As she neared completion of her bachelor’s degree, Jennifer Boyd Martin (BA ’13) undertook an internship with 108| Contemporary, a nonprofit community arts organization in Tulsa that had only recently opened. Eight years later and Boyd Martin has been appointed executive director of this thriving enterprise. So, what did her journey entail and what advice does she have for others interested in a career in arts curation and administration?
It’s all about the arts
Boyd Martin has always loved making and looking at art. From an early age growing up in Tulsa, she knew she wanted to major within some aspect of the arts at university.
“I started at The University of Tulsa actually as a studio major,” Boyd Martin recalled. “It was a little odd, because I already knew I didn’t want to make a career of being an artist. But I wasn’t really interested in anything else!”
During the course of her undergraduate studies, Boyd Martin ended up changing her major several times. Eventually, she found what was then called arts management (today: arts, culture and entertainment management). Once she had been in that program for a semester, she knew it was the perfect choice.
Helping to reaffirm the wisdom of her path, in her senior year Boyd Martin received a Diorama Arts Management Internship. This program enables arts management students to work at the Diorama Arts Centre in London, England. “My time at the Diorama was a life-changing experience,” she recalled.
A foot in the door
It was upon her return from London that Boyd Martin was given the opportunity that would strike the match for her exciting life and career.
Unable to take a final course with her favorite professor, Teresa Valero, Boyd Martin decided to stop by her office to say “hello,” catch up and see whether she had any advice. This led to a conversation that opened the door for her at 108|Contemporary as the organization’s first intern. “Teresa made the brilliant suggestion that I intern for this brand-new gallery opening up downtown,” Boyd Martin said. “She coordinated the interview and I landed the position as 108|Contemporary’s first intern.”
After a semester as an intern, Boyd Martin was hired on part time as the gallery coordinator. She continued to work in this capacity while she completed a master’s in museum studies at The University of Oklahoma.
Upon completing the master’s program in 2016, Boyd Martin was promoted to be 108|Contemporary’s full-time exhibition director. This position enabled her to continue gaining experience in art management and museum curation by working with each faucet of the organization.
Boyd Martin has loved her roles at the gallery since day one, but says she never dreamed of becoming executive director. “In all honesty I didn’t aspire to this position. It really wasn’t until the former director, Susan Baley, encouraged me that I seriously considered myself in this role,” she noted.
Excited by and grateful for the opportunity to lead 108|Contemporary, Boyd Martin also takes great pleasure in being a mentor to TU students who are beginning their own journeys at 108|Contemporary. “Many of our employees and interns past and present have been students at TU,” she said, “so having the chance to give them advice and support really is an example of life coming full circle in the best possible way.”
Advice for getting into art management and museum curation
For anyone who wants to enter the art management and museum curation field, Boyd Martin offers five pieces of advice:
- Embrace versatility: “To people going into the world of art curation, museum studies or arts management, I say: Be ready to wear a variety of hats. Most organizations that specialize in arts are nonprofits and, more often than not, you’re going to end up doing a lot of different things.”
- Embrace the new challenges that arise and the opportunities they give to learn something new: “That is an aspect I enjoy about this type of work. There are always new challenges and new exhibitions.”
- Be mission-driven, whether that is a personal mission or an organizational mission: “It keeps things aligned when you filter every decision around the question, ‘does this serve the mission?’”
- Think about human experience, because the art industry is about how to connect with people: “A lot of times the work is not based around quantifiable results, so one must be thinking about the human experience element. It’s critical to make connections; be ready to engage with artists, patrons and general audiences.”
- Start making connections while in college: “My last piece of advice is for virtually any student: Make sure you create meaningful connections with professors and advisors. They are the people connected in your desired field.” On a related note, she also stresses that art is a business and business is all about who you know.
Does the thought of a career in art curation and administration quicken your pulse? Then TU has the program for you: Check out all the arts, culture and entertainment management options and opportunities today.