Currently working in the Guggenheim Museum’s performing art lecture series, Francesca DeBiaso ‘12 said that having the freedom to explore her interests through extracurricular activities was critical to her success after college.
“My extracurricular activities were where I put a large portion of my energies,” DeBiaso recalled. “Peace Club, Students for a Democratic Society, working at the Women’s Center – I was really drawn to that type of activism.”
Of her experiences, she says her work as a program coordinator at the Women’s Center and the close relationship she was able to enjoy with director Stephanie Sellers was the most influential. “It was huge, as a sophomore, to have the type of responsibility that Professor Sellers gave us.”
“When I really started to buckle down on my art history thesis, I knew that I wanted to tie in what I learned from working at the Women’s Center.”
Combining her passions for art, activism, and feminist expression, she focused her thesis on Judy Chicago, a pioneer of the feminist art movement.
Art History Prof. Felicia Else worked with DeBiaso on several projects throughout her collegiate years and recalls how the recent college grad was never afraid to take risks. “She didn’t shy away from uncomfortable issues,” Else mentioned, “but she was able to approach them in a very level-headed manner. Some of Judy Chicago’s paintings can be a little extreme, but Francesca was able to balance that and contextualize that with where Chicago was coming from.”
Receiving funding from the Dr. B. Katharine Stroup Brooks Fund and Funds for Senior Projects from the Provost’s Office, DeBiaso was able to travel to New Mexico in order to meet with Chicago as part of her research.
This personal connection to the subject matter, as well as DeBiaso’s passion for women’s issues, is evident in her thesis. She wrote:
"Beginning in the late 1960s, [Chicago's] inquiry into the margins of history where women’s lives remain is a result of her desire to expose the truth of women’s shrouded experience, past and present. Women, for the most part, have been written out of history and the canon of art history…Through an art practice that is informed by these injustices, Chicago has created works and a paralleling iconography that serve to express women’s essence, experience, and aesthetics, as well as the burgeoning goals of Feminism in the 1970s."
In addition to her senior thesis, DeBiaso curated an art exhibit that featured works by Chicago within the Gettysburg College collections, and presented her research at a symposium in Williamsport, Penn., and at Celebration 2012. All of her work received high praise from Chicago herself in her personal newsletter.
Furthermore, DeBiaso's thesis has since been published to The Cupola, which showcases scholarship from the College. DeBiaso’s thesis was The Cupola’s most popular item during November 2013, and has been downloaded over 1,500 times since being almost published two years ago.
“I’m very honored to have so many people interested in my work. Feminism is a topic that people have always been interested in, whether they are trying to learn more about it or are afraid of it, they are drawn to it. Chicago’s work in particular is so well known and kind of controversial. People are just naturally drawn to the topics that she radically addresses,” DeBiaso said.
After graduation, DeBiaso found work first in non-profit public art in Massachusetts, then with the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
“Moving to New York was a huge risk for me,” she reflected. “However, some of the best advice that I got when it comes to the art history field was to figure out where you want to be and then aim for anything that you are remotely interested in there. I knew I always wanted to be in New York City, it’s a great place to be for the arts. So I took a risk and it paid off.”
When reflecting on her post-college experiences, DeBiaso said that pursuing her passions shaped by her involvement on campus was what really made the difference in her career. She said, “My current employers really appreciate the fact that I come from a strong art history background and have this interest in contemporary art topics.”
She encouraged current students to explore their interests as well.
“I think that most students have a hard time figuring out what their passion is and what trail they should be on. However, if you allow yourself to have many different interests and are able to display how you pursue those interests, it really goes a long way in showing others what a remarkable person you are.”
Article by: Kasey Varner '14, communications & marketing intern