Caroline Hudson-Naef: From Art School to Art Career
In the arts, we often perceive an art administration career as a practical, steady alternative to becoming a full-time, independent artist. But the skills and experiences required to pursue such a path can greatly differ from a studio art discipline.
However, with dedication and persistence, some artists are able to make the transition and excel in a position at an arts organization.
Not only do they have to adapt to new situations and develop a new skillset, but it also requires a shift in perspective.
So if you’re interested in making that shift, you’ll definitely want to hear what Caroline has to say!
Caroline Hudson-Naef is the Photography Arts Lab Manager at Art Intersection, “a place where creative individuals gather to learn, create, and exhibit.”
Located In Gilbert, AZ, Art Intersection offers gallery space, workshops and classes, a darkroom and digital lab, and one-on-one instruction to their community. And Caroline’s responsibilities encompass all the diverse functions of the business.
In this video, you’ll learn:
- What kind of prior experiences helped Caroline get her job
- What she enjoys most about working at an art center
- Advice for early-career artists looking to for an arts administration position
- The difficulties of balancing a full-time, arts-related job with her own creative practice
So watch the interview or read the full transcript in this blog post!
Amanda: Hey there. Thank you for watching aftrART’s Artist Interview Series. Today I have Caroline Hudson-Naef who works at Art Intersection. She is the lab manager and an administrator here. She’s going to share a little bit about what goes into her day to day and how she went from being an art student at ASU to being an administrator here at art intersection. Caroline, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Caroline: Yes. I’m originally from Jackson, Mississippi. I knew I wanted to study photography in high school, so I came to Arizona State University.
Amanda: What do you do here? How long have you been working here? What is Art Intersection?
Caroline: Art Intersection is a small business that provides resources to artists and our local community here. We have a professional gallery space. We also have a lab with equipment to produce fine art prints of lots and lots of different kinds. We also teach classes and workshops and have lots of other different kinds of programming.
I’ve been working here nearly two years. I actually started right after I graduated from ASU. My role here at Art Intersection, my technical title is the Photography Arts Lab Manager. Because we are a small business I wear a lot of different hats. I manage our lab and make sure our equipment is functioning. I also handle our daily rentals, coordinate and assist with our workshops. I also teach individual classes here. In addition to that I manage our website and I do a lot of our online marketing.
Amanda: That is so much work. What prior experiences do you feel helped you get a job in arts administration from going to school with a studio degree.
Caroline: Really what was useful for me were all my extracurricular activities. My internships, I had the rare experience of interning at the place that I would later work, so I got kind of an inside look at how things operated on a day to day. A big help was also my internship at the Arizona Commission for the Arts. I was an assistant to the programs director there, so I got kind of a glimpse into the not-so-glamorous side of arts administration, especially within a government agency. Within our time in photo club, we both served on the board together, and we had the opportunity to really just control the functions of the club and we scheduled meetings, and we had to be in charge of making sure everything in the club ran.
Amanda: One thing that was the most challenging was really trying to encourage people to engage. Even now, in my job, I see it’s hard to get people to realize what resources are available in their community.
Caroline: I think a lot of the struggle that we found in photo club, and at my job now at Art Intersection, is finding ways to get people to participate in a way that’s really meaningful.
Amanda: Even if you’re solely working as an artist, once you have your first exhibition you need to know how to get people excited about what you’re doing, especially because it’s about you. It’s not necessarily about them. I think that is a huge experience, and it’s really transferrable to a career in the arts, or a career in digital marketing, like I do now. It’s so important.
You’ve been doing this job for a while, and I’m sure you’ve been in a lot of contact with artists, or people at other art centers, art museums, galleries. How would you say that your role here at a small, independently-owned art center differs from, say, if you worked full time at Arizona Arts Commission, or something like that?
Caroline: It’s really two-fold for me. Working somewhere that is a small business, again we really only have a staff here of three, sometimes four people. That means when it comes time to make decisions there’s fewer people that have to sign off on what we do here. I have a lot more creative control over our programming and other things that I want to implement here. The flip side to that is because we are a small business, we aren’t a government-funded arts agency, we aren’t a large museum with lots and lots of funding, everything that we do here is seen through the lens of is it financially sustainable, which is something that was really new to me coming from an arts background.
Amanda: As artists, people sometimes expect us to do things for free, or everyone is so used to the non-profit model because so many art organizations are non-profit, which is great, but when it comes down to it sometimes that’s not always feasible or sustainable for a business.
Caroline: It’s something actually that I have to confront most days here. When I’m thinking about our programming and trying to find new things for us to do here, new interesting ways for us to engage with people in our art community, a lot of the things that come to mind are free opportunities, or ways that make getting involved here easier, and easier usually means cheaper. Trying to balance that with we have to keep the lights on here is something that’s really challenging, because I want to be able to do good for our community, and provide accessible resources here, but we also provide a valuable service, and I want to be able to convey that to people in a way that they appreciate.
Amanda: What kind of advice would you give to a student that was pursuing something like a studio art degree that is interested in going to arts administration? How would you suggest that they prepare to make that transition?
Caroline: Definitely take advantage of any professional classes that you are offered. I know in many places, many schools they’re not required, which is kind of a shame to me, because I think art students have a weird misconception of professional classes and professional activities. It’s really really vital, and it was really important for me early on.
My other advice would be get involved in organizations at your school, or if your job has any opportunities for leadership.
Amanda: Caroline, how would you say that working a full-time job in the arts has affected your own creative practice as an artist?
Caroline: It’s really a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, I am working a creative job, I’m involved with creative people every day, and I get to see the work that artists bring into the lab, and in some cases help them create it.
The flip side to that is because I am in such a creative environment, and I’m around art all the time, I don’t feel that missing from my life, so in contrast to when I worked kind of a boring retail job, I didn’t have that art piece in my life, so I worked really hard after hours to try to create that, and try to continue in my creative passion.
Amanda: It totally understand that. Finding that balance is really difficult, and I think something to keep in mind is that it’s different for everyone. Would you say you’re still trying to figure that out?
Caroline: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m two years into my job here. Even when I first graduated and started working full time I was used to working full time on art because I was in school and that shift to working full time in art, to working a full time job has really taken a lot of adjustment.
Amanda: What would you say is the most important thing that you’ve learned while working at Art Intersection, and what is something that you wish you had known before you started this position?
Caroline: Something that I think has become really important to me in my role here is making connections with other people. Making those connections that are long-term and meaningful has given me a lot of faith in the art world, which can sometimes feel a little cold, and like you’re all on your own. It’s helped me feel like I can really be a part of the art community.
Something I wish I would have known before taking on this position would be that a job in arts administration is not glamorous at all. Most of my day is working on spreadsheets and Word documents, so there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into making a space like this function.
Amanda: There are arts administration jobs that are strictly arts administration, right, and you actually have more of a hybrid job where you’re also managing a lab, and working with students, so that’s something really important to keep in mind if anyone’s considering this as a career, right?
Caroline: Yes. I’m really grateful that my job is so versatile, and that I’m able to do different things every single day. No two of my days look the same.
Amanda: Yeah. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard over time a lot of art students or recent graduates kind of talking about arts administration as almost a back-up career. Do you want to kind of bring some clarity to that? It seems like there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Caroline: Yes. I think there is a small possibility that if you’re hoping for an arts admin job as a back-up option maybe the right opportunity comes your way, maybe you’ll get it. In reality, there’s a lot of prep work that goes into getting a job like this. My two internships I specifically set out to learn the kind of skills that I’m using every day now. I also was very adamant about maintaining a relationship with Art Intersection from the time that I first interned. I was kind of lingering around this space and continuing to volunteer long after my internship was over. I hoped that one day there might be a way that I could be involved in the future. Luckily my employer was also keeping an eye on me and the things that I was learning and the ways that I was growing in school.
Amanda: Absolutely. When I was at Anderson Ranch, the same thing was happening there. Interns would come back for summers, and those were the full time staff eventually and art directors there … It’s very much about community and staying active in that community.
Caroline: You not only want someone with all the right skills, you want someone who’s demonstrated that they’re engaged and that they’re loyal to you.
Amanda: And passionate.
Amanda: Caroline, what are your next steps? Where do you see yourself in say two, three years? Where do you want to be?
Caroline: I do plan on staying at this job for several more years. I feel like there’s so much that I’ve learned already, but there’s so much still that I have to learn, and I really want to be able to make my mark here. As for after that, I would love to build up the resources to take on a professional art career full time, whether that’s an opportunity that will happen will wait to be seen, but I’m comfortable with that because I’m used to keeping the door open and just seeing what comes along at the right time.
Amanda: Caroline, thank you for sitting down to do this interview. Where can more people find more information about Art Intersection? Either online or in person?
Amanda: Awesome. If you want to learn more about Caroline and see some of her work I will include a link to her website in the description below, and if you want to see more videos like this, be sure to subscribe to aftrART.
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Visit Art Intersection (online & in-person)
Facebook: Art Intersection
207 North Gilbert Road, Suite 201
Gilbert, Arizona 85234
See Caroline’s Work