The Taboo But Not So Impossible Major
Humanity has always yearned for self-expression, from the day we muttered our first words to the day we first dressed ourselves. However, there is one form of self-expression that has been a historical and ever-present vehicle for exhibiting cultural ideas. It is political, it is emotional, it is influential - it is art. With the ability to affect even a nation, art has become a mode of expression for many great men and women. However, such a powerful concept begins to lose its profoundness in an era dominated by the STEM program. This is a time where art-related careers are dwindling, becoming more sparse and highly competitive.
However, on February 9, in the midst of swirling white and frosted walkways, Room 131 in Lowell Thomas buzzed with warm, lively conversation. The topic of choice? The arts, of course, and how to land a plausible and stable career after college. More than 30 students graciously welcomed two museum professionals, Elizabeth Schanz and Valerie Balint. Both are currently working in the museum industry, both pursued art-related careers after college, and both faced the countless doubts of peers, family, and friends.
More often than not, any student who has considered a major in the arts has encountered a chorus of dismayed, passive-aggressive warnings. “Art? Wow…what are you going to do with that afterwards?” “You know how hard the industry is now and days…” And the most common offenders are parents as they chime in with a ‘reality check,’ “You’re really going to major in the arts? You can’t make a living off of that!”
Which is exactly what Schanz encountered when she first told her father about her passion. In the beginning of her college career, Schanz was a business major from Loyola University. It was not until she took an art history course that she discovered an ardent fervor for the arts. Nevertheless, her father vehemently opposed the decision, but Schanz knew what was best for her and followed her intuition. She is now a 2015 Marist graduate with a degree in art history; she is currently working for the historical home of Frederick Church, otherwise called the Olana State Historic Site - a job that is nearly impossible to obtain with an undergraduate degree alone.
“She beat out a countless amount of applicants that had their master’s,” Balint, Schanz’s former coworker at Olana, exclaimed. “Some even had more than twenty years of experience in the field but since we were familiar with Elizabeth and knew how hard she worked, she was hired instead!”
Schanz quickly replied, “I know I worked hard but you have to in this field. If there is any advice I can give you it’s that you need to take every opportunity you can take in college. Everything will eventually help you later on, especially if they recognize your face and your character.”
Schanz had taken up a number of internships and volunteer work to earn the position she is in today as the education coordinator of Olana. A passion that could never be quelled, she has done everything in her power to achieve her dreams. Whether it was devoting her free time to volunteer in Locust Grove or taking part of an internship while studying abroad in Florence, she took every opportunity she could in order to reach her goals.
Shockingly, Balint had a similar experience as Schanz. Originally, Balint was pursuing a career in law. Despite the status quo of either being a lawyer, doctor, or businessperson in the ‘80’s, something did not feel right. She spent countless summers stuck in law firms and noted how everyone simply looked “miserable”. Feeling dismayed and concerned, it was by luck that she took an art related course and quickly fell in love with the subject.
“I could look at the slides for days,” she sighed nostalgically. “That’s when I knew that law was definitely not for me.”
Because of this, Balint gave up pursuing a law career and went into the museum field knowing, quite literally, nothing. It was only by luck that she obtained her first internship in the art field. Through networking alone, she has gained multiple positions curating a variety of shows and participating in major projects like “Save Outdoor Sculptures!” started by the Smithsonian.
“If I can give you a piece of advice, it’s that you should be proactive in maintaining your relationships with former coworkers, even those who are below you managerially,” Balint stated. “This is how you can break into the museum field, by working your way around and proving that you are a dependable person.”
However, times were not always easy for Balint.
“There was an extended amount of time that I had no job at all. I was in my late twenties and came off of my career high. I was anxious and uncertain where life would lead me but looking back at it now, I had nothing to worry about. Since you guys are much younger than I am, let me tell you, do not be afraid of being lost for a bit, everything always works out for the best.”
And it was with this final statement that the conversation ended. With wide eyes and hearts full of determination, many students left that day with feelings of ambition and purpose. What once seemed unattainable is now within reach. Though pursuing the arts seems most certainly taboo to some people, it is not impossible to achieve. Do not be afraid of taking chances, use any opportunities given to you, maintain your relationships, but most of all, never give up.