Hoos for Art: Steph Katsias
Tell me about your career since leaving UVA and what you are currently doing…
After graduation, I moved to New York and started at The Museum of Modern Art in the Communications department, where I had previously interned. Our department handles press for all of our countless exhibitions, programs, and events; so much goes on in the Museum, so there is never a dull moment! Currently, though, I am part of a team working on messaging and press strategy surrounding our expansion project, which will add 40,000 sq. ft. of new gallery space to our existing Museum. The new building will open on October 21, 2019, and will feature a fundamentally reimagined presentation of modern and contemporary art--an art history major’s dream! It’s been really gratifying to work with curators and Museum leadership alike to share the ambition and scope of this exciting project.
In addition to my full-time job at MoMA, I am working on my M.A. in Art History part-time at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU’s graduate program for Art History.
What about your UVA experience and your UVA Arts experience prepared you for what you are doing now? Were there any particular people or classes at UVA that inspired you or prepared you for what you are now doing?
I am indebted to the Arts Administration program, the Virginia Film Festival internship program, and the Art History department, all of which equipped me with the skills and experience I needed to start my career.
Being a member of the Arts Administration community was such a formative part of my time at UVA. George Sampson has created a curriculum that pairs practical coursework with hands-on final projects, which bring the concepts we discuss from the theoretical out into the real world. That gave me a leg up in thinking about what jobs are available with a degree in the arts beyond taking only Art History classes. More importantly, though, the opportunity to complete a Distinguished Majors Thesis alongside a community of Arts Administration majors was one of the best things I did at UVA. First, your intellectual avenues of exploration are not confined to merely one department. That’s special! Plus, the opportunity to take it a step further in the form of a project to synthesize what you’ve researched is unique to the program. For my thesis, I researched the intersection of Buddhist meditation practice in modern and contemporary art, and received a curatorial fellowship to give my ideas physical form in a gallery show. Rebecca Schoenthal, former Curator of Exhibitions and Interim Director of The Fralin Museum of Art, was my professor for three years prior to advising my thesis, and working with her on my project gave a TON of crucial advice, support, and tough love. George’s coursework was instrumental in developing skills to actually accomplish the logistical details of this project, aside from the research. I definitely wouldn’t have the job I have now without the two of them. Also, the community of fellow majors was one of the most remarkable parts of the program. Everyone’s projects were wildly different, but we would all meet weekly to give feedback and discuss the highlights and challenges of what we were working on. It was really special to work in such a supportive and stimulating group, and all my classmates have the coolest jobs now.
Also, taking every advantage of the Art History department was one of my favorite parts of my time at UVA. I especially loved taking courses with Matthew Affron (who sadly left UVA), Rebecca Schoenthal, Dorothy Wong, Christa Robbins, Beth Turner… the list goes on! I was also fortunate enough to work for Professor Turner as a course assistant on her Alexander Calder and Jacob Lawrence courses for almost two years. That experience instilled a desire to go back to grad school eventually (which I am now doing!) to continue object-based, primary source research. Most importantly, I cherish the friendships I made with some of my fellow Art History majors. They are some of the most brilliant minds I encountered at UVA, and I am so thankful that the department brought us together.
Finally, the Virginia Film Festival internship was probably the most memorable part of my UVA experience. First, everyone who works at the Festival is remarkable, in every sense of the word. They are a group of passionate, dedicated, kind, and patient individuals who are invested in bringing the interns along and giving them real responsibility and autonomy. That’s really unusual for an undergraduate internship. I’m just so lucky to have gotten that while in college because I felt like I already had tangible employment experience under my belt even before graduating. Interns are involved in virtually every aspect of the Festival, from programming, all the way to coordinating details of the parties. It’s a rare opportunity to not only watch a first-rate arts festival come together from start to finish, but also to have a hand in its success. Jenny Mays and John Kelly are two of the best bosses I have had and ever will have, and there’s no possible way I’d be where I am in my career without their guidance and mentorship during my time in Charlottesville.
How have you relied on the UVA network of arts professionals and how has that helped you to get where you are?
During past internship and job searches, I spent a lot of time asking questions of UVA alums working in the New York art world to learn more about their jobs. I wanted to get a sense of their day-to-day responsibilities, what they love about their work, and what their challenges are. Everyone I talked to was so generous with their time and willing to talk through their past experiences. From there, I learned a lot about different industries within the art world, and I had a clearer sense of what types of opportunities I thought might be best for me when it came time to apply.
Is there any advice you would give a current UVA student looking to have a career in the arts?
I would just reiterate the wisdom that George sometimes passes along to his students: be open to a variety of different paths, opportunities, and timing, as you never know where they might lead. The timing of getting a job after graduation is wildly different in the art world than it is in, say, finance or other industries; being open to learning about a variety of different careers within the arts can often yield an unexpected, exciting opportunity!
Also, apply for the Virginia Film Festival internship, and don’t leave UVA without taking at least one Art History and Arts Administration course!!