Working in the Creative Arts & Public Humanities Visit NYC & DC, Forge New Connections

Written by
Shelby Lohr, GS (HIS)
Nov. 6, 2023

This year, the GradFUTURES program introduced the Working in the Creative Arts and Public Humanities learning cohort. The cohort engages in a variety of informative and culturally engaging programming in order to allow students to consider humanities-adjacent career paths. Cohort members attend shows and dinners with the McCarter Theater, participate in discussion sections, and travel to cultural hubs for activity-packed, multi-day programming.

Across January and February, the Working in the Creative Arts and Public Humanities learning cohort traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York, New York. Throughout such trips, students develop bonds with likeminded graduate students, enjoy cultural events around a major city, and take part in extended discussions regarding career paths for humanities students. I attended both trips and learned a great deal in the process. The programming offered stimulating conversation, while the multi-day nature of trips created new friendships.

The trips involved a variety of meaningful programming, from museum visits, attending experimental plays, networking dinners, and cohort breakfasts.

Washington, D.C. Jan. 26-28, 2023

For the first night of the trip, the cohort attended an art exhibition discussion at the National Academy of Sciences. A current History of Science doctoral student at Princeton, Justine Holzman, co-produced the series.  The exhibit, “Iceberg Portraiture,” creatively applies data on ice thinning to visually demonstrate the role of climate change in the Arctic Ocean. Following the talk, an hour-long casual networking and conversation period enabled attendees to meet D.C. professionals, including space industry experts and human rights lawyers.

The second day of the trip included a return to the National Academy of Sciences to converse with a representative of the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Science. The hour and a half discussion included an overview of ways that science can intersect with creative arts, and how humanities students could apply their interests toward work at the juncture of art and practice.

For lunch, students visited the American Historical Association’s townhouse and discussed prospective careers for historians and students of the humanities. The discussion, led by Executive Director Jim Grossman and facilitated by the AHA’s Manager of Teaching and Learning, Brendan Gillis, included consideration of the changing academic marketplace, including re-thinking terms with antiquated histories, like “job placement.”

Following the AHA visit, students also toured the Smithsonian National Portrait gallery, led by Dr. Taína Caragol, Curator of Painting and Sculpture and Latino Art and History. Dr. Caragol highlighted some of her favorite winners of the biannual portraiture contest and described the day-to-day work of a curator. Dr. Caragol, who holds a humanities Ph.D. from CUNY, elaborated on the transition from academia to museum work.

The final major event of the trip included a networking dinner, which largely featured Princeton alumni working in the D.C. area. Cohort members divided into multiple tables, but my table’s guests included a congressional historian and a representative with the National Endowment for the Humanities. The casual conversation invited wide-ranging discussion, including discussion of how NEH encourages employees to pursue their own scholarship and publish books in addition to pursuing the tasks outlined in their role. I also learned about the work of congressional historians, including the array of projects and research required to inform policymakers and the public of pertinent context to understand contemporary history. By engaging in conversation over the span of a dinner, I learned so much more about careers that value academic research experience and some of the surprising ways that expertise as a historian can apply to a contemporary, professional setting.

New York, N.Y. Feb. 9 - 11, 2023

The New York City trip began with a networking dinner featuring Princeton alumni, including Dr. Colette Johnson, Director of Strategy and Operations at Ithaka S+R, and Pilar Castro-Kiltz, Founder and CEO of More Canvas Consulting. Cohort members divided into two tables, and I ended up with Castro-Kiltz. We discussed AI and art, and Castro-Kiltz described how she fused her background in theater with business training at Wharton to turn her passion for creative arts into a consulting business.

Following the dinner, cohort members attended the play Audience, a marionette-based dark comedy from Czechoslovakia. La Mama, a famed experimental theater club in the city, hosted the show. The cultural experience inspired conversation at a post-show gathering.

The following day, the cohort visited another museum exhibition at the Council of the Americas, which showcased the works of Brazilian artist Bispo do Roário (1909-1989), who garnered fame while struggling with schizophrenia. His sculptures and embroidered textiles—which included garments and quilts—represents the celebration of a brilliant artist struggling with mental illness. The visit also included a meeting with a representative from the Americas Society, who discussed work at the Council.

Following the Americas Society visit, the cohort spent the afternoon touring the Jewish Museum with the Manager of Adult Programs, Chris Gartrell, who obtained his position over a decade ago after first getting to know Nelly Silagy Benedek, Deputy Director of Education and Programs, through an informational interview. After an hour of thoughtfully discussing exhibit pieces, we spent the afternoon discussing ways that students can become involved in GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) fields. Silagy emphasized how doctoral students outside of museum studies can find their way into curatorial positions. The conversation also included a focus on ways that early-career success can often depend on generating creative ideas and finding ways to make them work within an organization.

The evening included a two-hour networking dinner, which featured individuals who charted untraditional paths after their PhD program. Guests included Dr. Paula Krebs, Executive Director of the Modern Language Association; Dr. Charlotte Gartenberg, audio producer at the Wall Street Journal; Dr. Joy Connolly, President of the American Council of Learned Societies; and Mark de Grogh, a philanthropy director at Morgan Stanley. Over the course of the dinner, guests dispensed advice, including providing tips for establishing and maintaining connections. Table conversations often stressed the journey involved in graduate school and charting their professional paths afterward. The discussions felt both inspiring and enlivening.

The final major event of the trip involved attending the performance of Amani, hosted by the Black National Theatre. I found the play quite moving and appreciated the double-sided stage and actors immersion within the audience space. The evening closed out with a pub discussion of the play and meeting representatives of the National Black Theatre, a GradFUTURES partner.

Final Thoughts

Many of the individuals we encountered during these trips expressed a willingness to host Social Impact Fellows in the future. This is an exciting prospect; trips not only exposed graduate students to an array of potential career paths, but also offered an inroad for continued work with these institutions.

The networking events offered valuable advice for ways to pivot to interesting careers beyond tenure-track roles. I left both trips feeling immensely inspired. Those conversations have led to new applications for opportunities, new contacts, and a series of informational interviews to continue exploring meaningful potential career paths.

Often, the prospect of leaving academia fills students—including myself—with fear. However, with experience at nonprofits and GLAM industries, students have the potential to pursue interesting and meaningful careers. Moreover, one of the signal messages brought throughout both trips is that we do not need to view the academic market in binaries of academia and alt-ac. With a reimagined lens—and a perspective designed for the realities of the academic market—it is possible to continue publishing books, working in related fields, and ultimately ending up back in academia, if desired. This idea feels revolutionary, but with the changing landscape in the academy, it feels essential.