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Julia Dixon ’05: Creative Economy Specialist

The artist and entrepreneur shapes her career in North Adams, MA.

Julia Dixon ’05 (painting and drawing) is the embodiment of Purchase values—she’s carving out a creative and interdisciplinary career as an artist and entrepreneur. She curates her opportunities thoughtfully as an active participant in the creative economy in North Adams, MA.

Direction Unknown

Dixon studied painting at Purchase, but had no idea what her future would hold. She  remained in New York and worked as an artists’ assistant, muralist, and as an exhibitions coordinator at ArtsWestchester. Over time Dixon realized, “The more I worked in a nonprofit galley setting, the more I knew I needed to learn about development, board structure, programming, and finance.” 

Move to the Mountains

Ready for a life change, in 2009 she took an internship in the Berkshires. The Berkshire Hills Internship Program (B-HIP), offered by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, is an intensive, 15-week arts management program that immerses participants in educational, professional, and social opportunities. She fell in love with the area and never left. She then earned a masters degree at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012.

The Big Leap

Describing herself as an “artist, arts administrator, community convener, and creative economy consultant,” Dixon left her role as a Creative Economy Specialist at 1Berkshire, a countywide economic development organization, to open her own business.

“I left 1Berkshire in December last year to focus on building my business while working on select creative economy and cultural projects that are particularly interesting and/or meaningful to me.”

Since leaving 1Berkshire, they’ve hired her twice as an independent contractor. She’s also helped to repair a Sol Lewitt drawing at MASS MoCA; develop a crowd-funding campaign for a fall leadership summit for women in the nonprofit theatre industry; manage the gallery in the Eclipse Mill Artist Lofts where she lives; and write.

She’s also an avid volunteer. The weekly radio show she hosts on WNMB-LP, Creative City, is an unpaid project; she’s a member and chair of the North Adams Public Arts Commission; and she’s on the Advisory Board of the MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.

A Career Emerges

After recently winning a “40 Under 40” award, she remarks of her career, “It’s amazing to think that a career emerges when you simply say ‘yes!’ to opportunities that present themselves over the years.”

Poking through a sketchbook from 2003–04, Dixon came upon a quote she heard from artist Yi Chen, an MFA candidate at the time. In striking prescience, it read, “You can’t claim it if you can’t name it. Dream big and live your dream.”

Dixon is doing just that. 

Read more below in Dixon’s own words. (Edited for length.) 

On Her Purchase Experience

Purchase helped me to define myself as an artist and set goals for my creative pursuits.

One of the most important things Purchase gave me as a budding artist and creative person was access. On campus, I was able to have experiences with art and ideas that, looking back on it now, seem incredibly rare 

Guest lectures by accomplished artists were intimate and inspiring. I would wander to the Neuberger and get lost in the color and constructed space of a Rothko or a Hopper. Graduate students like Yi Chen welcomed me into their studios and shared their thoughts with me. I saw incredible performances by world-renowned artists at the PAC, as well as concerts by extremely talented jazz and comp students in the music building.

Purchase also provided me with plenty of off campus access. I would travel at least once a month to New York City and “gallery hop” in Chelsea and midtown, looking at freshly made paintings by artists who were pushing the creative boundaries of the day.

On Living in the Berkshires

I like to say that the Berkshires value what I value: world class arts and culture, locally grown food, natural beauty, outdoor recreation, entrepreneurial opportunity, and a cooperative spirit. It was the little things, like being able to walk to the café for a tofu sandwich or drive 5 minutes to a hidden waterfall that made North Adams appealing at first.

But the bigger benefits slowly came into focus for me, like the city’s lack of pretention, low cost of living, and dedication to using this new creative economy to be better and do more for its residents. Of course, Berkshire County isn’t perfect–but it’s perfect for me.

On the Radio Show

As 1Berkshire’s Creative Economy Specialist, I was spending quite a bit of time meeting artists and creative business owners and … I wanted to let the community in on my conversations with the incredibly talented artists and entrepreneurs I was talking with.

I was hoping that Creative City would demystify the business and purpose of the arts to those who are not as familiar with it 

A Message to Current Students

Everyone will undoubtedly tell you that establishing a foothold in any arts industry is about networking, or “who you know.” To a certain extent, this is true.

So take advantage of your professors. They may just be your first entry point into the professional world. Don’t be afraid to ask them for jobs, references, advice, suggestions, or connections.

Establishing your own (or breaching a fully formed) network requires just one person to make one introduction for you. You may be doing yourself a disservice to pigeonhole these experts as resources in the classroom only. 

And to Recent Grads

After you’ve been working in the field or the studio for a few years, write a personal mission statement for your life. This may help you understand what you value which, in turn, can positively influence the choices you make about where you live, what you do for a living, who you decide to have relationships with, and more.