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"What are you going to do with an Art History degree?" is by far the most common question art history majors get during their college years. Most people think art history will never furnish students with practical knowledge or training to land a job after graduation. Our majors, however, are proving disbelievers wrong. In just a matter of few years many of them have developed exciting careers in diverse cultural institutions. Four recent graduates share their stories with us.
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As a CPA and Senior Financial Reporting Analyst at the University of Pennsylvania, I credit my Accounting degree for the technical skills that I apply in my daily work, and my Art History degree for providing me with the career opportunities to apply them. When I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware, I sought to build a career based on my interest in furthering the arts and not-for-profit industries through business. Upon graduating in 2014, I began working in Philadelphia as an Audit Associate at public accounting firm KPMG, LLP. Because of my Art History degree, I specialized in audits of not-for-profit companies such as universities, museums, and public institutions. After two years, I was promoted to Senior Audit Associate and, in 2017, I left KPMG to begin my role in the Office of the Comptroller at the University of Pennsylvania.
Every stage of my career thus far has been enabled or enhanced by my background in Art History. As an undergraduate student, my Art History professors challenged me to communicate and interpret my thoughts and the thoughts of others in a way that felt similar to translating foreign languages. Their teachings prompted me to develop communication, persuasion, research, and analytical skills that rounded out my technical business studies. Having since developed relationships with corporate recruiters while at UD, clients at KPMG, and industry professionals at Penn, I have discovered that my Art History degree and the accompanying skills have differentiated me from my peers and made a lasting impression on the professional communities I have joined.
My career as an art historian and museum professional began when I chose to major in Art History at the University of Delaware. As part of my undergraduate experience I studied abroad in Paris, participated in the Curatorial Apprenticeship Program (then led by Jan Broske, Curator of Collections at the University Art Gallery), and completed an internship at the Delaware Art Museum. After graduating in 2006 with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in French, I went on to earn an M.A. in Art History from George Washington University. While in D.C. I interned with curators at the Phillips Collection, which confirmed my love of research and curatorial work. Before pursuing my Ph.D. I gained additional experience working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the Executive Office, Registrars' Office, and Special Exhibitions department. In 2010 I began working toward my Ph.D. in Art and Architectural History at the University of Virginia under the guidance of Elizabeth Hutton Turner, specializing in American and modern art. My first seminar paper won the inaugural Archives of American Art Graduate Research Essay Prize. While writing my dissertation, "John Sloan: Between Philadelphia and New York," I pursued fellowships that would grant me additional museum experience. I first interned at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and then returned to the PMA as a Barra Fellow in American Art, before completing my degree as Sara Roby Predoctoral Fellow in Twentieth-Century American Realism at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I am currently Assistant Curator at the Florence Griswold Museum, a museum dedicated to American art in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Since the FGM is located at the site of an historic artists' colony devoted to American Impressionism, I often recall my initial exposure to Impressionism while at UD, and my first visit to Giverny while studying abroad as an undergrad.
For the past two years I’ve been working as Associate Registrar at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. My responsibilities range from managing the incoming loans and gallery changes to inventorying and condition reporting works of art. I also manage the digitization project of our fine art collection to our new online database and collections management system. Before that, I was the Curator of Fine Art and Registrar at the Science History Institute. My collections interest began when I earned my bachelor’s degrees in art history and art conservation from the University of Delaware in 2007. From there I started my tenure at the Science History Institute as image archivist, maintaining and cataloging the photographic collections as well as assisting with the development of SHI’s first permanent exhibition, Making Modernity. I then moved to completing the first digital archive at SHI with the help of my team of interns in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy. While working as Curator of Fine Art and Registrar at SHI, I completed my master’s degree in museum studies from Johns Hopkins University as well as co-curated the temporary exhibition, Books of Secrets.
My decision to major in Art History as an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware was crystallizing in many ways because it set me on a path for success. The University of Delaware's Art History program ranks among the top programs in the nation. I benefited from the outstanding faculty and their supportive mentorship. Drs. Wendy Bellion, Margaret Werth, Larry Nees, Lauren Petersen – to name a few of my professors – challenged me to think and write about art critically. Individually, they encouraged me to communicate my own interpretations about art. I have continued to hone these skills at every stage of my career.
As part of my undergraduate experience, I lived abroad in Italy, Ecuador, and Australia, where I studied Italian and Spanish languages. After graduating Dean's List in 2005 with a B.A. in Art History, I earned my M.A. in Museum Education from the University of the Arts. During my graduate program, I interned at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the Education department. I graduated with Highest Honors from my graduate program, and then moved to New York City. I worked at Phillips auction house in the Modern and Contemporary Editions department and Client Management in their New York and London offices.
Currently I work as a publicist for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In my day to day, I write press releases, pitch to media, plan press events, and develop communication strategies to promote the Museum's exhibitions, scholarly publications and public programs. Whether I am interviewing a curator about an exhibition or interfacing with media, my days are spent immersed in conversations about art. I like to think I cultivated this trait as a college student at UD. My degree has helped me stand out amongst my peers and has rooted me in a wonderful career that fosters lifelong learning.
My professional and personal development can most certainly be traced back to my time as an undergraduate student in the Art History and French Language programs at UD. Going beyond academic and scholarly skills like learning how to effectively communicate and translate an idea represented in an image or text to support or establish a new narrative, I learned a great deal about time- and project-management, the importance of collaboration, the value in thoughtful expression, and the reward of hard work.
Considering my professional trajectory and where this path began for me at UD, I enthusiastically believe that the value of pursuing and obtaining a degree in the humanities is not to be underestimated—especially in a time when ideals like compassion and acceptance seem to be shaken. The ability to view society and the world objectively and thoughtfully through a critical and informed lens, and communicating these views, is something of considerable worth.