Remix of annual MIITA Conference affirms aspiring artists career choices

On Oct. 25, students with various majors gathered in Buntrock Commons for a day of networking and mentoring with St. Olaf alumni and other professionals who have built careers in the arts. Participants were able to learn from these art panelists’ past experiences and gain insight on how to forge a path in the world of the arts.

Stuart Pimsler, co-director of the Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater Company, was the keynote speaker of this year’s Making it in the Arts conference. Many students could relate to Pimsler, who shared that he was undecided about what he wanted to do with his life while growing up. When Pimsler was 15, his mother passed away in a car accident, which left Pimsler very unsure and angry about what was happening in his life at the time. He had many interests, yet very little direction on where he wanted to take them. He found comfort in reading everything he could get his hands on, yet was still undecided about how to combine all of his interests into a career.

It wasn’t until Pimsler found himself at a modern dance performance later in his life that he was able to combine all of his interests in writing, political issues and love of activity; Pimsler started dancing and never stopped. Dance was a revelation that allowed him to create work that could help him dig into the world. He kept working toward his goal of being a professional dancer, and through perseverance landed a position as a dancer.

In his speech, Pimsler emphasized the importance of finding mentors, reading as much as possible, being curious and questioning everything.

“Ask questions about everything; that’s your responsibility,” Pimsler said. “Artists ask questions about everything, about the world they live in, the status quo, politics, aesthetics, everything.”

He left his speech with three statements for everyone to consider:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” “If I am only for myself, who am I?”

and “If not now, when?”

These are important questions for everyone, especially artists, when planning a career and figuring out what to do in life. Pimsler emphasized that taking chances and having the patience to continue through tough times will prevail and allow things to work out.

After Pimsler’s opening speech, students had the opportunity to attend smaller information sessions that were discussion-based and covered different types of art such as fine arts, dance, theater, music and literature. Students were able to ask questions about how the practicing artists got where they are today and the obstacles they had to overcome to get there.

“Many of the alumni talked about how their trajectory in the arts was – and still is – not linear,” Alisha Jihn’ 15 said. “This gives me hope to continue my pursuit of a career in the arts.”

Two more panel sessions followed in which students heard about another side of the arts world, including topics such as managing your own art, adapting to new technology and reshaping your work. These sessions were meant to help artists build skills that help navigate the world of art alongside creating it.

Here the students were encouraged to push boundaries and network even though it can be nerve-wracking. All of the speakers emphasized that the students who introduced themselves during networking events and left a memorable impression were the first called when hiring. Knowing your worth and being confident in your skills allows more connections.

“Sometimes people who major in the arts are not taken as seriously as other majors that might seem more useful for making a living,” Ethan Boote ’15 said. “But the conference showcased a number of people who are doing what they love and have become very successful. That was really good for me to see, especially as a senior who needs to start thinking about my future.”

Overall, the conference was a positive pep talk that encouraged artists to createand persevere despite obstacles. Artists are valuable in the world and bring something to the table that many other jobs cannot.

“We need you; the world needs you,” Pimsler said. “Because artists give wisdom, they give curiosity, they give beauty to the world we live in. We need you as our future.”