Women to discuss art careers at upcoming event

May 22 panel will talk challenges, opportunities

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 17, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — Working in the arts is the dream for many creatively inclined people, but it can also be a daunting path to follow. Still, it can be done, and during an upcoming presentation at Madison High, three women will discuss how they broke into the industry — and the challenges and triumphs that came with it.  

The Madison Heights Arts and Culture Committee is hosting a storytelling series, which is free and open to the general public. The first installment is “Don’t Tell Me What to Do: Creative Careers Vol. 1,” and will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. May 22 at Madison High School, located at 915 E. 11 Mile Road in Madison Heights.

There will be a question-and-answer panel at the end, featuring the three guest speakers: Kymm Clark, owner of Clark’s Fabrication in Madison Heights; Dr. Jjenna Hupp Andrews, an assistant professor of studio art at Mott Community College in Flint, teaching 2D design, 3D design, sculpture and art appreciation; and Megan Foldenauer, who holds a Ph.D. in anatomy and works as a medical illustrator for the University of Michigan’s neurosurgery department.

While they all work in the arts, their professions are wholly different from one another. So is the manner in which they got there.

Breaking into the industry
“I’ve thought of myself as an artist since my earliest memories — way before I knew there were things called jobs,” said Foldenauer. “Once I knew that people pursued art as their career, it was just obvious to me that I would too.”

But once it came time to start thinking about a career, she ran into resistance from some well-meaning friends and family members. And she admits that it has weighed on her at times.

“I didn’t have concerns early on, but people around me — parents, teachers, other adults — very much did. They were concerned that I couldn’t make a living doing art and that I’d be viewed in a negative light as a ‘weird’ person. They didn’t want me to face that sort of adversity,” Foldenauer said. “So, as is the way of things, their worries transferred to me, and I’ve been fighting to get past the stereotype of the ‘weird starving artist’ ever since.”

She said that attending the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago for her bachelor’s degree in fine arts, and the John Hopkins School of Medicine for her master’s degree in art as applied to medicine, was very expensive and saddled her with student loan debt.

“That restricts how free I can be in how I make money, and how much I make, because I have to think about managing that (debt) responsibly. It’s very frustrating, and I wish I’d thought more about it when I was younger,” Foldenauer said. “Beyond that, it’s been a challenge to prevent my medical (illustration) work — my day job — from zapping my enthusiasm for my fine artwork. The danger of ‘doing what you love’ becoming something you don’t love so much is very real for some folks.”

She also said that breaking into the arts industry might be tougher for women than for men.

“I do live behind the eight ball, as it were, in this cis(gender), white, male-dominant society. Because of that paradigm, there’s inherent resistance in the system,” Foldenauer said. “For example, there’s always been an over-representation of cis(gender) white males as art jurors, working and thriving artists, gatekeepers of education/museums/galleries, and artists who get press.”  

Still, while there have been challenges, she said she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“It hasn’t been easy or a perfectly linear path; it’s constant work, and an exercise in letting go. But happily, my career isn’t complete or at a point of stasis, so I fully expect it to change and grow in ways I cannot imagine,” Foldenauer said. “I’m always looking for ways to expand what I’m doing and make more of an impact. Opportunities like this speaking gig definitely go a ways toward that goal.”

Going into education
Andrews started as a K-12 art education and special education major in school, prior to her current work as an assistant arts professor.

“Even though I loved teaching K-12, I knew that my passion was in the studio. And in a profession like special ed, where the burnout rate is three to five years, I knew I would need to give up one or the other to make it,” Andrews said. “I still loved the kids, and I love teaching, but decided that getting the studio degrees and teaching higher ed is where I needed to be. This way I can live my two passions: art and teaching.”

She said that teaching in higher education is “a hard road,” having worked for 14 years as a part-time faculty member at multiple schools, at one point teaching six to seven classes per semester at several schools. She earned degrees in 3D/metal-smithing, as well as sculpture and installation, but she didn’t want to go into production work — she had previously had enough of that as a florist. And life-size sculpture and installation work can be impractical, or at least not reliable enough when she had a family to support.

“So early on, I knew I would make my living from teaching art so that I could be free to make and exhibit the artwork I wanted and needed to make, versus being tied to what was marketable and could sell,” Andrews said. “(Getting a position teaching higher ed) is rough. I had several interviews for full-time positions over the years, but when each position has anywhere from 100 to 300 applicants, the competition is steep.”

To broaden the range of what she could teach, Andrews chose an interdisciplinary program in humanities with a focus on diversity and social justice, themes she links back to the arts. Now she is in her third year as a full-time faculty member at Mott, and she’s loving it.

“Mott has the best facilities I have ever worked in, bar none. All the years of teaching multiple schools was worth it, since it got me to the place I needed to be, working with the best student population ever,” Andrews said. “I have former students in major art schools around the Midwest and current students exhibiting their work all around the state, as well as Chicago. My teaching load and faculty obligations keep me busy during the school year, but I do some art during the school year when I can. The summer is when I get to focus on my own art, and I have a couple shows … as well as working on a proposal for a group exhibition on social justice issues of immigration and refugees, specifically focused on refugees of war in the Middle East and the refugees on our own borders.

“I am very lucky to have such an awesome faculty position with passionate artist/educators as colleagues, the best dean ever, and a college administration that, as a whole, is very supportive of the arts and our student artists in particular,” she said.

Starting a business
For Clark, the owner of Clark’s Fabrication in Madison Heights, she worked as a graphic designer for more than 12 years. After helping to write a code that automated all of the processes at the firm where she worked for more than five years, she was laid off and found herself at home working on one of her favorite hobbies, which is repurposing furniture from scrap.

“I started to develop a following for my out-of-the-box creations and began taking orders,” Clark said. “Within months, I was booked solid. My husband, a metal fabricator by trade, decided to bring his skills to the table, quit his job, and start offering his services in conjunction with my own. Together, we began to create custom works for residential and commercial clients alike. Within five months of (husband) Crosby quitting his job, we moved into our first brick-and-mortar location.”

She said this was soon followed by teaching workshops to others passionate about repurposing their furniture, along with other creative activities. Recently, the Clarks expanded their business model to include full-time creative workshops. Five other makers who were trained by the Clarks are assisting in the workshops. They have moved from a 3,400-square-foot space to a facility more than twice that size at 11,000 square feet.

“Growing, however, wasn’t easy,” Clark said. “We had negative $700 in our bank account when we decided to take the jump into a brick and mortar. We relied heavily on our friends and family for support. To find legitimacy from our garage was tough. We struggled very hard for the first year to keep up financially. We are fortunate to have been able to apply my 12-plus years of marketing experience to developing our brand to be recognizable within our community and beyond, but following through with quality craftsmanship has been the key to our success.”

Clark added that “ideas are currency,” so it pays to identify your own skills and then start planning what could be done to monetize them.

“If you find yourself … being paid to share your ideas and skills, be sure you become familiar with the value that you bring to the table and carry yourself with confidence,” she said.

Foldenauer said to persist and not be discouraged.

“Art is a ‘real job’ — don’t listen to anyone who says it’s not,” she said. “Also, there’s so very little you can control in life, except how much you create. So, make stuff — and make a lot of it.”