CDO hosts alums for panel on creative career paths

On Saturday, Feb. 3, Vassar’s Career Development Office hosted a panel on pursuing a creative career that featured three Vassar alums and one member of the Poughkeepsie community./ Courtesy of the Miscellany News

On Saturday, Feb. 3, students gathered in the College Center Multipurpose Room for a panel on creative careers. The 11 a.m. event was the first of three professional development panels this month organized by the Career Development Office. The Creative Careers panel featured three Vassar alumnae/i and one local community member who currently works in Poughkeepsie.

The panel was opened by Elizabeth Boyce-Jacino ’18, who spoke briefly on the event’s topic concerning the incorporation of the arts into economically sustainable careers.

The first speaker on the panel, Tina de Leeuw, is a board-certified music therapy specialist with a private practice in Poughkeepsie. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals” (American Music Therapy Association, “What is Music Therapy?”). She introduced music therapy with an interactive exercise. She tapped on her lap in a slow rhythm, or a walking pace. The students and professors in the audience were invited to join in as she increased the pace to the “midterms rhythm.” From there, she began to dial back the tapping. She described the use of music and rhythm to invoke feeling and change the mood, stating, “We take where we are, we meet our clients there, then we use music to take our clients where they need to be.”

After the interactive beginning, visual artist and founder of 1Future Cannon Hersey ’99 explained how he got where he is now, in response to a question posed by the panel’s host. Hersey described his career path as it began at Vassar. During his senior year, he and five friends founded a non-profit organization and within three years of its establishment, they launched an online magazine and organized a film festival. He went on to organize social and government events and began to sell his artwork. Today, his company is a combination of these two interests, and it works toward social progress through the use of visual art, music, education and photography.

The next to respond to the same question was Jason Healy ’89, who detailed his non-linear career path. As an English major at Vassar, Healy first worked in journalism after graduating but soon realized that this was not what he wanted to do with his life. After an independent study in art, he worked as an artist and sold his work until the economic collapse of 2008. He went back to school to study social work and eventually combined his passions to become an art therapist. Similar to music therapy, art therapy utilizes art—often visual art—to help patients undergoing counseling. Healy now works in the counseling center at Lesley University as an art therapist.

The final panelist was Niya Nicholson ’14, who entered the creative world when she began dancing at age three. After graduating from Vassar with her bachelor’s in psychology, Nicholson went on to complete her certificate in education. After seeing the differences between the way art was presented in public and private schools, Nicholson began work to integrate arts into education. While her interdisciplinary work began in the classroom, Nicholson’s commitment to the intersections between various forms of art has led her career today, working not only as the development manager at Gibney Dance and chief of staff at MOVE(NYC), but also as a freelancer helping individual artists and small arts companies find funding. Nicholson then opened the discussion up to the importance of using artistic experience and careers as a way to impact a greater community.

Specifically, her work has helped provide funding for those who don’t know how to get it for themselves. She helps people get their foot in the door and provides the opportunity to experience art to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Hersey related his own experiences, describing Cross-Path Culture, a group he founded with his company, meant to support visions of other creative people. He described the feeling of helping others in the art world, explaining, “It’s incredible to work with artists and see them grow.”

Both de Leeuw and Healy have used their artistic abilities to help others by combining their respective artistic fields with therapy. Healy spoke of his career shift, stating, “I was painting, selling my stuff, doing pretty well. I was supporting myself, but I’m not a loner. And when you’re doing art you’re alone a lot.” De Leeuw’s story was similar, as she found music therapy after realizing as a junior in high school that she didn’t want to be a concert pianist, despite dreaming of this career since age eight. Still, she wanted to work with music everyday. In this way, the panelists not only pursued creative fields in their careers, but contributed to the creation of these positions.

At this point, the panel took questions from the audience. De Leeuw was the first to respond to the question “How [does one] pursue a creative career when [their] family is not supportive?” Her family still doesn’t understand what she does, she replied, and suggested sharing stories of those who have found success in careers off the beaten path. Hersey added on, and proposed partnering with other people in similar fields to help expand opportunities for everyone involved. Nicholson offered her own story in response to the question: “To this day, my dad still thinks I’m going to go to law school. They’re your family, so even if they don’t understand what you do, they’ll hopefully understand your values. No matter what field I’m in, I’m trying to create change that’s beyond me.”

Near the end, the panelists gave advice about finding communities in the art world. Hersey referenced the history of art as a reflection of this concept. He explained that art has brought different peoples together, in groups and movements throughout history in the art world. Thus, in the art world, communities naturally flourish. Nicholson stressed the importance of building lateral connections and investing in peers, even those outside of one’s major. De Leeuw ended the panel by stating the two most important rules for building a community of people. First, she noted that physical proximity is unimportant. Rather, it is critical to reciprocate the support received in your community, wherever they may be, and it is important to give back in the art world. Finally, she summed up an important piece of advice for graduating students: “Struggling is not failing, it’s trying.”

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