A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Career Conversations

Expert Advice from Moki Tantoco (BFA 2014)

by Doug Kubek

Moki Tantoco (BFA 2014)

Moki Tantoco (BFA 2014) is a museum educator and artist who is living her “childhood dream of being in an art museum every day.” After graduating from SAIC with her Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in Art Education, she began volunteering at the National Veterans Art Museum (NVAM) in Chicago, where she is now the education and programs manager. At NVAM, she works to educate museum visitors and other educators, while also advocating for the veteran community. This is an excerpt from our conversation with her.

How did you decide to work in museum education?

I enrolled at SAIC with plans to focus on art history, but I wanted to be with people, collaborate, and build something together, which lead me to the Art Education department. I was fortunate to be introduced to a couple of community-based nonprofits that became formative in my decision to work in education, such as Chicago Public Art Group and After School Matters. Assistant Professor Maria Gaspar (Contemporary Practices), also introduced me to Regin Igloria with North Branch Projects, where I completed a Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) internship.

Which skills are necessary for arts professionals?

Research. Writing. Speaking. You have to know what you are talking about, write well about it, and communicate clearly and concisely.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I am most interested in visitors’ responses to the artwork: participating, reflecting, considering—maybe for the first time. It is a challenge to be uncomfortable; I appreciate creating space where people can be vulnerable. My educational philosophy is that there is a way to talk to anyone about anything, regardless of age or experience. We can find ways and spaces to communicate with understanding.

What was the most important thing you have learned from working at the National Veterans Art Museum?

Civic responsibility. Recognizing that I have power as an arts administrator and educator to create programming, write grants, and advocate for civic education in the arts.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The people. The community. Especially the veterans, the ones I get to work with who continue their service by volunteering to speak at tours, the veteran artists I have partnered with in programs, and the veterans working in social organizations advocating for veteran services across Chicago. I have never met a group of people who, even through the hardship of their experience, continuously strive to give back.

What advice can you offer to current students?

Make sure you are completing the practice part of maintaining an art practice. It is art work for a reason. Never be stagnant and don’t be so easily satisfied. Challenge and push. Change your environment. Find communities outside of SAIC. Build those bridges if they aren’t there. Art making is power and you have a lot of it.