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Ever-expanding arts careers beckon during Perpich Center's Portfolio Day

Helen McElroy, left, from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago chats with artist Amy Wilcox.
Photo by Dan Markworth
Helen McElroy, left, from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago chats with artist Amy Wilcox.

A senior in high school at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, Amy Wilcox works in installations, fabrics and paints. Many of her works are quite large, and highly conceptual.

Her “Carhartt,” a stuffed cloth deer head mounted taxidermy-style, juxtaposes the image of a child’s toy against a hunter’s trophy in an attempt to make a critical statement about Minnesota’s hunting culture.

Her untitled self-portrait, a backlit photo on vellum overlaid with sketches she made while looking in the mirror, means to contrast inner and outer views: “The photo is how others see me,” the Forest Lake native explained. “And the line-contour drawings are how I see myself.”

Yesterday was Portfolio Day at the Golden Valley arts high school, an annual event that brought recruiters from 21 art colleges across the country. The recruiters were on campus to describe their programs and review student portfolios. Wilcox was a hot commodity.

A generation ago, the popular image of the art major was someone who might, if lucky, go on to work in a gallery or perhaps, if very lucky, a museum — in any case, resigned to a meager existence. Just a decade ago, Wilcox’s parents would likely have been begging her to consider law school instead.

Dozens of very good jobs
Today a bachelor's in fine art opens doors to dozens of very good jobs in growing fields, according to Karen Monson, who teaches in Perpich’s visual-arts program and coordinates Portfolio Day. “Art careers have been increasing at 10 percent a year for the last 10 years,” she said. “Now, one in 70 jobs are in design of some sort. It’s an economic driver in this country.”

It’s all about communication, Monson added: “Information has to be organized in some way. And the designers of the culture are best equipped to organize that communication.”

Some, like Wilcox, may go on to live by their muse. But those who don’t have far-ranging career choices such as computer animation, urban design, landscape architecture, package design — even crime-scene photography. 

“The United States is still a leader in the world when it comes to art and design,” said Monson. “Art and design are the drivers for creating a society where people can live and work together more economically, with more comfort, and greener — all of the things we think about when we think about a culture that supports its population.”

Destroying myth of starving artist
As an admissions counselor at Ringling College in Sarasota, Fla., Patti Spencer is used to “destroying the myth of the starving artist," as she puts it. Every year $385 billion gets spent on advertising and $55 million on video games in the United States, she said. (More very persuasive detail is available on Ringling’s website: click here to get started.)

“The economic impact of art and design exceeds that of sports worldwide,” Spencer added.

Spencer spent the morning of Portfolio Day the same way as the rest of the talent scouts in attendance:  describing her college’s strengths. Recruiters talked to students in groups, describing everything from the schools’ cultures to jobs obtained by current and past students.

Her counterpart from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago described students’ internships with Ralph Lauren and Pixar Animation Studios, while a representative from the super-prestigious Rhode Island School of Design explained the 16 majors offered.

In the afternoon, they reviewed student portfolios. As she met with juniors, Spencer talked to students about ways to improve their portfolios. Seniors got more critical scrutiny; some were deemed ready to apply, while some were expected to hear they had some tweaking to do before the first application deadline in March.

Elyan Paz is director of admissions at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. She urges students to choose a school where they can focus on their passion. “We have found our most successful students are the ones who have said, ‘This is really what I want to do.’”

Elyan Paz, right, reviews the portfolio of Nikki Ivanovsky-Schow, 17, an Arts High senior from Woodbury.
Photo by Dan Markworth
Elyan Paz, right, reviews the portfolio of Nikki Ivanovsky-Schow, 17, an Arts High senior from Woodbury.

In part because the Twin Cities has a thriving advertising sector, students’ chances of getting good jobs here are as good as anywhere, Paz added. Many of her college’s graphic-design students have gone to work for Target, and one fine-arts grad recently took a position as studio manager for Alex Soth, whose work is currently being  featured at the Walker.

A good investment these days
When Nancy Norwood started teaching media arts at the high school 20 years ago, she often felt guilty encouraging students to pursue a degree in photography or filmmaking. “For the last 15 years in media arts there are big career options,” she said. “I feel good about telling students art school is a good investment. You will be able to pay your loans back.”

Rising star Amy Wilcox never had to persuade her family that an arts education was the right path. “My parents are really supportive of me,” she said. “They want the best.”

Which Wilcox, like many other Perpich students, is well positioned to get. By the end of the day several of the most prestigious programs had expressed interest in having her join next year’s freshman class.

Teachers had high hopes that the competition would turn into a full scholarship for Wilcox. Whatever program she chooses, they are confident she can step from college into a well-paid job, if she chooses.

Wilcox’s bottom line: “I’m looking for a conceptual-based school, but also someplace that recognizes my technical skills and can nurture them.”

No doubt she’ll get exactly what she’s looking for.

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Comments (1)

If he were responsible only for the residential arts high school that bears his name, his trade missions to eastern Europe and the Center for Victims of Torture, Rudy Perpich should be counted as one of our best governors.