SARAH PIKE, BFA, 1998, CERAMICS
ALUMNI DISCOVERY INITIATIVE INTERVIEW BY MABEL TAN
MABEL TAN: When did you graduate ACAD? (And what was it called then?) What was your major? Do you continue to work in this area or did you change areas of interest?
SARAH PIKE: I graduated in 1998. The College was transitioning from a diploma program to degree-granting at this time. I graduated with a diploma, but took courses over the summer to meet the degree requirements. It was still called ACA and I majored in Ceramics.
TAN: A lot of graduates use the ACAD degree as a creative stepping stone. So, what do you do? How has what you do evolved since graduation? How did your education at ACAD direct your career?
PIKE: I majored in Ceramics and continue to make clay-focused work. I am a full-time studio potter. After graduation, I went to the University of Colorado, Boulder as a special student. It was a program for students in between undergrad and graduate studies. The following year I went to the University of Minnesota for graduate school. In between, I taught clay classes to adults and children and worked as a ceramic technician at both City of Calgary Arts Centres (North Mount Pleasant) and others. I used community studios to make my work. I believe that community is essential to the life of an artist. A support network of peers and mentors is always beneficial in an art career, but in those first few years it is crucial. Art schools and centres are excellent sources of community. I feel huge gratitude to the ACAD instructors who helped me apply to grad school. They assisted with my portfolio, wrote reference letters, and helped me choose which school to go to. These instructors became friends and mentors through my career to date.
Since graduation, I have been making pottery in some capacity. My education at ACAD led me to continually strive to make better work, question my work, and seek new ways of making work.
TAN: What would you like to be recognized for?
PIKE: It is important to me to be recognized as having a voice in a global community of artists and makers.
TAN: Given your experiences, what advice would you give a student when it comes to establishing a creative business?
PIKE: I think it is funny when I am asked this question, because I really feel that, up to this point, I have been flying by the seat of my pants. I had long-time goals of making a living as a maker, but achieving that involved a lot of trial and error. I don’t necessarily believe that the lessons I have learned would apply to everyone. In saying this, I realize that it is important to find your niche and to understand that niches change and evolve during a career. Being open and willing to evolve your business strategies along the way is beneficial for sure. For example, I tried selling my work online and at craft fairs early on in my career with mediocre success. This led me to seek out certain stores and galleries that would represent my work. Suddenly, with social media success, home sales, online sales and art markets have become my mainstay. I continue to make the work that I am most interested in (which is always in a state of flux), and my sale outlets are continually changing. Galleries are important to me because I am interested in the public discovering my work in this way. Gallery representation has also led to opportunities such as magazine representation and workshops. The definition of success to an artist may be viewed in a multitude of ways. Perhaps in financial terms or in fame. These forms of success overlap and feed each other.
Advice? Work hard, foster community, find your niches, but step out of your comfort zones, ask questions… ask a lot of questions.
TAN: What insights did your four (or one, two, three, five, six) years at ACAD give you when looking at things?
PIKE: The biggest skill I took away from art school was the critical mind. It applies to so many facets of life. As difficult as those first critiques were for me as a shy and polite gal, learning to articulate observations in a critical way was and is still huge. Art careers often involve public speaking. I have sat on a number of different boards and a critical mind allows me to see the pros and cons in ideas and issues, and event-planning. Embrace the critique!
TAN: After graduation, what obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
PIKE: The first obstacle was realizing that my romantic idea of being an artist was really just a romantic idea and that the reality would be very hard work. This is common of any degree. You have to work hard, be diligent and focused. Those first few years post-graduation were confusing. I felt like I was canoeing a rushing river without a paddle and with no idea what would be around the next corner. I suppose life is like that, but the river is calmer now and I have learnt some skills about navigating the big obstacles. Finances came into this picture in a big way. Getting a studio set up is expensive and not very moveable. Especially if you are planning on building kilns. Again, community was huge, and a supportive family.
Another big obstacle for me, if you can call it that, was starting a family. Having children was an amazing experience, but also a difficult one. I realize now that I physically and emotionally need to make and be creative. When I am not making, I get anxious, depressed, confused. When I had my babies, I felt as though motherhood had forced me off my career path and I resented the world for its lack of support and its male focused ways. I loved being a mother, but also felt pretty lost. Now I am a mother and a full-time potter, I can see it is possible, but at the time, when the kids were babies, it felt as though my career was over.
TAN: What do you feel is the role of ACAD and our alumni in shaping our cultural and economic prosperity?
PIKE: I suppose it is education. Educating the public on the importance of creativity, the various roles of art in society, what our culture would look like without art. Also providing a supportive community for like-minded people.
TAN: Why do you think that creativity matters in the big picture?
Creativity is crucial in the big picture. Seeking different pathways and thinking outside of the box is crucial to not only solving problems, but to creating brighter communities, conscious and questioning citizens and evolving in a positive way globally.
TAN: Where does art fit into your future?
PIKE: Art is fully interwoven with my life. I seek to continue to make work and make a living at it, but also to support other artists and create community through art.