When we asked this month’s industry spotlight what she wanted her title to be for this piece, she replied: “What are titles anyway” I can be Rachel Hicks, Event Designer; Rachel Hicks, Director of Programs and Administration for the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts; Rachel Hicks, Fun Loving Art Supporter; or what about Rachel Hicks, Happy to just be Alive”” This revealing answer not only acts as the artistic dynamo’s mini C.V., but it also perfectly expresses her passionate, animated attitude. P&C is most pleased to introduce you to this Special Envoy of Creativity (our designation), who has used her interior design education to sculpt her perfect niche in the art world.
What was your first clue that design was in your blood”
Growing up, I loved to draw and paint and could often be found rearranging furniture around our house or painting the walls of my bedroom in various shades of crazy colors. When I was nine years old, I painted my room a light pink with purple squiggle marks around the doors and windows. Thinking about it now, I laugh. I have always been interested in art. While in high school, I took my first drafting class. I loved to design houses and created my first models, which I gifted (generously, of course) to my parents.
What kind of educational background do you have”
I started out at Marymount University in Virginia, studying Interior Design. After two years, I transferred to the University of Idaho where I received my BFA in Interior Design with a minor in Architecture.
When you started design school, what did you think you would be doing with your knowledge and talents”
One part of me saw myself somewhere on the East coast working for a large design firm and the other part of me wanted to design the rides at Disneyland.
You have actually followed a non-traditional path in your professional life. What lead you in this direction”
While in college, long term projects and assignments requiring permanency in design and structure just didn’t hold my creative interest. Instead I enjoyed the projects involving an intimate space of a more temporary environment where an audience enters, interacts with the space, and then takes away a meaningful experience. Thinking about specific use for a specific time period, such as a showroom at a fashion expo or a set design for a play or the entrance to a restaurant—these were exciting challenges for me. I enjoyed creating an atmosphere that offered people an experience outside of their daily lives—that although short, would stay with them for a long time.
With this, I began exploring other avenues in which I could use my design skills. My exploring led me to spend a summer as an intern to the Curator of the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana. This opportunity led to my first job out of college as the Retail Manager of the Museum Shop at the Holter—allowing me to do quick turnaround projects, such as window displays, special events and merchandising. I was creating stories and experiences for an audience to interact for an intimate moment, with the space.
You are now the Director of Programs and Administration at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. What is a typical day like for you and how has your design background helped in this position”
First of all, I feel very lucky to work in a place as amazing as the Archie Bray where creativity is abundant. A typical day is usually filled with answering general email inquiries about the Bray’s programs, marketing development (whether designing a brochure, an exhibition postcard/email, or a press release), and administrative projects, such as letter writing, contacting and coordinating workshop instructors, organizing resident artists’ applications, and assisting the resident artists with whatever needs they might have. And, of course, there is always the socializing and discussions about what’s new in the world and happening in art.
The culmination of my educational and professional backgrounds allows me to create everything from 2-dimensional design to memorable special events, to installing and designing art exhibitions. My knowledge of the fine arts and design helps me to communicate well with artists as we work to create a vision for a project, as well as communicating with visitors to the Bray who are looking for an enriching experience.
The world around us is highly designed from the can of Coca-Cola we drink from to the Nike shoes on our feet. I care about intimate design, creating experiences to enrich a life—my background in art and design has helped me to fulfill that care in my career.
You have also started your own event planning/design company. How does your background and studies in Interior Design give you an edge in this arena”
Event planning is fun and exciting and, at times, very challenging. An intense process requiring a lot of hard work in a short amount of time, it is exactly the kind of work I enjoy. A background in the understanding of spatial arrangement, flow, color, and lighting is helpful to me in creating a successful event for my client. My main goal is to design an atmosphere in which people experience something specific and in a specific way within a certain amount of time. For an auction or fundraiser, I want people to become excited about what is being auctioned off and for their contributions to the organization. The goal is to keep their attention focused for an allotted amount of time and so I try to create an inviting, fun environment to accomplish this feeling. At a wedding, I want the guests to experience a beautiful atmosphere where they can celebrate the union of two people. With event planning, it is like writing a story from beginning to end—the most important thing being all the considered details that allow that story to be told and remembered.
What was your biggest work-related mistake that you have ever made and how did you deal with it”
I am not sure what that would be. I haven’t been working in the professional field for very long and can’t really recall anything that is too bad. Rather, I will tell you what my best work related decision was. When I was a senior in college I took a trip to New York. While I was there I interviewed an interior designer. One of the things she said was “don’t take a job just for the money” and she was right. With her advice, I took a challenging job that didn’t pay as much as the others because it was exciting for me. I know today that I am much happier because of it. I would have been doing CAD for 40 hours a week and that was not what I wanted for my life. Because of my decision to work at a non-profit museum, I have grown professionally and personally. I may not be the richest girl in town, but I am a happy one.
What did you learn in school that you feel prepared you for a career in design and what skills and wisdom have you learned only through all of your experience”
While in school, I learned how to think and explore. It was a time when I could dream up the most elaborate ideas, since I didn’t have the worry about how much my dreams would cost. I also learned how to work in groups and how to compromise—which is what you have to do in the “real” world. Through my work experience, I have learned how to deal with different types of people. I had to learn how to communicate and work with co-workers, bosses, artists, customers, and business consultants. Everyone is out there working for something and you are too. In school, almost everything was a hypothetical, even if you were dealing with a client. Once you get out of school, the reality of money and business hits and you have to learn it really fast. In my professional life, I have begun to learn the art of business.
What’s the best advice that you could give a student emerging from school”
Take business classes. If you have a small understanding of how it all works you should be ahead of the game. Also, pay attention to your computer skills. Today’s world is electronic. People rely on their computers for everything—their news, entertainment, and knowledge. And lastly, work on your people skills. I was a waitress all through college, which helped me learn how to interact with different types of people and it also helped me to build my self-confidence. When you get out into the working world you are going to have to “sell” yourself. Every interview you give and every new client you take on, you are going to have to convince them that you are the right choice for the job. Realize that you have to choose them too—don’t forget—you have the power to let go of a client just as they can let go of you.
Is there any other information that you would like to mention that we haven’t covered here”
Stay informed. Membership and involvement in industry associations such as ASID, IIDA or AIA can keep you there. Involvement in these groups will help you stay connected to the industry. It is a great way to connect with designers, keeping up with what is happening in Interior Design, Architecture, and product development. They are a great resource for internships, jobs and what is happening in the world of design.
Now for the lighter side…
What has been the best happening in your year so far”
The best part of my year so far has been my job at the Archie Bray Foundation. When I began, I worked part-time covering the Gallery Director’s maternity leave. When she returned, a position opened and they asked me to be the Director of Programs and Administration.
What book is on your nightstand at the moment”
I have a quite the pile right now—Color, Environment, and Human Response by Frank H. Mahnke, a couple recent issues of Interior Design magazine, Emotional Design by Donald A. Norman, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill, Pocket Sudoku, and the seventh book in the Harry Potter series.
If you had an unlimited budget to plan a vacation, what would you do”
I would travel around the world. I would begin in South America, eating delicious food and relaxing on the beaches. Then off to Europe, where I would visit every castle and museum I could. Next, I would head to Asia to check out the cities, history and of course, beach time. Finally, I would drop down to Australia and New Zealand, where I would learn to surf, check out the opera and yet again, you guessed it, soak up some sun on the beach. I would travel for a couple years, staying in each place for a few days to a few months. I would want to absorb as much of the culture and art of each place I could.
What is the one thing that you wish you knew more about”
There are a lot of things I wish I knew more about. I guess if I had to say one thing right now, it would be websites, email marketing, and electronic communication. Like I mentioned before, we live in an electronic world. The Internet has become a place for people to connect with just about everything. I wish I knew more about using the Internet as a marketing place, knowing more about websites and website design.
If you are as captivated with Rachel’s artful presence as we are, then drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.