Inaugural festival set students’ sights on arts careers

Arts CONNECT brings together aspiring student artists and successful alumni for inspiration, networking, career exploration, and advice on how to take the “starving” out of “starving artist.”

Olivia Love'19 is a Chicago-based musician, artist, and event organizer. She was one of nine work... Olivia Love’19 is a Chicago-based musician, artist, and event organizer. She was one of nine working alumni artists who participated in Arts CONNECT on campus.
Credit: Elisabeth Balistreri’21
Beloit’s Arts Channel, a subset of the Career Channels program, sponsored the Arts CONNECT Festival in September. The weekend-long event featured Chicago-based alumni artists who promoted the arts to students and demonstrated how to pursue the arts as a career after Beloit. Nine alumni participated in eight events, including networking, performances, a discussion about the business of art careers, and a how-to panel on podcasts.

Arts CONNECT Festival Performance

The Wright Museum of Art hosted performances and presentations by four alumni artists: Harry Kuttner’14, Agnotti Cowie’09, Charlie Vail’18, and Olivia Love’19. From visual art and dance to music performance and comedy, the events gave students a taste of the broad spectrum of what a career in the arts can look like.

Visual artist Kuttner talked about his work with clay, among other materials, that integrated funny song lyrics onto his zany artworks. Among his projects is a large-scale collaborative gallery called Children of the Playhouse, inspired by the popular Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Cowie, a dancer, comedian, and clown, appeared next, carrying a spectacular bundle of bags filled with random items. Their act included popping bubbles, squeezing a rubber chicken, and sitting in a hilariously small chair. Agnotti holds administrative jobs to support a performance career.

As Agnotti stumbled off stage with an armful of bags, Love and Vail took their places for the next performance. Vail majored in dance and critical identity studies and is currently employed as a seamstress. She continues to pursue her passion by dancing professionally in Chicago.

Love majored in theater performance and describes herself as an event organizer and art fabricator. Her passion, however, is music performance, and so she also performs at bars and other venues in Chicago.

Charlie Vail'18 interprets the music of fellow Beloiter Olivia Love'19 in the Wright Museum of Ar... Charlie Vail’18 interprets the music of fellow Beloiter Olivia Love’19 in the Wright Museum of Art.
Credit: Elisabeth Balistreri’21
Vail and Love gave a collaborative performance, with Love playing a pensive melody on the guitar that Vail visualized through modern dance. Collaboration is a huge part of what they both do, not only performing together for Arts CONNECT, but also co-producing and starring together in a podcast. As self-described best friends, they never pass up a moment to work together and utilize each other’s strengths.

For the afternoon’s last performance, Love shared three of her original songs, two of which she wrote while still at Beloit and the third in 2020. The finale was a cover of “Rocket Man” by Elton John, and she encouraged the audience to sing along to the last lines.

Students had the opportunity to connect and chat with the artists at the end of their performances, asking them how they made it to where they are in their careers and what sorts of obstacles they encountered along the way.

The Business of Art

On Saturday afternoon, Arts CONNECT events continued with Sarah Bowden’06, Carly Newman’15, and Jon Dudley’20 speaking about the business of being an artist. The event, held at the Center for Entrepreneurship (CELEB) in downtown Beloit, was intended, as moderator Maurice Ragali put it, to explain the “not-so-sexy part of being an artist,” and how to effectively navigate that un-sexy world.

Bowden works as a director, actor, and playwright, and teaches humanities at a high school. A creative writing and theater major at Beloit, she has had plays produced in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Stockholm.

Newman runs a business on Etsy, a digital marketplace for buying and selling arts and crafts. She creates both small items, like earrings, and larger visual art, some of which has been displayed in Chicago galleries.

Jon Dudley'20 majored in history at Beloit and continues a nearly life-long interest in choral mu... Jon Dudley’20 majored in history at Beloit and continues a nearly life-long interest in choral music. He performs with his choir for students in Beloit's Eaton Chapel.
Credit: Elisabeth Balistreri’21
After majoring in history, Dudley continues to pursue vocal work. He has participated in choirs since he was only 10 years old and has performed in many cities, including Chicago.

These three artists talked about their views of success working in the arts, as well as strategies to deal with its struggles. They said that success involves artistic, social, and financial fulfillment, and balancing all three. Each works an additional job alongside their art.

The artists emphasized that the most important career skill in the arts is “scheduling, scheduling, scheduling,” as Dudley puts it. Without a clear and written plan for artistic work, it gets ignored in favor of other money-making duties.

When asked about the “not-so-sexy” parts of their artistic practice, the alumni had a few things to say. Bowden mentioned that figuring out the details of contracts is un-sexy. For Newman, it’s packaging and mailing her work for her Etsy business, which she says is sometimes more time- and money-intensive than creating the art. For Dudley, it’s keeping the choral group together and making sure everyone arrives ready to perform. All three artists made it clear how much they enjoy their work, and that when they do it right, they make good money and are able to help change their community and their world.

How to Make a Podcast

Students crowd into Beloit's entrepreneurship center to learn more about podcasting from Chic... Students crowd into Beloit's entrepreneurship center to learn more about podcasting from Chicago-based alumni Charlie Vail'18, center, and Olivia Love'19. At left is music instructor and panel moderator Brandon Kipp.
Credit: Grayson Jensen’25
A second panel took place at CELEB over the Arts CONNECT weekend. Alumni Charlie Vail and Olivia Love, who performed at the Wright the day before, met with music instructor Brandon Kipp to discuss and answer student questions about the emerging podcasting industry.

Nearly a year into quarantine, these two best friends had the idea to sit down together, watch rom-coms, and explore the tropes through a feminist and anti-racist lens. Their podcast, Tropes and Dreams, currently has more than 30 episodes.

Podcasting is still a new and evolving industry. For curious students, Vail and Love recommended programs such as Audacity and Anchor –– both of which are free. Kipp weighed in about recording technology and talked about the music recording class that he teaches each semester.

Brian Morello, CELEB’s director, also highlighted that the center for entrepreneurship is home to both Maple Tree Recording Studio on the first floor and a new podcasting suite on the second floor. For students with projects they want to get up and running, he said CELEB is the place to go, with resources not only for recording media, but also for making buttons, printing stickers, and curating an art gallery.

As budding professional artists, Vail and Love emphasized that artists should be paid for their work at every opportunity. Arts careers are notorious for the perception of penniless artists, but there are methods to avoid that.

For Tropes and Dreams, Vail and Love use Patreon –– an online business dedicated to supporting independent content creators. Their listeners pledge to donate a certain dollar amount each month in exchange for early content or other perks. The Anchor program also helps producers monetize their podcast.

As the talk came to a close, the two alumni, Morello, and Kipp reminded students that there are plenty of opportunities on campus to give them a jump on their arts careers. From classes in the music department to attending an arts conference through CELEB, Beloit strives –– as Morello put it –– “to figure out ways to take the ‘starving’ out of [the starving] artist.”

By: Sam Doherty'25, Grayson Jensen'25
October 05, 2022

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