Department of Art and Art History Alumni

Emily Cayton

Emily Cayton

MA in Art Education, 2012

Emily earned her MA in Art Education from The University of Texas at Austin after receiving her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. She was the Gallery Manager at the Visual Arts Center and then managed Bass Galleries, located in Bass Concert Hall at UT Austin. Emily is one of the founding members of the Austin-based artist collective Ink Tank Lab, comprised of 13 artists. She currently works as the Associate Educator for Teachers and Docents at The Contemporary Austin and the Education Coordinator at Co-Lab Projects.


What were you most focused on during your undergrad?
Undergrad at VCU was a blend of a few things that all came together for an amazing experience. I got certified as a K-12 art teacher while a student, so I spent a lot of time teaching art all over Richmond and its suburbs. My studio practice was very important to me, so I took most of my non-arts classes online over the summer to make room for studio courses. I earned a minor in art history, and focused on architecture due to the amazing Dr. Charles Brownell. This developed into a serious interest in Italian architecture, specifically Etruscan architecture and structures by Andrea Palladio, leading me to study abroad in Italy and learn Italian. I was most focused on art.

What did you do after graduation from undergrad?
I finished up in four years and returned to Italy for a few months; I had some unfinished business I guess. It was a great time to think about my next move. Upon my return, I became an intern at two museums close to my hometown: the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art. Both of these experiences solidified my desire to go to graduate school. I remember experimenting with studio-based gallery teaching or parent/child learning environments and wondering how to be more a part of these experiences in museums. My supervisors both advised heading to graduate school.

What was your interest in Art Education?
This might sound cheesy, but I love art so much that I wanted to find a way to share it with anyone. Education seemed to be the best avenue, with museum education being a unique fit for me. Art education isn’t always learning how to make something; a museum provides art education opportunities in many formats. You don’t have to make something at the museum to experience the art (or the education surrounding it), although I think all the best museums have dynamic studio experiences available as well. Choosing education means I will be learning all the time. Learning, especially with others, is my favorite thing to do.

What did you take away most from the department?
The art education faculty are incredibly gracious and nurturing, and their positive attitude and continued support is an incredible asset for me. Writing a thesis and seeing a research project come to full fruition was incredible and would have been impossible without them, not to mention heading to Antigua Guatemala. They continue to keep in contact and truly care about the well being of each student. What amazing people. Additionally, working for the Visual Arts Center as a student has obviously been beneficial for me, since they decided to hire me upon my graduation. I truly think the VAC is a gem inside the department, and an asset to the university as a whole. My exposure to emerging and established contemporary artists surprises me regularly. The student involvement exceeds my expectations, and I am continuously impressed by our spring student shows and the Center Space exhibitions.

Your work is currently featured in Austin Art Boards—how did you get involved?
Some of my friends told me about the opportunity after I noticed the billboards that won from the first round in 2011 floating around town. It was a little last minute, but I knew I wanted to apply. Co-opting billboards for art has a history, so I’m thankful to have my work traveling around central Texas for the next year and a half. I was also drawn to the format of a billboard since I typically work in a panoramic format. This opportunity has been amazing, and I love hearing from people that they saw it or that it surprised them while driving/riding. 

In managing the Visual Art Center and the Bass galleries, what was your favorite aspect?
Engaging with the public and working with artists are my two favorites. The VAC is a structured art space compared to Bass. When people arrive at the VAC, they usually grasp that it is a visual art venue, and works on view take center stage. At Bass Concert Hall, however, the art serves as a conversation piece or additional component to their performance experience; the art functions differently. Spending time in both spaces offers me the opportunity to discuss works of art, which I will do with anyone that makes eye contact. Seriously. Working with artists at the VAC can mean anything, from collecting trash, to adhering thousands of thumbtacks, to learning entirely new artistic practices. I love hearing how a work comes to be or even being there to see it solidify and exist as a static, sacred object. That transformation is fascinating as both a working artist and a museum educator. Bass artists are normally very excited to be showing at the space, and our time together involves designing and hanging an exhibition.

You are one of the founding members of the artist collective Ink Tank—how did this get started?
Well, I am one of the founding members of the Austin iteration of Ink Tank. It existed in Virginia prior to being here in Austin, where Dave Culpepper started it. Anyway, Ink Tank in Austin started slowly, with very few members (I think 4), and happened over some long summer chats after our critique group sort of dissolved. Coincidentally, the VAC brought the initial members together: I worked with Ry Rocklen and met Chris Whiteburch; I helped Andrea Hyland install her installation for the spring senior studio exhibition. Dave met a lot of folks through his job at the Blanton Museum of Art. We all wanted to make stuff that we couldn’t do by ourselves and there it is. Co-Lab Projects showed Future: Diorama! in November 2011 and we have been going non-stop ever since.

What was one of your favorite projects with Ink Tank and why? 
That’s a really tough question because there is something to love in each one; I mean More Awkward than Heavy was insane!!! The Powdered Wig Party is up there definitely, but that’s also up for debate if that was even an art show! I really enjoyed PARmageddon, our golf hole for the Art on the Green exhibition over at Laguna Gloria. That project was just plain fun, and not just for us (like some of our other projects). This project was really exciting to create and only got better as more and more people experienced it. Having a destruction-themed golf hole made it anything goes, so it was hilarious to see how elements continued to deteriorate once hoards of kids were given golf clubs.

Can you talk to us more about Ink Tank?
Ink Tank is a great outlet for each of us in a different way. Everyone contributes what they can, and we are always making up show ideas or mocking up future pieces. We are able to try out ideas under the protection of anonymity; no one knows who came up with what except for us (and that even gets gray sometimes). Working with a group makes each of us better individual artists, and provides a supportive network for future endeavors.

What is your mission or goal as an art educator and artist?
Huge question. As an art educator, I want to continue to have amazing conversations with people centered on art: the idea of it, its physical objects, and everything in between. I’d like to help make art more accessible, its conceptual ideas and its various processes through interpretation and studio instruction. As an artist, who knows. I can’t stop making art so I guess my goal is to make something good? Honestly, I’d love for something I’ve made to make someone spend more time with his or her surroundings, and maybe even try making something.

Any advice or recommendations for current students?
Seek out your professors and discuss your goals, ideas, etc. They are here to help you fulfill and execute those. An invested professor will continue to help you beyond graduation. Take every opportunity (without overwhelming yourself). Exploit your resources and connect to other departments/disciplines. No one just makes art anymore.