A Shout-Out to Emerging Professionals Everywhere

     Gretchen Reyes 



Arts for LA intern Gretchen Reyes blogs on the challenges and rewards of entering the art world. 





As a recent college graduate, I see myself as fresh meat for the current unfavorable economy to feed on.

No?  Well, it CAN be important to picture from your own perspective what, who, and where you are as a little fish in a big pond. In this case, my big pond is the art world.  I decided to enter that world the minute I walked up the aisle in the graduation arena, with a piece of paper worth the thousands of dollars I spent on my bachelor of arts degrees.

So, what’s next? How would you rightfully claim your place in what everyone calls the ‘real world’? I’m not talking about the step-by-step success tips for resumes and job interviews you click away on Google. What about the attitude it takes to keep your eyes on the prize, whatever that may be?

To my contemporaries- recent graduates, undergraduates, and young professionals in the art world or of other disciplines- let’s remind ourselves that we are the generation hoping to change the labor climate of the future.


Gretchen Reyes, Arts for LA AssociateMy Post-Grad in a Nutshell.

It’s been 290 days since the graduating class of the School of Humanities walked their initial steps off the University of California, Irvine campus as alumni. After only a few days of celebration and rest, I made my first impression on the real world as a full-time Curatorial Intern at the Torrance Art Museum under the Getty Museum Internship Program for ten weeks. With only a week to spare (relieving myself of that ridiculous 9-5 Los Angeles commute), I hopped on a plane to Cusco, Peru for a 6-week long volunteer project teaching English in a rural elementary school. Describing the trip abroad in words would not do it justice, as it was a life-changing experience I will never forget.

Then hard-hitting reality came back into the picture as I came home to three months of utter boredom. Steadily getting my motivation back to the level it had been 290 days ago, I found myself on the job hunt. Months on the search not only made it a waiting game, but a numbers game.



But the waiting and, at times, seemingly depressing part of the game can be just as crucial in post-grad life. The art world is a vast spectrum of opportunities- be it in the multiple departments of the museum, the business of the gallery world, teaching arts in the classroom or other venues, the performance aspect of the arts, the administrative role in running a non-profit, etc. Once you hold that thousands-of-dollars-worth of a degree in the arts or from any other discipline, your personal and professional interests speak for themselves from here on out. But it certainly takes time for you to discover those interests if you’re an indecisive and open-minded person like me.

So how do you seek out those interests?

  • Take time off from the formalities of the classroom and the stress of work. Discover who you are no strings attached. Reward yourself with a break and perhaps take a trip, anywhere for however long of a time you need. There are no rules. I took a half-hour bus commute every morning out of Cusco to a rural elementary school to teach basic conversational English, as well as planting trees in the depths of the Amazon jungle.


Gretchen Reyes, Arts for LA Associate


  • Network with fellow classmates and professional colleagues. Leave a lasting impression because, as easy as it is to believe that you may not see them again in the future, there’s a pretty good chance you will. The art world is small. So don’t burn your bridges. I have been in good contact with my former Getty internship supervisor from last summer and now am being taken under his wing interning at his current job at the Watts House Project in Los Angeles.
  • Think of volunteering and internships as just as important as an actual job. With this economy and our lack of professional experience, it can be the most favorable option. Grab ahold of any and every opportunity you can land. I currently hold internships at Arts for LA, the Museum of Latin American Art, the Watts House Project, and a part-time job as a dance teacher for kids- a job that allows me to exercise my own arts background. Each one fosters different interests while also helping me realize my strengths.
  • Allow time for reflection. Ask yourself questions, since, you know, a lot of time is spent in front of the computer on the job search anyway. What are my specific interests? What kinds of words have me saying “Ooh!” when I read a job description? What am I good at? What am I not good at? What are my short and long term goals? Now, I’m not saying you should have all the answers to these questions-- and it would actually be quite boring if you did. But it’s the exploration of those answers that makes the journey worthwhile.


Reflecting on a Recent Opportunity, CAM Conference 2011.

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gretchen Reyes, Arts for LA AssociateThe keynote speaker for the 2011 California Association of Museums conference, Dr. Charles Elachi, ended his welcome address with this quote. Relate it to your own experiences as you wish.

Last March, I was awarded a Getty intern alumni scholarship to attend the annual CAM Conference in Pasadena, California. This year’s meeting, titled Powerful Practice in Challenging Times, brought together fellow museum colleagues from all over California and beyond for an exchange of ideas and resources in a series of professional development workshops and lectures.

There I was a little fish in a big lake. It was as if the entire museum world was in a single room, too tall and experienced for my height. However, life starts at the edge of your comfort zone and I knew that I had to make every handshake, small talk, and business card exchange with these professionals as memorable as I could. I also had the opportunity to meet a decade of past Getty interns, all the way from the early 1990s, and it was amazing to hear them talk about their career paths from the time they were in my position to where they are now.

Despite my initial discomfort at being in a room filled with amazing professionals, I would never have passed on the chance to apply for the scholarship to attend the conference. Neither would you, once you're face to face with your next opportunity.    

Reflecting on your own position as a little fish in a big pond, no matter if you are an undergrad, recent graduate, young professional with less than five years of experience in the field, or even a veteran, how have you been hurdling through your challenges?



Gretchen Reyes is an intern with Arts for LA, and an emerging museum professional.

so true

Well done, Gretchen!  Post-grad waiting is tense, but you've captured several great methods for how to deal. 


Tara Scroggins


Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles