Career Shift Happens: Coming Full Circle From Potter To Dean Back To Potter

BlogHer Original Post

Marion Angelica PotteryThe lyrics, "Love is better the second time around," could easily be ceramic artist Marion Angelica's theme song. After spending the first seven years after college trying to make it as a ceramic artist, Angelica gave up clay because she found the life of an artist isolating, she hated the business aspect of running a ceramic business and she needed to make more money. That was in the 70's.

On a lark, she applied for a job with a nonprofit organization for developmentally disabled individuals. She had no experience in the field but was later told she got the job because of how she answered the question, "What is normal?" Angelica's answer: "I haven’t a clue; there is no definition of normal." Evidently that was the answer they were looking for.

For the next 30 years, Angelica focused on her career in management of non-profits and arts organizations. She still did handcrafts, but never worked with clay because of its time demands. At age 50, she earned her Ph.D. and spent the next 10 years in academia, becoming the Dean of the School of Public Policy at Walden University.

Angelica says her hiatus from clay -- she didn't do any ceramic work at all over those 30 years -- wasn't because she stopped loving working with clay, "I just stopped loving making a living from clay."

A funny thing happened over those 30 years in nonprofit management. Angelica learned how to run a business, and one day as she was thinking about what she would really love to do with her life, she realized that she was no longer afraid of the business side of being a ceramic artist. In fact, it was just the opposite -- thanks to her 30 years in nonprofit work, Angelica was now confident she could not only do her art, but she could run it as a profitable business.

Now four years later, Angelica has not only won some  best of shows awards, and financially she is breaking even. Angelica is realistic about the financial potential of this career. While Angelica definitely wants to earn enough money to make a sizeable contribution to her family's household income, she now says she has the patience to allow her career to evolve.

As it now stands, in order to make some contribution to the family household income, Angelica spends 20% of her time consulting with nonprofits. Even with that, Angelica says she could not support herself as a ceramic artist if she didn't have a partner who shares expenses.

"I spend 80% of my time working with clay and 20% consulting. Currently, the consulting brings in 80% of the income. The goal is to tip the seesaw so that the majority of my income comes from clay."

Even when that happens, Angelica says the income will be considerably smaller than the one she enjoyed as a dean. "I will never make as much as a ceramic artist as I did as a dean or a consultant." It's not just that the earnings potential of her new career is limited; Angelica believes it's impossible for the majority of ceramic artists to earn a sustainable income from their art.

"I don't know any ceramic artist who can support themselves soley on their art. People have to supplement their art with teaching and workshops. You simply can't work fast enough to compete with items made in China or Japan that are sold at Target."

Despite the financial limitations, Angelica absolutely views her art as a career and business and not simply as a hobby. "When I think of going to the studio, I think of it as going to work."

Four years ago, Angelica was putting in 12 hour days as the Dean of the School of Public Policy at Walden University. She tried to be at the office by seven, so she could have two hours to answer emails and think before an endless round of meetings. 12 hours later she would return home to cook dinner for her husband and kids.

These days, a typical day starts with reading the morning paper, running a couple of errands and getting to her studio around 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning. Most days she is home in time to prepare dinner -- the exception being nights that she needs to fire her work.

For the first six months in her studio, Angelica simply experimented to see where she wanted to focus her work. During that time, she decided she wanted to work in porcelain, "the nastiest's of the clays." She decided she wanted to create functional pieces rather than sculptural, and she wanted to hand-build her pieces rather than throw them on the wheel.

Angelica also decided she wanted to price her work so it could be affordable. "Pricing is an interesting dilemma. I want to make a reasonable wage, but don’t want to out-price it."

While she doesn't have a written plan for her business, she does have a business trajectory. That includes a disciplined effort of sending packets out to specific galleries that she hopes will carry her work. She has a goal for a specific number of galleries she wants to have her work in by the end of 2010. She is now thinking about her online presence and whether she should blog. She's hoping to be part of an online gallery.

Like CJ Lyons, who left pediatric medicine for a career as an author, Angelica loved being a dean. She says she loved all her jobs. It's just that she realized she loves ceramics more.

"In college, I was pre-med. I carried a double major, biology and fine arts. I love analytic thinking and synthetic thinking. I think of the sciences as analytic thinking and the arts as synthetic thinking. Ceramics is an interesting blend of both. There's a lot of chemistry and engineering involved in ceramics, and of course, there is the arts part. It works both parts of my brain."

Angelica did not make the switch from dean to potter lightly.

"I’m a cautious person. My advice to anyone thinking of making this kind of career switch is to not give up their primary career, all at once. Be plan-ful. Right now I'm balancing consulting with my art, so I can have enough money while I build up my art to the place where I can let the consulting go."

In a culture where career success is tied to financial success, Angelica says she is measuring her success differently these days.

"I'm measuring my success by my happiness, being at peace and being excited. I can’t stop it. It’s an addiction. We have a cabin  that we go to on the weekends. While I enjoy being there, and use the time to do sketching, I want to be here[in the studio]. Whenever I'm not here I want to be here."

BlogHer Contributing Editor: Business & Career

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