Fine Arts Portfolio Review 2024 Helps RISD Students Plan Creative Careers

detail of sculpture incorporating tiny points of light in an arc

Students graduating with fine arts degrees, both BFAs and MFAs, have a lot to think about when preparing for life after college. Should they move to a creative hub like New York City? Try to work as an assistant for an established artist they admire? Land a job outside of the arts to help support their own work?

These are the kinds of questions RISD’s Career Center staff members field on a regular basis. They provide all kinds of resources and support for students who want to construct a creatively fulfilling life for themselves after art school, including the annual Fine Arts Portfolio Review.

One of the most popular organizations at this year’s virtual spring event was Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), a nonprofit launched in 1978 that supports emerging artists, curators and cultural workers via exhibitions, public projects, educational initiatives and more. Executive Director Sarah Russin 84 PR—a RISD alum who just celebrated her 40th reunion—was once again wowed by the students she met with and eager to open their eyes to the thriving arts landscape in Los Angeles.

detail of a piece by Nassiff showing image that appears to be pixelated
sculpture by Park showing the entire leaflike piece shown above
Above, Nostalgia Porn Distraction 1 (detail; oil on wood; 48x18") by Tammer Nassiff; below (and top photo), Record of Care (ottchil, rice, adhesive; 11x11x6") by Sangwon (Sean) Park, made of over 11,000 grains of rice coated in ottchil (traditional Korean lacquer). 

“What I have to offer students is less about portfolio critique and more about navigating the LA art scene and breaking into the gallery world,” Russin says. “There’s a strong, supportive artist community here that includes a lot of RISD alums. Sustaining a creative life requires optimism, tenacity and grit. I encourage emerging artists to promote their work and keep in touch with people they meet by putting together an email newsletter list.”

One of the students Russin met with is senior Tammer Nassiff 24 PT, who is laser-focused on planning out his next steps and seriously considering a move to LA. “My roommate and I have tentative plans to do internships for the next couple of years, get some money together, buy a car and then move out there together,” he says. “He wants to do film industry stuff, and I’d love to join the gallery scene.”

Like Nassiff, Illustration major Rosie Dinsmore 24 IL participated in this year’s Fine Arts Portfolio Review to learn how other creatives have plotted out their career paths in the arts. She has taken part in multiple portfolio reviews at RISD and recently landed a post-Commencement job as a product designer with Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia. “The Design and Fine Arts portfolio reviews are useful in different ways,” she says, “and the meetings are lower stakes than actual job interviews and very inspiring. Plus, getting professional advice along the way makes senior spring less terrifying!”

two sides of a white and green ceramic lamp base
abstract sculpture in clear glass
Above, Flower Picker Vase (porcelain and ceramic underglaze) by Rosie Dinsmore features original surface design cast from a custom plaster mold; below, Unfurling Blue Carpet Memories (2023) by Sara Ahli.

Fellow senior Sean Park 24 SC (see top photo) was looking for feedback on his portfolio, CV and artist statement and advice about landing grants and residencies after Commencement, possibly in Tokyo. “I’m interested in hand-making versus digital work,” he says, “and Japanese artists are well known for their meticulous craftsmanship. I really want to learn from them and see what happens to my art practice.”

Park began his studies at RISD in 2017 and took a three-year leave of absence to complete his military service in South Korea. He says that the time away made him appreciate art school even more than when he began. “I was so excited to come back for my senior year and rejoin the RISD community,” he says. “I was full of new thoughts and ideas.”

First-time portfolio reviewer Rachel Adams, who directs the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts residency program in Omaha, NE, keeps an eye out for possible applicants and was happy to share her expertise with RISD students. An alum of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she says that young artists looking to set up practice in the Midwest would do well in Chicago, where “there is a lot going on, but it’s still relatively inexpensive.”

About halfway between Omaha and LA, longtime RISD community member Liz Ferrill 09 PR, an alum who has also taught at RISD, serves as artistic director for artist residency program Anderson Ranch in Colorado. “I like talking to talented people about their work,” she says, “and the caliber of the work I saw at RISD is really strong.”

“Some people can work a full-time job and still make art; some people can’t. Some want to do the urban hustle; others want to live somewhere more rural and have space.”

Liz Ferrill, Anderson Ranch

Ferrill says that today’s RISD students seem to be crossing boundaries a lot more than when she was a student and developing diverse skill sets. “RISD students are so proactive,” she adds, “and a lot of them followed up our conversation with really professional emails, which I appreciated.” In terms of life after RISD, she’s seen it all. “There isn’t one path for artists to take,” she says. “Some people can work a full-time job and still make art; some people can’t. Some want to do the urban hustle; others want to live somewhere more rural and have space.”

Graduating grad student Sara Ahli MFA 24 GL says she is “definitely looking for a job. I’m still in the exploration phase, but I’d like to stay on the East Coast for at least a year,” she adds. She has been focusing on multidisciplinary installation work and appreciated the advice she received about how to make her portfolio stand out and capture the attention of gallerists.

“I think the interdisciplinary aspect of RISD is really great,” Ahli notes. “I’ve been working with wood and fabric and casting with plaster. Working at Co-Works [RISD’s interdisciplinary research lab] has been really helpful as well. I think every grad student should apply for these on-campus positions. You meet really interesting people and learn so much just from being in these spaces!”

Simone Solondz / top image: Record of Care by Sean Park
June 24, 2024

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