Expert Advice from Saya Woolfalk (MFA 2004)
As one of SAIC’s Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) initiatives, Nexus Career Conversations gives students a chance to interact with alumni and creative professionals about their career journeys. Spring 2017 speakers included film-set decorator Caroline Perzan (SAIC 1987–89), renowned artist William Cordova (BFA 1996), and Saya Woolfalk (MFA 2004), a multimedia artist who uses sci-fi/fantasy to explore utopian possibilities. Woolfalk is a Fulbright scholar who has shown in such venues as MoMA PS1 and currently teaches at The New School for Design. This is an excerpt from SAIC’s conversation with her.
What was your experience like as a graduate student at SAIC?
I think graduate advising was one of the most important parts of my education here. That one-on-one contact where you deeply engage with a professor: they begin to really understand your practice, and through their understanding of you, you begin to really “get” who you are as an artist.
As you transitioned to the professional world, how did you stay motivated?
The support system of being in graduate school was so incredible and so stimulating, and when I graduated, it felt like I was alone. From 2004–08, I was definitely struggling financially, but I knew what I was doing was important in the long run. I think that’s kind of what the sacrifice was about: it was the relationships I was building, the work that I was making, the focus on getting my work shown and getting continuous feedback. In the end, it really made those years worth it.
Did you ever want to throw in the towel?
What kept me going is that I’ve always been an artist. I pursued other careers. I studied economics in school and worked for Christie’s and worked in film. I did a number of different kinds of work, but being an artist was always the thing that I wanted to do. Every time I did something else, it didn’t quite fit.
How did you find stability?
I am a sole proprietor, and every year, it’s a different situation with different projects and different needs for those projects. Every year, I have to work to bring those projects in. I don’t think that it stops being challenging. The challenges just kind of shift and change, and I think my tolerance for living a life like this has become greater. I’m accustomed to it now.
What advice can you offer current students?
Take complete and full advantage of this place. There are so many opportunities, so many things to explore, so many people from lots of different backgrounds. Maximize all of that while you’re here. My time at SAIC was really fruitful for me.
Visit saic.edu/careers to learn more about SAIC’s career programs and find out how to become one of our experts.