The Arts Alum Spotlight Series features amazing NC University graduates engaged in the arts as part of their student experience and explores how connection to the arts enriched their lives. NC State University doesn’t offer traditional arts majors. We believe that the arts are for everyone. These arts alumni – with diverse majors – found that the arts helped them thrive and for some students, it led to a career. Whether a career path or passion or both, the arts make a difference.
This spotlight features Sabrina Hurtado, ’22. As a student, Hurtado was an artist, leader, and scholar who created many significant experiences while pursuing an Art Studies major with a Visual Arts Concentration and Arts Entrepreneurship minor. Her passion for the arts became a profession.
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Please share what you have doing since graduation. Did the arts help prepare you to live your best life after graduation?
I am serving as the manager of teen and college programs at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA). I create programs and events for teen and college audiences to come to the museum and engage with the art and facilities in a variety of different ways. Recently, we hosted a teen coffee house which had various arts and crafts activities, an open mic session, and a hot chocolate bar. This event was a huge success with 200 teens coming to the museum and participating in these activities while also exploring the galleries after hours. We have also hosted a couple of college events, such as our College Conversation series, where students come to the galleries to talk about artworks based on a theme and then explore art materials to make something inspired by what we talked about.
My Arts NC State position was pivotal for my journey to this job. While I was working as a senior intern, I got to design and execute a one week long artist in residency with artist Clarence Heyward. The experience I gained from creating all the activities, marketing, setting things up, and connecting with collaborators gave me the skills I needed to get the job I have now. Arts NC State gave me the flexibility and guidance I needed to explore careers in the arts, It gave me confidence that I was trusted to create important and impactful programs and events at NC State.
According to arts outreach and engagement manager, Amy Sawyers-Williams, “Sabrina was hired as a student arts intern at Arts NC State. She served in many roles – digital content intern, general intern, senior intern. We were so impressed with her activities through-out campus and the work she accomplished in the arts and as an artist. Sabrina’s input and perspective was invaluable to the arts programs and Friends of the Arts Advisory Board.”
Can you tell us more about your project with Clarence Heyward?
In summer 2021, I started this artist in residence project with the encouragement of my supervisor, Amy Sawyers-Williams. After making a list of artists that I wanted to contact to offer this artist in residence opportunity, I selected Clarence Heyward as my number one choice, I contacted him and soon enough, he accepted the offer and I started planning out a one-week intensive residency here at NC State.
I created various events for students to interact with Clarence, including a live podcast, a zoom Q&A, an artist talk, a collage-making workshop, and a free expression tunnel painting session. Additionally, I partnered with the African American Cultural Center, NC State University Libraries, Caldwell Fellows, and the Campus Conversations Project of the NC State Office of Outreach and Engagement.
The most popular events were the artist talk and the collage making-workshop where we were joined by 40- 50 students who were actively asking questions, sharing stories, and learning from Heyward. It was such a rewarding and amazing experience and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the Arts NC State community and all of our partners.
What else were you involved with at NC State?
Before coming to NC State, I was admitted into the University Honors Program, where I met some amazingly driven people and began my college journey in the Honors and Scholars Village.
My involvement in the arts at NC started my freshman year when I co-founded the Arts Club with Khalil Harrison, with assistance from Prof. Victoria Ralston, the faculty advisor. Khalil and I both became presidents and ran the student organization for two years. We believe that the Arts Club is a place for students from all art forms and disciplines to practice art in a multi-disciplinary way and created a hub for sharing ideas and getting inspired by various art forms and experiences.
That same year, I became part of the Caldwell Fellows Program, a servant-leadership scholarship program that provided the resources and community I needed to continue advocating and being a leader in the arts
In my sophomore year, I was about to start a full semester of virtual classes and decided to find a job on campus. That’s when I reached out to Amy Sawyers-Williams and was hired as a digital content intern for Arts NC State. This is where I created social media strategies, posts, and managed other annual events, like the Student Art Sale.
By the end of the year, I was nominated to be a student representative for the Friends of Arts NC State (FANS) Advisory Board. This opportunity furthered my involvement in the arts as I met people who advocated for the arts on and off-campus and discussed ways to better communicate the value that the arts brings to people.
Could you talk about your study abroad experience?
I had the opportunity to study abroad in Prague, Czech Republic to study photography during summer 2023. It was the first time I traveled alone to another country and it was an incredible experience. I gained a higher level of confidence and independence that I would not have been able to reach without being outside my comfort zone.
One of my favorite parts was visiting art galleries and museums in Prague. It was eye-opening to see some of the social issues and topics that modern Czech artists are exploring and how they present them in their art. Our professor, Štěpánka Stein, was an incredibly talented photographer who taught us about the history of photography, modern photography, and challenged us with themes to encourage our creativity when designing photoshoots while letting us foster an independent style and execution.
It was also fun being able to collaborate with other students to be my models, help with equipment, or bounce ideas off each other. The people I met, the beautiful new city I got to explore, and the creative and supportive community that I became a part of are just a few of the reasons why I would highly recommend that art students give studying abroad a chance. The class I took in Prague was my last class to complete my degree. What an experience!
Has art always played a role in your life?
I have been doing art since I was one and a half years old…according to my parents. They told me that my favorite activity used to be grabbing a marker or crayon and scribbling all over this coloring book I had. By the time I was two, my perfectionism was starting to show and I would get upset when my scribbles went outside the lines. Back then, art for me was a fun and entertaining activity.
Now, it is also a self-care activity. These days, life seems to be going 100 mph and I struggle to find moments of silence or moments to slow down. When I make art, I usually do it from real-life. It is my practice of taking a moment to embrace a certain person, event, or object through my artwork. I have made countless portraits of myself, for example, that have helped me with my self-esteem, my identity, and my worries. I have taken pictures of my friends, family, and nature and enjoy looking back at them in a frozen moment where I can really take them in. It helps me to appreciate whatever I am referencing in my art and see my life from an outsider’s perspective. By that, I mean that, while the art I make is my own perspective of my life, to see a depiction of that perspective as a viewer and not just someone who experiences it, has become meditative for me. It feels like I am watching a movie of my own life and can appreciate certain things in a more purposeful way. It helps me take a slow and deep breath nowadays.
Another highlight of your student experience was being chosen as a Interdisciplinary Studies graduation speaker. What was the take away that you shared with other students?
Being chosen as the graduation speaker for the Interdisciplinary Studies Department was a huge honor! In my speech, I included my journey in the arts and the importance that they had on my growth at NC State. So that the speech would feel relevant to the other graduates, I included some of the great things our department offered us. I wanted everyone to feel special on their big day.
I had two themes in my speech. The first one was related to this quote by Toni Morrison, “If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” I talked about my servant leadership style when I was co-founder and co-president of the the Arts Club at NC State and how I worked to empower others and get to know them to know how to lead them in the best way possible. I reminded my peers that they don’t have to be leaders to be able to empower others; inspiration and support can come from anyone.
The second theme in my speech was about transitioning from a student to a professional. As quoted in my speech, “I graduated at the end of this past summer and recently, when I was looking for jobs, I found it difficult to advertise myself as a professional. I still saw myself as a student who didn’t have enough ‘real world’ experience to get a reputable job. One day, my dad sat me down and told me the following: ‘Sabrina, you are a professional, you have taken all the classes, you have gotten internship experience, you have done the work, AND you have been in the real world this whole time. That’s when I realized that this leap from being a student to being a professional, was only a small step.”
My goal was to make students feel excited and confident when they walk out those doors that day. In my journey, the arts were a place where I learned how to understand others, to express myself, to be professional and reliable, and to be an out-of-the box thinker. My speech was an opportunity to express how I hope that everyone is able to find that place where they can grow in a million different ways.
During the Interdisciplinary Studies Department graduation, I received the Bob Patterson Fellow Award. This award is given to one graduating senior in the department who has given back to their community and has shown to be kind, empathetic, curious, and accomplished. This was a huge surprise and I am so grateful I was recognized with such an amazing award. I felt incredibly proud to have reached so much success while working and studying in the arts at NC State. While I was receiving this award, I thought of all of my mentors, friends, and family who helped me reach such great heights. They are my rocks!
Why did you choose NC State and how did you choose your major?
I chose NC State because of their Arts Studies major and Arts Entrepreneurship program, two programs that aligned well with my interests to continue in the arts through a history and entrepreneurship route. I liked the courses offered in these two programs and had heard great things about the Arts Entrepreneurship program, which I knew could help me build a strong foundation for my photography business. Before choosing these areas of study, I was an artist specializing in painting and photography. I had been studying and practicing both for about 5 years. Once it was time to choose my major and minor, I knew I wanted to have a more well-rounded understanding of the arts. Now, I can proudly say that I understand the arts as an artist, art historian, and arts entrepreneur.