University of Florida (UF) alumna Jaime Baird has had nothing short of a successful career in the arts after earning her M.A. in African Art History from UF in 2005. Having more than nine years of experience working with contemporary art under her belt, Baird is now the first director of administration at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University, a new non-collecting museum set to open in 2016.
Baird originally intended on becoming a university professor but she began down a different path when she met her mentor, friend and UF School of Art + Art History Professor Robin Poynor while at UF. Baird remembers being one of only three African Art students in the Art History program at the time. “Robin invited us into his office and said, ‘I have secured Grinter Gallery for you three, you’re doing an exhibition,’” said Baird. “None of us knew that was going to be on our plate, Robin just sort of gave it to us.”
The exhibition turned into a series of programs, including dance and sculpture workshops that were open to the entire campus. "Through my work with the exhibition, I became involved in numerous extracurricular activities related to art," said Baird. "I started to get excited about working with artists and putting on programs for the public and less excited about doing research and writing my thesis.”
As a result of planning the exhibition and related program, Baird got involved in fundraising and became an advocate for art projects and organizations. “That was something I spent a lot of my time on, and it directly led to me getting a position at the law school.”
After earning her master’s degree, Baird held a temporary job as a curator at the UF Levin College of Law for several months and then went on to spend nine years as assistant director of administration and development at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.
“There are so many things about UF that in hindsight I thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that a large state school was able to offer those kinds of experiences, where a very privileged private school couldn't,’” said Baird. “UF's libraries were unbelievable, and I was so impressed by not just the art library, but the archives and the access that students were given. There was never a single thing that I wanted for my research that they didn’t produce for me.”
Baird has two pieces of advice for students in any field who are still determining their career path:
“First, take advantage of the opportunities outside of the classroom,” Baird said. “Not only do those opportunities give you experience that you can put on a resume, but you meet people from all over the university, including professors, that can be valuable to your research and studies."
Baird's second piece of advice is for those thinking about graduate school. "Don’t let the name of the institution dictate where you go. Everyone should research the faculty who are teaching at the universities and colleges they’re thinking about attending and make the decision based on the people they want to work with, not on the reputation of the school.”