Name: Shin Yu Pai
College & Majors/Minors: University of Washington, MA in Museology; School of the Art Institute of Chicago, MFA; Boston University, BA in English
Current Location: Seattle, WA
Current Form of Employment: Nonprofit/Philanthropy
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I am an associate partner for The Giving Practice at Philanthropy Northwest.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
Right out of my MFA program, I accepted a job as Manager of Docent Programs for The Dallas Museum of Art. My boyfriend’s mother enjoyed a close friendship with the then associate director for educational programs at the DMA. The museum was looking for someone who had a lot of experience with managing volunteers, producing programs, some teaching, and to a certain degree, an equity lens (I designed docent trainings that included Spanish-language content to help address the museum’s diverse audiences). Various nonprofit internships had exposed me to volunteer management and program planning, and during my grad school years, I taught through the Poetry Center of Chicago. My experience with creative writing came into play at the DMA in writing object labels and using creative writing exercises in the galleries to facilitate inquiry-based learning with all-age learners. I also wrote scripts for docents to use in gallery talks.
I recently changed career direction and am now a full-time consultant to philanthropic organizations. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to run a small family foundation that funded literature and language-related programs at a small liberal arts college in the Deep South. My role involved serving as a program grants officer - helping write funding proposals, program narratives, and evaluation plans, producing publicity, and writing reports. I dived into leadership programs and studies during that time and gradually moved towards higher level strategic roles in nonprofits that have drawn upon executive thinking and skill sets. After a short stint in the social service sector upon moving home to Seattle, I was drawn to going back to working in the philanthropic sector. I am particularly interested in working with philanthropic organizations involved in the arts, whether funding arts programs, or stewarding and caring for private art collections.
I continue to do some freelance writing on the side, for publications that have included The Stranger, City Arts, ParentMap, International Examiner, and Northwest Asian Weekly. I also edit manuscripts for Lawrence & Crane, a small press started by one of my classmates from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I worked as an acquisitions curator for The Wittliff Collections and acquired archives, collections, and secondary materials for the museum’s research collections related to literary authors and small presses of The Southwest, with a particular commitment to increasing representation by underrepresented artists, including women and artists of color. I proofread book galleys for the museum’s publishing imprint with UT Austin and wrote didactic labels for photographic exhibitions. I also curated a small press poetry exhibition for National Poetry Month.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I worked as managing editor for SAIC’s student newspaper F Newsmagazine and learned about editorial production and managing a team of diverse content-producers. I completed internships and sought out roles at places like Chicago Humanities Festival and Poetry Center of Chicago. Looking back, I would have benefited from taking some design and typography courses, and/or arts administration coursework during my MFA program. You learn a lot of that on the job, but the formalization of that knowledge can be tremendously useful, and is why I decided to go back for a museum studies degree a few years ago.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Ongoing professional development is important. Invest in developing practical hard skills – coding websites, database management, reading budgets; think about the places of intersection in your life where you can parlay your love for language/writing into marketable skills – like managing social media campaigns, writing for advertising, etc. Be entrepreneurial in your work - all organizations need strong writers and an ace copywriter/proofreader. Find the places that best align with your values and sensibilities and where your skills can be put to good use.