Alumni in the Arts: Amy Aughinbaugh

A young woman in professional attire looks at the camera on a backdrop of Autumn leaves
Amy Aughinbaugh '12

How did you get to where you are now? What paths can one take in the arts?

I am not currently exclusively working in the arts industry, but I support the arts and use my art history liberal arts education in my current work as a business analyst at a community foundation every day. Between my graduation from Rhodes and my current position at the Communities Foundation of Texas, I served for two years teaching in a low income school district with Teach For America and spent two additional years pursuing a dual-master's degree in business and arts administration in my hometown of Dallas.

While pursuing my MBA/MA in Arts Administration I interned with multiple arts organizations including the Dallas Museum of Art, the arts education nonprofit Big Thought, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. I found my current position via my mentor and Rhodes College alum, Catherine Cuellar. Early on in my graduate studies, I identified Catherine as an arts professional and a fellow Rhodes alum working in my area and reached out to her for an informational interview. That contact sparked an incredibly meaningful mentoring relationship and friendship that very much led me into my current fulfilling foundation career.

I support the foundation in distributing more than $100 million in grants per year, 7% of which went towards arts and culture initiatives during our 2017 fiscal year.

How did your time as an art/art history major prepare you to meet your career goal?

Art historians are masters at translating communication conveyed through artistic media into digestible language that registers with the broader world. Every job I've had since college has relied upon this ability to translate and therefore help two entities better communicate. As a teacher, I translated the content curriculum prioritized by my state into the minds of small children that needed to learn. As a graduate student, I translated the strategic priorities of executives into actionable plans for operating companies. Now, as a business analyst on the IT staff of a community foundation, I translate the needs of my company to the technology vendors upon which we rely. The ability to sit between two groups and help them learn from each other is a rare skill that art students possess.

What art and art history course(s) where you most impacted by?

I love everything Italian Renaissance, so Victor Coonin's seminars on Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were important to me. In graduate school, I took the opportunity to spend a semester studying in Milan and quickly discovered that I was able to converse in very simple and very complicated Italian (but nothing in between) thanks to my art historical studies. More importantly, any exercise, like semester-long studies of single artists, that involves attempting to deeply interpret the psychology of another human being through the documents they've left behind helps you to practice the same exercise on personal and professional relationships. It also help you determine the values espoused by companies or people via the media they choose to promote, which is a useful lens to deploy.

David McCarthy's seminar on Guernica and anti-war art has also long stuck with me because it made it so clear how representations of conflict can manipulate our morals as much as our emotions. All the dancing pigs on barbecue shop signs still remind me of Guantanamo Bay and Susan Sontag (which makes enjoying Central BBQ harder but I still manage). David's modern courses have also impacted me because they taught me that important work is usually more uncomfortable than it is pleasant.

Any advice for Rhodes students?

Your Rhodes education teaches you how to read and write better than the vast majority of the non-liberal arts workforce. Your art history degree teaches you how to look. This means that you are imminently well- equipped to view the world, analyze an aspect of reality, and make an argument that can affect that reality. Never believe that just because you don't have a hard sciences degree that you aren't qualified to opinion or aren't invited to speak up. You have been explicitly trained to ask better questions than others, and you are more than qualified to identify and piece apart any formal construction. All the visual analyses you spent your first two years learning how to write correctly have qualified you to evaluate any business strategy. Simply follow the visual lines or strategic directions to their logical conclusions and ask what it means. You are already receiving that education.

Also, once you're out in the post-grad world and crushing it compared to your peers, do remind your friends and colleagues that the value you bring is due in large part to your liberal arts education. It is a service to yourself and everyone that follows you to highlight the value of a liberal arts degree so we liberal arts grads can continue to share our value in the workplace and in society.