State of the Suzy Address (or how I spent my summer vacation and autumn unemployment)

Hello dear reader(s)!

Yes, the rumors of my demise were but mere fabrications. Long story short, I’m still living in Chicago – my wonderful internship at the Northwestern University Library ended back in August, I promptly went on a week-long California vacation, and then I moved to a new apartment the day after I returned from vacation. Note to self: Don’t move the day after you get back from vacation, is bad.

I spent the last month and a half unpacking boxes, whipping the apartment decor into shape, building up my little workshop/studio, reading “Y the Last Man”, catching up on 30 Rock and Mad Men, terrorizing the squirrels that keep trying to dig up our balcony garden, and generally being one of the millions of unemployed. I am aware that I have proverbially shot myself in the foot for wanting to stay in Chicago (instead of moving to “wherever the job is”, as they say) but even in a city as big and culturally-instituted as Chicago, the pickings have been slim. Fortunately, I’ve managed to pick up some work here and there – such as working on someone’s private archival collection and teaching a virtual class on online portfolios for a group of undergrad conservation students at Winterthur.

I have come to realize, though, that there is a need for some kind of business training in any kind of fine-arts (i.e. conservation) education. I know there’s the CIPP group of AIC, but in school we were discouraged from going into private practice at the start of our careers. While I still think it’s not the greatest move to go into private practice as your first job (post-internship), but in this economic climate I feel that it’s prudent for me to branch out and look for what freelance work I can get. Certainly, I know my limits, both in terms of skills and what materials and equipment I have access to: I have no washing sink, no board shear, no bookpress, no fume hood – so I’m not about to start taking on projects that are more than I can handle. But I have other skills that I can market – my ability to design and edit webpages with HTML and CSS, my Photoshop skills, the fact that I went to Library School and have an MSIS degree. Still, we weren’t offered any classes in small-business skills, such as the basics of how to write up a legally-sound contract, how to choose your rate, how to estimate how long a project will take, how to protect yourself from liability and how to file your taxes as a freelancer.

I’m sure there’s a plethora of books about all these topics, but certainly none from a conservator’s or archivist’s perspective (if there is, please let me know and I’ll buy it in a heartbeat!) – but I’m starting to think that teaching new conservators about good business sense is a lot like teaching sex-education to teenagers (stay with me, now!). Showing someone how to protect themselves and practice safe sex does not mean you’re encouraging them to become sexually active before they’re ready, or even condoning sex at all – rather, they will be prepared and thus, safe, when that day inevitably comes. It’s a lot better to have the information before-hand than to try and learn it as you go, and make some possibly life/career-threatening mistakes. I’d love to know if there are any conservation programs that provide classes on the business skills necessary for going into private practice. Maybe my experience in the UT program was different because of the Library School aspect (there’s not a lot of freelance librarians, methinks).

ANYWAY, I will end this wordy post with a picture of me pretending to be a Chicago-style hotdog. If you go to the Chicago History Museum, you too can be a hot dog!

Hot dog!

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3 thoughts on “State of the Suzy Address (or how I spent my summer vacation and autumn unemployment)

  1. SuzyThe FAIC Online Business Management courses will be announced in a couple of weeks. Check the next AIC News or the AIC website "Online Education" page.I'll be announcing the Jan – June 2010 course and meeting series schedules soon: probably the first week in Dec. You might be interested in"Your Life as an Independent [Whatever], a 3-week "pull up your socks and figure out how to figure out what comes next" session. Good for contemplating the private practice route, but it's also useful for recent grads and under/unemployed trying to answer "what happens now?" -Sarah

  2. Was it Woody Allen who said 90% of life is just showing up? I really think working freelance (or running a small conservation business-two different things) are about the same. 95% of running a business is just being on top of things, getting good recommendations, etc. There are way too many books and people telling you how to set up and run a business. The fun is doing it how you want. Jeff

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