Aspiring artists to find mentorship through conference

Have you ever wondered how to put your art or art history major to better use? Wonder no more. On Saturday, Sept. 29, you can attend “Making it in the Arts,” a conference detailing career opportunities and cross-disciplinary issues facing all artists. The event gives a rare glimpse into the abnormally strong relationship between St. Olaf and its alumni.

Considering the high unemployment rate, career connections are valuable and student-alumni relationships are as important as ever. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” said Wendell Arneson, professor of art and art history. Arneson, program director of Making it in the Arts and lifelong artist, has been a professor at St. Olaf since 1978.

When asked about how art students can best prepare themselves for a career in the arts, Arneson’s face lit up. “You have to find what your passion is and follow it. You have to be majorly committed,” he said.

Arneson, however, is less concerned with preparing students for a specific occupation than he is with providing them with a broad set of valuable skills. He fervently believes that if professors can get students to think more creatively and to become better problem solvers, they will have an enormous advantage regardless of their career choice. Arneson was adamant that students look at their options and observe the multiple paths to multiple career possibilities. “You have to be able to say yes to opportunities,” he repeated.

With the rate of job turnover, people shouldn’t know what they are going to be doing in ten years. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average number of careers that one person will cycle through could be as high as five to seven. Students should approach Making it in the Arts with an open mind, ready to take business cards and write down email addresses.

“The most important thing for students to take away from this conference is for them to see the multiple ways that St. Olaf alumni were able to say ‘yes.’ If students can develop the confidence to say ‘yes,’ if that can resonate with them, they will find hope, energy and a future if they follow it,” Arneson said.

The “Making it in the Arts” conference is preceded by two days of art presentations and celebration, which begin on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Dittmann Center 305 with a presentation by David Little from the Minneapolis Institute of Art on the historical importance of the famous contemporary German exhibit, dOCUMENTA. This will be followed by a presentation from Darsie Alexander, chief curator of the Walker Art Center, on major art trends today.

The event continues on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Dittmann Center 305 with showcases of student talent consisting of musicians, artists, dancers and actors.

The main event begins Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. and runs through 2 p.m. in Buntrock Commons. Events include panel discussions with St. Olaf alumni, a discipline-specific question and answer session and speeches by comedy writer, performer and teacher Shelly Gossman ’99 and Alison Young of Minnesota Public Radio. Whether you are pursuing an art career or capitalizing on Wendell Arneson’s insightful career advice, “Making it in the Arts” is a wonderful opportunity for making career connections and enjoying a beautiful yet practical presentation of the art world.

For more information and to register online, go to

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