Carson Wos currently serves as the Development Officer for The Immigrant Artist Biennial and Director of Operations for Helwaser Gallery. Carson is also a freelance researcher, and writer. Her research interests include fiber art, global feminisms, and architectural sustainability, and she is a contributor to Cultbytes and Artspiel. She has held positions at Artnet, Hampton Court Palace, Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA PS1, and Creative Capital. In addition, she has worked on capital campaigns for MoMA and the Whitney Museum. Carson holds an MA in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from Bard Graduate Center, and an MA (Hons) in Art History from University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Hi there Carson! We are excited to chat with you today. You are the newest member of The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB)! We would love to know more about your role and what an average work day looks like for you.
I am a member of the Development Team for The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB) with a focus on Corporate Sponsorship. Our team works very collaboratively as fundraising across all segments assists the organization’s goals as a whole of supporting the exhibitions and programming for the next iteration of the biennial which opens this fall. It is my responsibility to brainstorm which brands may have affinities with the mission of TIAB, which is to provide greater opportunities for international artists to have their work exhibited and seen as well as achieving a necessary requirement for their visa applications. Then I connect with their team to pitch why becoming a lead sponsor of The Immigrant Artist Biennial can help them reach new audiences for their products or services, while ensuring our ability to deliver the highest quality independent artist-run initiatives. In many ways it feels like a win-win to highlight brands that stand for an internationally recognized level of expertise in their given fields in return for helping us to promote cultural communication between a local audience and talented international artists.
What is something you wish more people know about TIAB?
As a young organization with just the inaugural iteration of the biennial completed, I am excited to share knowledge about The Immigrant Artist Biennial’s mission. We are based in such a diverse region of the country, and we operate within the art world, whose foundational structure is that of an international marketplace upholding rigorous standards of global excellence. Through organizing many events comprising the biennial, TIAB is placing a spotlight on the fact that the majority of all curators, artists, gallery owners, art advocates, and cultural workers have been impacted by the immigration system, or are only a minute degree removed from counterparts who have. Acknowledging this extremely apparent interdependent relationship within the field allows for more candid conversations to come to the fore about access and policies.
What is the strangest thing to happen to you while on the job?
When you become clear on what is needed to move ahead towards a next step, your perspective and energy shifts. In this role, that has meant becoming clear on which constituents might benefit most from becoming a part of the community TIAB fosters. Then, the strange thing is, that they have crossed my path organically or surfaced in my life at this juncture, even before I took initiative to seek them out specifically. It’s almost as if the universe is an active partner in this relationship building. But I have found that only becomes plain when I am working on projects that ring true to who I am as a person, and secondly once I become extremely clear what the necessary goals ahead are.
What are you most excited for this year at TIAB or in the art world as a whole?
I am very excited to experience the full program for the second iteration of The Immigrant Artist Biennial titled Contact Zone running this fall from September to December. In the meantime, there will also be events coming up this spring to help support the exhibitions budget through our Patron Circle—membership is only $225 and for those who do not want to commit we sell tickets to most events! I am co-curating an event in April, which will be a screening and panel discussion between video artists and documentary filmmakers who work through issues surrounding the impacts of immigration in their respective projects. Additional details will be shared to members and to the public our newsletter, if you would like to find out more.
We would love to know more about you and your upbringing: where are you from and what are the arts communities like there?
I was born and raised in New York, so the full spectrum of cultural institutions and art programs have always been a part of my life. I feel fortunate to have been encouraged to pursue the arts by my family as my father is a practicing architect and architectural historian. Additionally, my mother’s family passed down their passionate support for the New York City Ballet through the generations as well as a deep engagement with language and literature. I knew from a young age that creativity called to me, so I threw myself widely into every opportunity that became available including dance, stage management, photography, poetry, graphic design, sculpture, painting, directing, film editing, and textile arts. My reticence towards specializing in any particular field–as I enjoyed them equally–led me closer and closer towards arts administration, research, and project management.
What was your first job? What is an important lesson from it that has carried with you?
My first work experience was at an agency that represents photographers for the fashion industry, as I was considering studying photography as a college degree. That was an invaluable experience that opened my eyes to the fact that all businesses are just aggregations of people, so if a person can inspire people to join in their vision then you are the majority of the way towards building a company. Additionally, it made me ascertain my risk tolerance as even the top photographers in the industry work freelance contracts.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I am filled with gratitude for the clarity with which I knew I wanted to pursue a career in a creative industry. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was my refuge on Wednesdays after school when we got let out early, so I would head there and sit in the Temple of Dendur to do my homework until the museum closed. That was how I would know it was time to head to my Mom’s office, so she could bring me home after she finished work. Ever since I became resolved to work at museums to give back to these institutions which had helped to raise me so directly. It came full circle in a beautiful way, when I assisted in the Modern and Contemporary Department at The Met during their transition in inaugurating The Met Breuer building in 2016. It truly was the culmination of a lifelong dream that I had worked hard towards for many many years.
As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
I volunteer to speak with alumni from both my high school and university who are interested in pursuing a career in the arts, so they can tell you I have many thoughts on this topic. As the art world has become more and more professionalized over the last fifty+ years, the popularity of making it in the industry has far outpaced the rate of job creation in the sector. If you wait to beat the odds in applying to advertised job listings, you may be disheartened and face an uphill battle. Two things that should be of greatest priority are networking or building your personal brand regardless of what current role you find yourself in. Being recommended for an open position is only possible if you have a supportive network of colleagues in the field, fortunately the value of that relationship building starts even at the intern level. Do not shrug off these vital components of career development that are entirely within your control. Therefore, the most impactful piece of advice I can share is that the art industry in our era only provides the highest return to those who are entrepreneurial.
How do you think the art world can become more transparent?
The new law passed in New York requiring all job listings to include an estimated salary range is a massive boost for transparency concerning career growth in the art world. Though I think there could be greater clarity on the role of Master’s degrees and PhDs versus the value of accrued professional experience. There is an ever expanding market of art related MA programs offered, though the question is which are truly worth their value? That depends on already knowing where you want to wind up after completing the degree to ensure you select the right program at the beginning. Once a person has that clarity, and has received scholarships and grant funding, that is when it becomes a worthwhile avenue to pursue in many cases.
Well Carson, it has been wonderful chatting with you, thank you for participating in Frank Talks! To finish off, we’re curious: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection?
There are too many to name, since I am drawn to so many different styles and periods. If the possibilities were limitless I would love to have a piece by Anni Albers, Anselm Keifer, or Donald Judd. But amongst contemporary artists I’d greatly enjoy a fiber art sculpture by Chiharu Shiota, an installation by Rachel Mica Weiss, a weaving by Robin Kang, a sculpture by Alexis Zambrano, and a single figure painting by Parastoo Ahovan.