Designing a Future in the Arts

Valerie C. Whitacre '08

Photography by Peter Notton, 2018. Courtesy Horst Estate.

“One of the best pieces of advice my father passed along before I arrived at Scripps was to pick my major by the quality of the professor,” says Valérie C. Whitacre ’08. “If the professor of underwater basket weaving was the best professor on campus, then one would benefit from taking the course!”

Following her father’s advice, Whitacre sought out professors who inspired and challenged her to consider combining her two lifelong passions—art and philosophy—when choosing a major. “I found that my professors appreciated working with me on the juxtaposition of subjects,” she says. Through a combination of courses, Whitacre ultimately formed a self-designed major combining the history of art and philosophy. This intersection engaged both Whitacre and her professors in new courses and subjects. She believed that these subjects would help in the interpretation of artistic media.

While at Scripps, Whitacre also supplemented her rigorous curricular schedule with pursuits outside of the classroom. She took electives in finance, was active in philosophy study groups and in the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company. Engaging in these opportunities broadened her undergraduate experience and allowed Whitacre to strike a healthy balance of discipline, direction, and creative freedom.

In the fall of her senior year, Whitacre was offered a position with a management consulting firm, an opportunity she was excited to explore. However, encouraged by Professor of Art History Mary MacNaughton, Whitacre applied for the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler scholarship. Professor MacNaughton, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, advised that the scholarship would allow Whitacre to pursue a master of arts at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, renowned among the international arts community for providing both an intensity and depth of focus, guided by expert instructors who are world leaders in their respective fields. Whitacre received the scholarship and was humbled by her acceptance into the elite program. “I was beyond grateful for the opportunity,” she says. “Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler’s ’72 scholarship to attend The Courtauld changed the course of my life. And the MA program allowed me to refine my understanding of photography and the contemporary art market.” Her education and experiences at The Courtauld led to Whitacre’s current role as business development manager at Hamiltons Gallery in London where she manages sales to existing clients and generates new business for the gallery.

Whitacre reflects on her time at Scripps and The Courtauld with appreciation and credits the variety of courses she took with providing her the practical expertise she sought while allowing her to follow her intellectual passions. Whitacre says she has approached professional challenges using the same approach. When confronted with navigating technological obstacles within the creative industry, she expanded her education in areas she would have otherwise not considered, such as website optimization and digital marketing.

“These courses and experiences pushed me to think more strategically about the future of my field,” says Whitacre. “I recommend that anyone interested in creative work always explore and revisit more technical disciplines. Industries evolve, often requiring new skillsets and the merger of interdisciplinary ideas. It is important to be able to adapt, even if one’s passion is based on the more eternal aspects of the creative sphere.”

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