Aspen Times Weekly: When your career is a work of art
October 23, 2014
When Anderson Ranch Arts Center director Nancy Wilhelms was in high school in Milwaukee, a guidance counselor advised her against taking any art classes.
"We didn't have stoners — we had greasers and hoods. Greasers and hoods took art," she told a group of more than 80 local sophomores and juniors who came to Anderson Ranch for the nonprofit's inaugural Career Day. "We were supposed to take French and algebra and trigonometry and everything but art."
Wilhelms did finally take an art class her senior year of high school, and it changed her life — inspiring her to study studio art at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and move on to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.
Art has been at the center of her career ever since, from running Milwaukee SummerStage to working with artists, graphic designers and photographers at an advertising agency, to traveling as a freelance photographer on the rodeo circuit, to working in marketing and eventually running the vaunted Snowmass Village arts nonprofit.
Wilhelms' diverse arts career path was one of many routes presented to students at career day. Students came from five Roaring Fork Valley high schools and from as far as Palisade and the Grand Junction-based Super Rad Art Jam program for the day-long event.
They spent the morning broken up into groups with Ranch staff artists, practicing sculpture, printmaking, photography, digital media and ceramics.
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Over lunch, students spoke informally with Ranch staffers about how they became artists. In the afternoon, Ranch artistic directors Andrea Wallace and Doug Casebeer critiqued student portfolios, while curator Jessica Cerise discussed work currently on display in Ranch galleries.
Students said they didn't necessarily have their hearts set on art school or careers in the art world, but were curious to learn — and to create some work in the Ranch studios.
"I just want to see what's out there," said Basalt High's Cheyenne Myers, who made a skateboard from scratch at a previous ranch workshop and spent Friday morning making watercolor monotypes.
Her teacher at Basalt High, Sunny McClain, brought a group of seven art students to the Ranch, all of whom happened to be women.
"I hand-picked these girls because they all have a passion for art and I thought it was an awesome opportunity for them," said McClain.
In the printmaking workshop, studio coordinator Josh Meier walked Basalt and Yampah Mountain high school students through the process of painting and making prints on a hand-powered press, then let the students loose to make their own. Between printmaking steps, he talked to the young artists about his path from college in Kansas to painting in Snowmass.
"When you're in college it's hard to think, 'Oh, I'm actually going to have a 9-to-5 [job], and get a paycheck from knowing how to make a painting,'" he said. "But it can actually happen."
Anderson Ranch program manager Katherine Bell spearheaded the career day to plant some seeds in local students about careers in the arts and to raise awareness about the Snowmass nonprofit's programming, internships and scholarships for young people.
"Our staff are all practicing professional artists," Bell said, "so it's an opportunity for students to hear about their educational background, their artistic practice, and what they see as being important in their life as artists in Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley."
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