I think, therefore I CREATE
Meet Fine Arts (’11) Alumna Alexia Serpentini.
Currently heading up the rebrand of GE Consumer, Alexia lets us in on how her Fine Arts degrees – and her undergraduate studies in the arts and sciences – inform her work in the corporate world, and how her business experience affects the way she approaches her work as an artist. She emphasizes the importance of looking for, and finding, inspiration in unlikely places and keeping your eyes, ears, and heart open to the world around you.
Degree and Graduation Year: 2011 BFA (2D & 3D) from UofL’s Department of Fine Arts; 2013 MA in Creative Cities (Distinction), Kings College London, England
Job Title: Operations Leader of Consumer Ventures
Employer: General Electric (GE)
How did your educational experience in the College of Arts & Sciences prepare you for the work you do now?
Never underestimate the value of creative thinking in the business world. I currently work as the Operations Leader for GE Consumer Ventures, and because of my arts background and freelance branding work I was elected by my colleagues to be the project manager for rebrand of GE Consumer — an absolutely incredible honor. I also run a pro-bono production company for nonprofits in the arts and human rights sector called Language & Logic with my partner, and recently came into the position of interim brand strategist for Louisville Visual Art.
I’ve managed to create a feedback loop where my artistic work helps inform the ways I think about consumer interaction and building brand equity in the corporate world, while my experiences in business development have helped redesign how I think about sustainability in the arts community and in my own practice.
But even outside of that, I cannot even begin to count the ways my arts degrees have helped me and informed the work I do now. Honestly, I cannot even imagine a time when I would no longer draw upon the lessons learned from my undergraduate courses. I pull little bits from everything I’ve learned: that an incredible story can move people beyond an individual product, that good design can transcend all barriers, that collaboration can allow you to be better than your best self.
Art is just a different form of social exchange, and nearly all of our artistic lessons are applicable; it’s just a matter of translation.
Most memorable course you took as an undergrad? Why?
This is a 3-way tie.
Photography with Mitch Eckert – never before have I been so supported no matter what nearly-impossible, overly-ambitious, extraordinarily-impractical idea I brought to the table. I cannot express how much that unconditional support meant to me and still means. I know that whatever far-reaching goals I set, I’ll still have support back home no matter what. Even if I haven’t spoken to him in years, his unwavering support grounds me.
Sometimes you just need one person to believe in you to keep you going.
Glass with Ché Rhodes – when I have a choice between the easy way and the hard way, I take the Ché-Rhodes-way every time. His course taught me the value of learning absolutely everything possible, and that the comprehensive range of skills developed by sheer curiosity will always take you further. One memorable day, he had us each present how something works to the class – aviation, light bulbs, AC/DC current, microchips, nuclear power, and plumbing – all skills that have become instrumental in my personal and work life.
That fascination with everything around me is one of my truest motivators.
Finally, Perspectives in Civic Leadership with former humanities instructor and UofL alum Elden Golden – a mandatory course I had no interest in taking! It opened the floodgates of my passion for civic leadership, humanitarian aid, and social policy, and helped bridge the collaborative gaps I wanted my art to fulfill. This course was the reason I wanted to start a gallery as a public participatory space and was the reason I went on to get a masters in cultural policy and studied identity regulation.
Most importantly, absolutely everything I do – in business, research, and art – works towards overcoming the difficulties of imagining other people – a phrase borrowed from the title of a required reading text in Prof. Elden’s class.
Professor Golden changed my life and I’m certain he has zero idea.
What is the most thrilling or adventurous thing you've ever done?
I’m notorious for getting bored easily – my partner, fellow UofL arts alumni and incredible artist Collin Lloyd, and I have climbed mountains, sold all of our things and moved across the ocean, and started our own gallery. But there might be two answers that jump out above the others.
The first was being invited into the UK Parliament to film a documentary about one of the most incredible young people I’ve ever come across, Gulwali Passarlay. Look him up and I dare you to not be inspired.
The other would have to be getting invited to exhibit in the Crete Biennale, flying to Greece and being trusted with the responsibility of fixing up a completely unfinished gallery in a foreign country (and I mean unfinished – gravel ceilings, no electricity, splattered walls) in four days before our grand opening.
Book you're currently reading or recently finished? Why did you pick it up?
Just yesterday I finished I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy – a personal hero of mine for being a genuinely wonderful, thoughtful and kind human being. At a time when I felt particularly lost last year, he opened himself up to be “everyone’s honorary grandfather.” I was so genuinely moved by his kindness to strangers that I was inspired to open myself up for public collaboration around the world in an ongoing, 5-year project due to be released in 2018.
On the side I’m also re-reading Transitions from Authoritarian Rule – for some reason one of my absolute favorite texts that has greatly inspired my own research. It’s one of my life goals to publish a similar work charting the patterns of post-revolution cultural policy development in the Middle East and North Africa.
Advice for current undergraduates in the College of Arts & Sciences?
Take classes you would never have thought to take before. Step outside your comfort zone and I guarantee you’ll find a different set of tools to interpret the world. I never would have taken Perspectives in Civic Leadership if I wasn’t forced to, and I can only imagine how lost and misdirected my motivation would be without it.
Russian History and Food History taught me more about the world and the current political climate than any political science class. Accidentally picking up a book about the life of a soldier in Afghanistan drove me to start researching cultural policy in the Middle East and working towards helping political refugees who’ve made it to the UK.
Life is all about the intersections, and I promise the greatest inspirations come from outside the world you’ve already discovered. It’s in those intersections where you can carve out an uncharted space to explore for yourself.
And it’s thrilling.