When Paige Schaefer, ’15, transferred to the University of Richmond, she enrolled as a business major. She knew, however, that her heart was really in the art world. But a change of major didn’t take her straight from pouring over balance sheets to coming face-to-face with a canvas. She needed time to take in the big picture.
“I wanted to get experience in all the different art fields and see what I loved,” she says.
A semester abroad in Paris brought together her love of art and all things French. She studied Parisian architecture, the origins of modern art, and how Impressionists rebelled against the classical salon model and ushered in a new movement.
But it was a work-study position with UR Downtown that really helped Schaefer explore the field. She primarily works in the gallery space, assisting with curating exhibitions and setting up the gallery environment.
“I have to be very organized and very detail-oriented,” she says. “Putting everything together, designing the gallery and what pieces look best next to each other, it’s fine-tuned my artistic eye, definitely. Whenever I bring it up in [internship] interviews, they’re like, ‘you have that experience as just a sophomore or a junior?’”
She’s worked on several exhibitions, all with a community-building spin. One exhibition displayed historic photos of community organizations from the Richmond Times-Dispatch alongside their modern-day equivalents. Another mapped local involvement of University students in community-based learning classes and photos of the students in action.
It wasn’t Schaefer’s first introduction to the intersection of art and social justice — a high school art history class focused on feminism in art first brought her attention to the subject — but it was her first experience tying the two together in practice. Instead of working with a single artist, she had to interact with faculty, students, city residents, and community organizations to achieve a shared vision and story in the gallery space.
“It was really great to talk to the community members, people that are obviously so involved in Richmond, especially since I was pretty new to Richmond,” she says. “The city has so much history altogether, but also a community engagement history.”
Marrying the worlds of art and social justice will also serve Schaefer well as she considers career possibilities with both museums and nonprofits.
Learning about the University’s partnerships around the city and her own work in the downtown gallery, also presented Schaefer with yet another opportunity to explore the arts — the city’s flourishing arts scene.
“I think it’s so interesting that it has such a thriving arts scene and such a great food scene and music scene,” she says. “It’s a lot different than I expected it to be. I think it’s pretty easy at UR to stay on campus — which is great, and I love the school — but I’m glad that I’ve had this experience to get off campus and see the city of Richmond.”