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RISD Careers Event Offers Insights

RISD Careers Event Offers Insights

Annual Fine Arts Portfolio Review provides students with fresh perspectives on their work and opportunities in the arts.

colorful illustration representing expanding world

Expanding World (detail, 2021, mixed media, paint, digital art) by Illustration major Ash Samuels 22 IL

Despite looming end-of-semester deadlines, more than 120 students took part in RISD’s all-virtual Fine Arts Portfolio Review at the end of April. Organized by RISD Careers, the annual event provides students the opportunity to hear directly from art world professionals about their work and where they might fit in after RISD.

Junior Ash Samuels 22 IL says they felt very comfortable sharing their work via Zoom rather than meeting reviewers in person. “Not having the pressure of all the surrounding sounds and people in line behind you is actually more personal and less anxiety-inducing,” Samuels notes. Their goal in attending, they explain, was to “get a sense of what kinds of work employers gravitate towards, what’s standing out in my portfolio and where I can improve.”

an intricate illustration in mostly black and white
a “texture map” by first-year grad student Mia Rollins MFA 22 SC


Portfolio reviewer and alum Adam Chuong MID 19, who is the course coordinator at nonprofit industrial arts space The Steel Yard in Providence, describes the experience as “invaluable” for students and “a low-stakes opportunity to practice preparing for interviews and learn how professional designers and artists work.” They encouraged the students they met to guide the discussion and “think about how their practice can intentionally and responsibly engage with the greater Providence community.”

“My best advice for graduating students is to work as studio assistants or otherwise get connected to working artists.” 

Beth Kantrowitz, Drive-by Projects

Beth Kantrowitz—co-director of the gallery Drive-by Projects in Watertown, MA—has been participating in portfolio reviews at RISD for more than 10 years. “I like to see what’s happening right now,” she says. “It’s very energizing and I always learn something. My best advice for graduating students is to work as studio assistants or otherwise get connected to working artists.” 

abstract painting of hands holding nothing
detail from Linger (2021, oil on molding paste-primed canvas, 36 x 48") by Isabella Larco 21 PT


Grad student Mia Rollins MFA 22 SC has a way to go before she hits the job market, so she decided to meet with a mix of organizations—galleries and curators but also media workshops and other establishments focused on education. “I hope to teach at the university level after I graduate,” she explains, “so I’m really interested in the shifts that are happening in terms of pedagogy.” She was eager to meet with NYC-based Artsy Window, for example, a resource for artists of color focused on developing more inclusive arts-based curricula, and came away from the experience feeling slightly less worried about how things will shake out in the art world post-pandemic. 

circle of small clay characters
still from Where it Beams Out to You (2021) by Mia Rollins MFA 22 SC


Zahra Banyamerian, who represents the nonprofit New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), is also optimistic about emerging opportunities on the horizon. “Our classified listings of artist opportunities had dwindled to three pages at the beginning of the pandemic, but we’re now at 12 pages and growing, with lots of open calls for exhibitions and residencies,” she says. Banyamerian encourages emerging artists to start by focusing on group shows and building their resumes before applying for solo exhibitions and residencies.

“I also remind artists that applying for an opportunity doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Rejection is part of every artist’s career.”

Zahra Banyamerian, NYFA

“I also remind artists that applying for an opportunity doesn’t mean you’ll get it,” she adds. “Rejection is part of every artist’s career. I advise people to approach a rejection letter as an opportunity to ask how they can improve their application or portfolio for the next time.”

other-worldly illustration of outer space
Tethered in Space (2021, digital art) by Ash Samuels 22 IL


Did she identify any trends in the work she reviewed at RISD? “I met with a lot of painters and noticed that they’re showing more representational pieces than in the past,” Banyamerian says. “But they’re using that language to tell personal stories.”

Senior Isabella Larco 21 PT is one such painter. Her biggest takeaway from the experience is her decision to live in the New York City area, where she and several friends in the Painting department are planning to move after Commencement. “I’m not a city person but I’ll make do,” she says with a laugh. “The great thing about the Fine Arts Portfolio Review is having fresh eyes on your work,” she adds. “Fresh perspectives and conversation always spark new ideas for me.”

“At RISD, I’ve been given the space to make mistakes and grow with my peers. I definitely feel prepared for what comes next.”

Senior Isabella Larco 21 PT

With only weeks to go until Commencement, Larco is poised and ready for the real world. “At RISD, I’ve been given the space to make mistakes and grow with my peers,” she says. “I definitely feel prepared for what comes next.”

Simone Solondz

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