Alumni pursue careers in the arts

Katherine Weltzien, Editor of News

Alums of The Urban School, Jenny Assaf (‘16) and Shannon Finnegan (‘07) have worked to pursue careers in the visual arts since graduating high school. Both women developed interests in visual arts and refined their skills during their time in high school, and have used those skills to inform their careers.

Assaf currently attends Parson’s School of Design and designs for the clothing company Epic Sky, and Finnegan’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions in New York, such as Nasty Women at the Knockdown Center in Queens, NY and Vagabond Time Killers at the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, NY. She has also spoken at universities across the United States and China.

Though California public school students are not required to take art classes in order to graduate, at The Urban School, students are required to take at least one trimester of art a year. These two professional artists still remember the skills they learned in their high school art classes.

“[While] taking classes at Urban I started to think about art in more of a conceptual way…One thing I really remember from being at Urban is the sketchbooks…like using that as a way to look at things around me and take note of things,” said Finnegan, who now works as a gallery manager and visual artist.

Assaf said, “[Fashion] was always just my side interest, because I couldn’t ever do it in school, but it was different once I expressed my interest in it at Urban. I was able to bring it into my curriculum….I took a drawing class with Jen Starkweather and she was awesome. I told her about how I loved to sew and I loved to draw fashion, like fashion illustrations. So instead of doing the regular projects, she allowed me to make a collection of fashion illustrations.”

Finnegan, however, did not intend to pursue art professionally when she graduated high school. “When I went to college I still thought that I was going to be a science major and I was primarily going to work in a science field, but I would continue doing art as more of a hobby. And then when I was in college I got to this point where I realized, ‘this is what I want to do. This is what I want to spend most of my time doing.’ Even if it’s not always the most practical thing, that’s really what I’m interested in,” said Finnegan.

Assaf, on the other hand, knew she wanted to be a designer since childhood. She said, “When I was six years old, I started stealing my brother’s t-shirts and cutting them up, turning them into bathing suits and dresses with tape and scissors.”

Yet when she entered college, she began to doubt her career choice. “My first year, which was last year, I came to Parson’s, and it made me think that I didn’t want to be a designer. … It’s really different pursuing something on your own, and it’s like your hobby or your passion, and then turning your passion into a career. It gives you this other type of relationship with it,” Assaf said.

As her art is a part-time job at the moment, Finnegan has a different relationship with her own artwork. “Something I’ve always said to myself is that I’ll do this for as long as it’s interesting and engaging for me. If I get to a point where I’m like, ‘this is too hard’ or I don’t enjoy it anymore, I can stop. I can do something else,” said Finnegan. Her day job is working as the gallery manager at The Invisible Dog Art Center in New York.

Though both Assaf and Finnegan have found success in their artistic pursuits, they have somewhat contradictory advice on how to have a successful career in the arts. “It’s ok not to know what you want to do entirely. I thought it was so important because when I was six years old I declared that ‘this is what I want to do and this is who I want to be’ and I think I became lost because I thought, ‘what if I have interests in other things too,’” said Assaf.

Finnegan, however, said, “Really think about what your goal for success is and what that looks like to you…. There’s just a lot of different ways to do it, and I don’t think that in high school you need to know how you define success, but that’s a good question to keep in the back of your mind.”