got very hard for me in the last two years is—this is what every artist goes through, and I’m in no way trying to sound jaded—the oversaturation of bands, artists, theater, anything... Social network, while it is great, has oversaturated everything.  For an original band in Chicago, it’s like pulling teeth to get people out.  It got to the point where I didn't feel like going to play for two people anymore. That doesn’t all lie on the Chicago music scene. That lies on us.  Maybe we weren’t making music as quickly as our fans would have liked or something.  You know it’s a two way street.

This is my honest opinion: You either have to be all in where are devoting every second to your art, or you can go through the paces and play for fun and maybe people are at your shows and maybe people are not at your shows, but you love it.  I really think it’s one or the other.  My  really good friend Mike is in this band Lutz, and he is one of the most incredibly talented musicians I have ever come across.  He picked that route. That is his life. That is that source of his income.  They are touring all the time.  There is no rest. 

Where it was kind of like, I picked this.  I needed my source of income to come from HGS because it made me feel more stable.  When my husband and I hit our mid-twenties, we wanted things.  We wanted to furnish our house, and we wanted to pay our bills. I love playing shows, and I’m not going to stop playing shows.  At this point, I'm probably not going to go on tour.  It’s just finding what makes you happy as an artist.

But you didn’t give it up?

I had this mid-twenties freak out and almost left HGS for a job that would have essentially been soul crushing for maybe a couple thousand dollars more a year. I rely heavily on my intuition, and talking to the divine, whatever that may be to you. It was so clear as day. All signs said, 'You are a crazy person if you leave here and think that you’re going to do something and be fulfilled.' Anyway, how it started with, 'How can I make money?' It is ending with, 'I am one of the only people I know that goes to work happy because I’ve stayed in a field that I love.'

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

I have big plans. I want to make my first jazz album in the next year because all of my previous albums have been very rock and bluesy. I want to venture into this place and see if we can add a little more–we are a music school, and we will always be a music school—for kids to be involved in the arts.  Not just kids, adults too.  We are promoting, 'You gotta feed your soul.' We’re big on that here, which a lot of adults lack.  So how can we feed people’s souls with any kind of arts: music, adult chorus, and theater?  I know my crazy partner in crime, the owner, wants a third one of these for which he’s going to need to be very patient because right now two is a handful.   

As an artist, I think you have to live without fear. If you’re going to do it, do it. Be happy about the decision because knowing you can get out of bed happy every day doing something that you love then you are successful. End scene.

HGSMusic.net  LyingDelilah.com

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Jon Merritt, MFA Student / Teaching Assistant, 24

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

I was fortunate to be able to work in a professional artist's studio as well as a gallery co-directed by the same artist while I was still in high school. The artist introduced me to a lot of art and took a special interest in my own paintings I was creating after school when I was 17 and 18. He encouraged me to consider going to art school. I weighed this against the possibility of a fairly easy entry into a couple of renowned universities in Indiana, such as Indiana University in Bloomington or Purdue University. I did consider studying engineering or computer science at Purdue.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

I studied fine art at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, near Los Angeles without any specialization in an art discipline. The program allowed me to embrace a flair for the humanities and then a paradigmatic preference in my studies towards contemporary cultural studies and contemporary philosophy.

I am currently studying in the graduate painting department at the Rhode Island School of Design, and I am making an effort to study other arts and to study contemporary methods in art education. I am trying to broaden the scope of my education beyond a single program’s curriculum.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

That's a tough question. I would say it would be the power of collaboration and in particular non-hierarchically organized collaboration.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

I'm not certain about this, but I believe people underestimate the seriousness of art students.

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

I graduated with a painting practice relying on strict plans and small studies preceding any actual painting. So, I made mostly small studies and was fairly productive with that in my spare time being underemployed. I knew that if I could make enough money to pay for a small studio I would have a lot of work premeditated and ready to make. I was living in Los Angeles and desired a studio assistant position or a job in a museum most of all. I wanted to build a good art world resume for eventual graduate school applications. I was looking out for opportunities to possibly curate a show or two with artists I had met in school in the near future somewhere, anywhere, in LA, which I did do; I proposed and curated a show in Westwood at a small artist run space. I was, of course, also looking for opportunities to exhibit my own work wherever I could afford to send it.

What did you do in the year after graduating from undergrad?

I had many jobs in the single year following graduation, though I was underemployed through most of it. I moved into Los Angeles, and among a few other highlights, I started working for an abstract painter who was a teacher of mine from CalArts. I worked full time for a month for an accomplished lighting designer and light fixture artist in a downtown studio. Eventually I got a more consistent job in a chic furniture store in Santa Monica, which was actually hard to give up when I left for graduate school in the August following my graduation.

What are you doing now?

I am pursuing a graduate degree at RISD in painting. I feel that I am a lot better at making geometric abstract paintings than at doing anything else. At RISD I am taking the opportunity to further professionalize myself, picking up a few more disciplines such as web design, youth art education, and pattern making for design.

What has exceeded your expectations?

I absolutely cannot come up with an expectation of which reality did not fall short, but I believe that is because the last decade has been bleak all around. I did show in a group show in New York City almost immediately after I graduated. That was very gratifying.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

There isn't a lot of room for artists in the working world. Not always, but often I feel like as an artist in the general workplace I am tolerated rather than wholeheartedly welcomed.

It is uncomfortably difficult to show work overseas, more difficult than I previously imagined, and more than the surplus of opportunities found online suggest. The cost of shipping more than [one] single moderately sized painting is rather unaffordable for me currently.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

I'm going to keep making paintings. I have ideas about minimizing my future studio costs (rent and power tools) by using somewhat widely available computer guided cutting machines to produce my geometric compositions with a gradual increase in the value of the materials used, going from MDF [medium-density fiberboard], to plastics, eventually to metal and enamel paints.

I also want to teach in colleges. I am aware and worried by strong trends towards adjunct professorship, but [I] am still very interested in pursuing it and trying to get a good position someday by way of hard work and good teaching.

JonMerritt.com

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Macie Francis, Fashion Designer, 23

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

I knew I wanted to study art at the age of twelve. I had moved from a metropolis in Texas to the country in Indiana. Immediately, I noticed how behind Indiana was in terms of fashion, even in 7th grade. I realized that a person’s dress played a significant role in their place in society, or in that case, middle school. I decided that I wanted to be a part of shaping someone’s wardrobe and enhancing their personality.

Although fashion was always the frontrunner for my career choice, I definitely enjoyed academics, specifically math and English. As my mother was a nurse and my grandfather a lawyer, the ideas of a doctor and lawyer were also actively pursued through high school. Ultimately though, I knew I needed to follow my passion into the creative, competitive industry.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education
 extend?

I transferred to a college preparatory high school for my senior year in order to study under their esteemed art director. If I had not made this change, I would have not made into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree, emphasis in Fashion Design where I completed the prestigious three-year design and construction program under Shane Gabier of fashion label Creatures of the Wind.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

SAIC is known as a conceptual art school, focused on developing individual ideas, presentation, and mixed media. Since I already had a strong academic background, this was a new experience for me. Over my four years spent there, I learned how to incorporate my English skills through development of research and inspiration behind my concepts for each project and my math skills with the technical construction of making clothes. I am grateful for my unique education, and I am now bringing a fresh perspective to New York.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

In general, if someone is not involved in the arts or in a creative field, they assume all art students are hipsters. They do not seem to consider that art involves endless thought, experiments and experiences. They only see that an art student wears thrift store plaid shirts, ripped up corduroys, and Dr. Marten’s. The list goes on, but you can picture the idea. I don’t necessarily fit the stereotype; many people don’t realize I actually went to art school. I couldn’t imagine going to a state school.

I have also come across people that believe it will be too difficult to land a stable, life long career from an artistic background. They believed it to be too risky. However, that’s kind of what I enjoy about it, specifically the fashion industry. It proves real talent, for the challenges faced when developing your connections and building your brand. Not everyone can make it or will even want to over time. The industry demands true passion; otherwise the lifestyle just won’t be worth it for them. Additionally, the other misconception of being in fashion is that it’s superficial and almost anyone can do it. Thanks to Project Runway and designers like Paris Hilton. Again, this is only when someone is unaware of how the industry actually works.

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

My art of choice was and is fashion design. Fortunately thanks to SAIC and their amazing fashion program, I was awarded an internship with designer and alumni Cynthia Rowley in New York City upon graduation. I have been in the city for almost two years now, and have completed four more internships while maintaining a retail job in SoHo the last fifteen months. It wasn’t exactly my plan to still be searching for a (more career-oriented) job and building my portfolio. I wanted to be a part of a design house by now. But New York is also teaching me a lot about myself, adapting my aesthetic and goals, and leading me in an exciting new direction.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

The biggest struggle has been compromising my creative endeavors in order to make money. Not excess money, just being able to break even after bills and a little lifestyle spending. It is necessary to have money, so at first it was easy to get caught up in the paychecks, even if I was only working as a sales associate at a retail store. However, in the midst of expending all my energy at work then socially with friends or catching up on chores and errands, I stopped designing things, hardly even doodling on paper for no reason. Since then, I have learned to accept the struggle, cutting back some hours at work in order to focus on building my website, which will showcase my work and awards from school. I would much rather be a struggling artist than a comfortable employee.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

My ultimate dream for my future is to build my own company. I know this will take years to achieve, but I’m looking forward to the experiences to get me there. Everything helps me grow and alters my perception, which makes me excited for always being able to create new things based on what I enjoy doing. Before I have my own company, I want to be the head designer / creative director of an already established design house. I would like to live in Europe or even Australia for a period of my life to learn the culture and merge it all together back in New York as an American designer

Macie Francis on LinkedIn   2011 Designs Video

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Malic White, Performance Artist / Writer, 24

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

I grew up doing musical theater. After graduating high school, I decided to try something new, so rather than going into Northwestern University's conservatory-style theater program, I entered the University of Chicago with vague intentions of majoring in the social sciences. I ended up with a degree in gender studies and creative writing.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

After graduating from UChicago, I immediately auditioned for and began working with the Neo-Futurist theater ensemble, where I write, direct and perform new material every week in our late night show. While my job with the Neo-Futurists isn't graduate school, consistently making and critiquing work often feels like an MFA program.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from school / art school?

Stop pretending art is hard. Try everything—vast knowledge is more valuable than skill. Say yes to everything. Work your connections.

What is the biggest stereotype / misconception of art school / art student?

The biggest misconception about art students is that work is not valuable. 

When you graduated what was your art practice, and what did you plan to do after leaving school?

I had no plan.

What did you do in the year after graduating from undergrad?

I wrote every day and scored the occasional gig as a freelance writer for newspapers, magazines and blogs. I worked in restaurants for a few months while I went to auditions and read new work at storyslams. Eventually, I was accepted into the Neo-Futurist theater ensemble.

What are you doing now?

I work with the Neo-Futurist theater ensemble, where I write, direct and perform new material every weekend in our late night show and assistant directed the Miss Neo Pageant. In the past year, my storytelling, dance and performance work has been featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Pritzker Pavilion, the Logan Square Auditorium, Tour de Fat and Chances Dances. I am currently organizing and curating a collaboration between the Neo-Futurists and Salonathon, a weekly performance night in West Town.

What has exceeded your expectations?

Chicago is one of the few cities where it's possible to be a working artist. I almost always have a part-time customer service gig to make ends meet; otherwise, I have the privilege of making most of my income through art making. I never thought I'd be doing that at age 23.

What has disappointed you or been a struggle?

I expected to have a much more difficult time finding work as an artist. I got lucky and found consistent work with a theater ensemble, so I've had the privilege of avoiding many of the struggles associated with making a career as an artist.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

Eventually I'd like to pursue an MFA in interdisciplinary arts, continue my recent studies in dance, and pursue clown theater. More generally, I'm interested in creating work and collaborations that bridge geographic gaps in Chicago's often segregated art world.

NeoFuturists.org  Neo-Futurist Video  Salonathon: LEX•I•CA Video

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Paola Cabal, Instalation Artist / Teacher, 38

What led you to art and studying art in school? Did you consider other fields?

I never had a question in my brain, really, what I was going to be. I was always the kid in school that everybody wanted to partner with whenever the assignment was to do portraits because everybody knew that you want to be with Paola because it's going to come out cool.  I went to a special elementary school that had an interesting pilot program where they were pulling exceptionally talented kids out of school for one day a week, and you were just doing whatever your thing was.

Outside and beyond that, I kept on making my own work, but my high school program was crappy. My family didn’t have a lot of money either.  I really wanted to attend the summer pre-college program at Rhode Island School of Design (RSID).  I cold called one of my dad’s former clients who had been really enthused about the fact that I was an artist and told me if I ever needed anything to call her.  And I was like, ‘Listen I want to do this program, and I don’t have the money.’

She was kind of taken aback and said,  ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll put in half if your parents can do the other half.’ I ended up going to RISD precollege program where I put my portfolio together for applications for schools.

Where have you studied, what did you study, and how far does your education extend?

I applied to Cooper Union and didn’t get in, but I got in at RISD, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and at Carnegie Mellon University’s program. I ended up going to Carnegie Mellon University’s program. It was lovely going to a program in a university because I was also very interested in music, and I studied in a conservatory style music program: vocal performance.  I was also—obviously I was doing visual art stuff—kind of helping with cool curricular development ideas: what if we make an interdisciplinary class around rhythm? I was facilitating that initiative in a lot of ways. It was an awesome group of intellects and thinkers and makers at that place. That was my undergraduate experience and then I took three years off.

I went down to Colombia after undergrad, and I lived there for two years, and it was a crappy time to be living in Colombia. They were blowing up gas pipelines and electrical towers. There were car bombs. There were kidnappings. That was the experience that I had.

Foreign investment was fleeing at that time that I was there, so I got jobs really easily in the beginning. Everybody wanted to hire me to teach English to speakers of Spanish at multinational corporations. There are many, many agencies that offer this service. I got hired five different times, five different places, and whenever pay day would roll around at any of those places they would be like, ‘Nobody here has been paid in months. Get in line. You’re like the latest hire. Why would you expect to get paid?’

And I’d be like, ‘See ya.’ Next one. Five times. Finally I found a steady gig. I was teaching at an art school, which was—it’s funny it identified as the American art school. It had imported yellow school busses from the United States in order to distinguish themselves from the British school. I taught there for a year and a half.

So, I land back in the States after two years in Colombia. I spent one year teaching at a private school in Plantation, Florida called American Heritage School. I had vaguely looked at the rankings, and I had realized, ‘Oh look, SAIC and Yale seem to trade spots a lot. I can totally see myself going to SAIC.’  I had just applied to the one school. I had actually signed a contract at American Heritage School to be the Middle School Art Specialist for ‘01 and ‘02 when I got in off the wait list for painting and drawing in the MFA program. I came to SAIC in ‘01 and I finished my MFA in ’03.

It was a great experience. You can take anyone for an advisor. I took a writer for an advisor: Carole Becker. I took a performance person for an advisor: Verner Herderick. It was amazing, just the variety of practices I got exposed to and the different friends that I made. I would not have traded it.

What was your greatest lesson learned from art school?

I think the most valuable thing that I got from art school was this connection to other vital, committed, important makers, and I still have those connections. That’s the advantage of having come to SAIC. There are so many of us making so many different kinds of things.  What if I had gone to a smaller spot? I would not have that many people to connect with and learn from. I would say the most valuable thing I got from art school was that community of makers.

What is the biggest misconception or stereotype about an art student?

My brother, who is in the military, for a long time, while I was in undergrad, would default to going, ‘What’s up druggie? What’s going on druggie?’ I had friends who got high every day. I wasn’t one of those kids. But it doesn’t matter. For my brother, his perspective of the world, I was a druggie because I was an art student.

There is the assumption that artists are self indulgent and profoundly narcissistic being predominantly interested only in ourselves at the expense of being interested in anything else. Those are the some of the biggest misconceptions. Where as, I think art students in reality are some of the most vitally curious people about everything. There are very few navel gazing narcissists relative to the general population of who is an art student.

What was your art practice like after you graduated from SAIC?

Before I started at SAIC, I was figurative, figurative, figurative: India ink, charcoal, and a lot of pastel. It was two dimensional, and it was figurative and it was observational realism. After I got to SAIC, there was like a specific thread that people seemed to resonate with when I presented my past work, which was a thread where I was working with cast shadows. I was resistant, but after enough beating down I went from my more directly observational figurative descriptions to a more spatial intervention kind of practice. It’s still observational. I still have to observe very closely. I went from making figure paintings and drawings, to intervening into spaces. Part of that was organic, because what I noticed happening in my paintings and drawings was that they were getting bigger and bigger and bigger until they were wall sized. It becomes a valid question to say, ‘Well why are they a thing? Why are they on canvas? Why are they on giant pieces of paper? Because I dunno. Because I don’t want to draw on the wall or I didn’t think about drawing on the wall. I want to be able to change the location of this object to another location.’ My work developed in a natural progression from bigger, bigger, bigger to, okay, directly in space.

What did you do the year after graduating?

I was here in Chicago. I was a Teaching Assistant during Grad School, but that would not have paid the bills. I also got hooked up with this agency that is only marginally still in existence. It had completely disappeared for a second and now it’s back in partnership with something else. It was called Art Resources and Teaching (ART). ART would workshop in the public schools where they still had to cover—according to State and Federal guidelines—certain kinds of artistic exposure and experiences for their kids, but no longer had a budget to have an art teacher there. I had already been doing that during graduate school, and that was my main gig after. I could give ART more days and was working with other agencies like Chicago Art Partnerships and Education. I was teaching figure drawing to the kids here at SAIC for the summer pre-college program.

It was interesting because before coming to SAIC, I had been to Chicago once.  I ended up staying in this lofty warehouse that was full of salvaged, roadside couches.  The space was not heated and it was February. And I was very much like, ‘Why would anybody choose to live here. This is a terrible place.  I could take a black and white picture and a color picture and it would come out the same. I don’t understand.’ Once I came here for graduate school from ‘01 to ‘03, I loved it.  I fell in love with it in a completely irrational, committed way. Like what love can sometimes be like. Trying to explain it to yourself, but there is no real explanation. It was like, ‘Oh, Chicago is amazing. Chicago is the best place to make art ever.'  No it isn’t. I just happened to love it. There was never any question. This is my place. These are my people. This is my tribe. I would have done anything to stay. It didn't matter. I was going to stay.

What are you doing now?

I’m down to two jobs, which is kind of a luxury. I teach at DePaul University at their Department of Art, Media, and Design. I teach figure drawing and advanced figure drawing, and they’ve also thrown other things at me, which is really fun because I have the experience based off my installation practice where I get to do three-dimensional foundations. I get to teach beginning sculpture and two-dimensional foundations, which is more design focused. I teach in all manors of different things. At SAIC I teach for painting and drawing, multi-level drawing courses, Sophomore Seminar, and for the Department of Contemporary Practices, which is actually a repackaged First Year Program. I do Research Studio for transfer student classes. On any given semester if I’m teaching four classes, which is one more than full time, I’m good. If I’m teaching three, which I am now, regular full time, I’m a little underemployed. I’m like, ‘Huh. I wonder how I’m going to make ends meet.’ I’m really kind of contentious about putting money aside.

What about your current art practice?

The part time teaching gives me the flexibility to commit enough time to my work. My practice, at this point and for some time, is pretty much such that when I get a gig, whatever the gig, it has a materials budget allocated to it, so that I’m not out money.  So I’m making projects like last year, I made this site specific piece at the Hairpin Art Space in Logan Square, and that’s going to be a permanent piece. They are going to keep it up and that paid for my materials. Right now I have a piece at the Elmhurst Museum in Elmhurst, Illinois. I would call it a jigsaw puzzle looking for what are the hour, three hour, five hour slots that I have where I could be making stuff and which ones are fully committed to teaching. Especially with the Elmhurst Art Museum gig, that was a tough situation on a level that it was such a huge time commitment and such a huge piece. I had maybe four weeks to put that together. That was like no sleeping.

What has exceeded your expectations?

Im constantly reminded because I'm very close friends with former students, I have a collaborative with Michael Genge and Chris Grieshaber. We are (f)utility project, and I see how they are putting together their living. What has exceeded my expectations is that I get to spend one hundred percent of my time doing things that are categorically meaningful. They are augmenting my sense of myself, my ability to make things in a thoughtful way, and my ability to interact with students in a thoughtful way. I feel like I’m growing as a person all the time. I spend zero percent of my time doing work that feels like tedious labor. That’s very lucky.

I know that at any moment, ‘Oh enrollment is down and we can’t offer you any classes. Sorry.’

I could have to go back to, ‘What am I going to do now? I better go find a serving job.’ I understand and it’s very clear to me that what I have is a luxury. It’s amazing that I can do what I do and make ends meet, and it works.

What has been the struggles or disappointments?

I don’t know if anybody could have prepared me for—even though there was maybe some effort to try—knowing that actually being an artist was two jobs. One of them is making the work and the other is documenting the work and applying for things and updating the website and this other crap that’s like, ‘Really. Why do I have to spend time on this? This is not something that I want to be doing.’ And besides, also having to make a living and pay your bills in these other ways. Three jobs: the job that pays your bills, the job of getting your work out and promoting it and applying for things, and the job of making it, which is a pleasure. Teaching and making: those don’t feel like work. Prepping for class and grading: work. Applying for things and updating website: work.

What are your plans for your future in the arts?

Right now I’m building my website so that it is bilingual. That is the first thing that I will have done probably by the end of this month: publishing my bilingual website. That will be great. PaolaCabal.com. That’s what it will ultimately be. Then I am putting together an application right now for the John Michael Color Foundation in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. They have an amazing residency called Arts and Industry, and I’m hoping to do that in 2015 because I have these big crazy installation ideas.

I’m in a research phase of trying to figure out if I’m going to pitch these ideas to people. From among the bigger ideas that I have, I think there are a few that I could definitely accomplish in my lifetime. If I’m going to pitch these ideas, I need to do the research to figure out: How much is this going to cost? How much space do I need? What is exactly involved?

I really have not applied to a lot of full time faculty positions, and it would probably be a good plan to have a steadier gig rather than being an at-will-employee. Those are the concrete plans this month and this year.

More Q&A with Paola

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