You have to have a pioneering spirit as well as a healthy dose of grit to pursue a career in the arts. Traditionally, there hasn’t been a paved road to success, and many have to bushwhack their way through the job market to eventually land a position that fits their skills. But these days, more than ever, there’s also a lot of opportunity for creative types with an aptitude for innovation and vision. Some might say the future has never been brighter for students choosing a creative path instead of a conventional one.
Kezia Germ is one such creative type who possesses the grit necessary to embrace a career in the ever-changing arena of artistic endeavor. Given her Inter-College Program (ICP) self-designed degree with focuses in Theatre Arts, Architectural Studies, and Design Studies, her path could go in any number of directions. She hopes it will allow her to design spaces such as sets for theater productions, but she’s open to other opportunities, too.
“When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, my grandfather said to me, ‘Kezia, the career you want right now, you don’t even know exists. Maybe it hasn’t even been created yet.’ I have found so much value in that wisdom, and it’s helped me understand that versatility is a strength and that my interests have merit.”
An Artist’s Journey
Growing up with a love of theater and acting in plays, Germ always thought that she would pursue an acting career. However, once she arrived at the U of M, she found her drive to act centerstage waning and her desire to explore interdisciplinary arts backstage growing. She decided that being a college student was the perfect opportunity to explore multiple artistic avenues, and in order to tie all of those avenues together, she chose to major in ICP.
“I didn’t feel like I had a place at the U of M until I found the ICP major,” Germ says. “I realized I could create my own place through the individualized degree, and I liked that by designing my own degree I could rub shoulders with other design programs at the U of M that would benefit me in the long run.”
“I didn’t feel like I had a place at the U of M until I found the ICP major.”
After meeting with her ICP adviser, Germ set to work designing a degree to fit her budding artistic interests. The first step included writing out a formal proposal for the courses she wanted to take and why she wanted to take them. By putting pen to paper, Germ was able to articulate a plan for her education, weaving together theater, architecture, and interdisciplinary design. When she was finished writing her proposal, Germ remembers turning to her roommate and announcing, “This piece of writing represents me more than anything else.” She knew that it would help her market herself later.
Germ’s educational palette has dipped into theater set design (“Sets are the first sentence of a play,” she says), interior design, and digital rendering courses to help bring her ideas to life on a computer screen. She’s building a portfolio that she can bring with her into the world, so employers will understand that she has an eye for designing spaces, and that could mean a lot of things—from interior design to corporate events.
She looks to local professionals like Kate Sutton-Johnson for inspiration. Sutton-Johnson, a Minneapolis-based 3D designer who creates sets for theater productions at the Guthrie, Theater Latté Da, and others, visited one of Germ’s classes and spoke about her professional work. Germ was so excited that she set up a separate appointment to meet with Sutton-Johnson.
“I remember when Kezia came into my studio she was very prepared with great questions to ask,” Sutton-Johnson says. “She'd clearly planned this out, and that made our conversation richer.”
“I think the world is becoming an increasingly visual place, and a lot of people are reframing their business models and the stuff that they put out into the world to fit that frame. Going into art and especially pairing it with another discipline is a very smart thing to do.”
What Sutton-Johnson gave Germ was a healthy dose of encouragement: that there is a vivacious theater scene in the Twin Cities, and that the people who live here care enough about the arts to support artists and designers like Sutton-Johnson and Germ. It is possible to make a living doing this very creative work. In fact, it’s possible to thrive.
“More and more in this day and age, we need the arts as a way to emote and respond to what's happening in politics and the world at large,” Sutton-Johnson says. “There's this communal experience that I think people have a hunger for. There's something about sitting in a dark theater, having a shared experience, that's so different from sitting at home alone with your phone and getting sucked down a rabbit hole. I recognize how hungry I am for these shared, communal experiences.”
Germ echoes this sentiment, and it’s the reason why she wants to pursue a career in the arts as well. She says, “I think the world is becoming an increasingly visual place, and a lot of people are reframing their business models and the stuff that they put out into the world to fit that frame. Going into art and especially pairing it with another discipline is a very smart thing to do.”
What’s Next for Her?
When Germ graduates, she’ll enter the workforce with confidence in her eyes and a portfolio under her arm to show employers what she’s capable of. She knows that the path ahead isn’t straight or clear, but she’s energized by the unknown.
“As my voice instructor always tells me, ‘Nothing is a tangent while you’re being yourself’,” Germ says. “So, when I look back at my path, it really is a path; it’s a straight line. It may seem like it’s going in a bunch of directions, but as long as I’m working hard, it’ll end up being a straight line. I just have to trust my gut.”