From Student to Teacher, Angela Masker Travels Full Circle with Visions
Arizona artist Angela Masker’s Scottsdale Arts story has been a full circle, from Visions student to Visions artist and from intern to helping coordinate the intern program.
Originally from New Jersey, Masker’s family moved to Mesa when she was still in elementary school. Her interest in art began just as early.
“I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember,” Masker says. “My uncle was an artist, and I remember watching him draw and make up cartoons.”
That early interest in art led Masker to New School for the Arts & Academics in Tempe. Though her initial focus leaned toward the music side—guitar, specifically—she also started taking visual art classes and realized that’s what she wanted to do in the future.
Artist and instructor Kyllan Maney became an early influence on Masker’s work as the student began taking Maney’s mixed media and painting classes at New School for the Arts & Academics. But it was Maney’s work with the Visions program from Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation that would eventually lead Masker to her current career.
Maney invited Masker to join the Visions program during her sophomore year. Now, Masker credits the program—especially the opportunities Visions students get to learn from working artists—for magnifying her desire to create art.
“It was really motivating to me, just being able to hear them talk about their work,” Masker says.
Among the influential artists she worked with as a Visions student was Forrest Solis, now director of the School of Art at Arizona State University (ASU). By learning from Solis, Masker found her own unique style.
“I was trying to figure out my way with figure drawing because I loved it so much,” Masker says. “And she has this realistic oil-painted figure, but she adds this surreal element to it that I really liked.”
Ellen Meissinger, another ASU art professor, was also among the Visions artists who influenced Masker. Before Meissinger’s watercolor workshop, Masker had never tried the medium. Now it’s a staple of her art, alongside oils.
“Some of the workshops pushed me out of my comfort zone to try things I never would have tried on my own,” Masker says. “And now I use them all the time.”
Masker says the structure of the Visions program helped her grow as an artist. That structure includes presentations from working artists like Solis and Meissinger alongside field trips to university art museums and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA). Masker said these varied introductions to different types of art revealed connections among the various artists and styles, creating a “web of inspiration.” And as an artist based here in the Valley, it also served as Masker’s introduction to the local art scene, creating a natural gateway.
While her art classes at New School for the Arts & Academics were already at a high level, Visions added another level of professional development as Masker prepared for the future. The program gave her an idea of what she wanted to accomplish.
Her visits to ASU through the Visions program also provided an opportunity to meet faculty there and get an idea of what it might be like to study art at the university. The cogs began to turn, and Masker found direction to continue her studies after graduating from high school.
These experiences led Masker to attend ASU as a painting major, starting in 2017. While studying, she also began exploring internship opportunities. Her first was a curatorial internship at Phoenix Art Museum. As a result of that internship, she changed her major to focus instead on art history, looking toward a career in curatorial work.
Masker graduated from ASU in 2021 with a double major in art history and museum studies. Among the courses she had taken for her degree was a curating class taught by Lauren O’Connell, curator of contemporary art at SMoCA. As a result of that connection, Masker learned about the paid internship program at Scottsdale Arts. She applied, and in the fall of 2021, Masker began a curatorial internship at SMoCA.
Some of the SMoCA internship tasks were familiar to her, like writing extended labels and other didactics for exhibitions. However, the focus on contemporary art—living artists—was something new.
“That’s my favorite thing about working in the arts: I’m constantly finding new artists and new ideas and inspirations to challenge what I’m doing and break me out of my mold,” Masker says.
The internship at SMoCA proved to be more than just a way to learn new skills. It opened the door to a career.
“I loved the team so much,” Masker says. “It ended up being, and still is, my favorite place that I’ve worked.”
Because of her love for the SMoCA team, Masker kept an eye on job openings at Scottsdale Arts. She jumped at the first opportunity: a part-time receptionist position. The job also included some responsibilities in assisting with human resources. Again, it was a chance for Masker to learn new skills while working in the arts. As a Scottsdale Arts employee, she was able to help various departments, including SMoCA, where she assisted in curatorial work.
In September 2022, Masker was promoted to a full-time position as an HR assistant and receptionist. This is where the first part of her Scottsdale Arts full circle begins.
Now with a full-time position at the nonprofit, Masker’s job duties soon included responsibilities with the internship program she had been part of just one year earlier. Now, rather than being an intern, she is working with various Scottsdale Arts departments to create job descriptions for individual internship positions and then posting those opportunities. Additionally, Masker is tasked with coordinating tours for the interns, where they can learn about all the divisions at Scottsdale Arts, from Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts to Development to Marketing and Communications.
Masker also regularly conducts check-ins with Scottsdale Arts interns and surveys them to solicit feedback on the program—the same program that led her to full-time employment at the nonprofit.
Because of the diverse nature of the various Scottsdale Arts divisions, employees like Masker occasionally have opportunities to dip their toes into different sides of the organization. In the spring of this year, the chance to work on a Scottsdale Public Art project presented itself to her.
Each year, the spring Cycle the Arts event features a new shirt, typically with a design by a Valley-based artist. Victoria Sajadi, public art coordinator, was leading the Scottsdale Arts side of the event—it is organized each year in conjunction with the Scottsdale Transportation Department—and asked Masker if she would be interested in creating the shirt design, which would also be used on stickers.
“It feels good to have contributed to something on that level, a legit event that people around the city participated in,” Masker says. “And now they have my artwork in their office.”
Masker also continued to assist SMoCA, but not just with curatorial work. Soon she began helping SMoCA’s preparatory team as they installed exhibitions—another chance to learn new skills.
“I discovered that ultimately I’d like to go into art handling as a career rather than curatorial,” she says. “I feel like I’ve grown so much in a little under two years being here.”
Full Circle with Visions
Around the time Masker was promoted to the full-time position, another opportunity with the Visions program presented itself via Brittany Arnold, community and engagement manager for Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation. Arnold, who leads the Visions program, knew that Masker had been a Visions student years earlier and wondered if she might want to be on the other side of the program as one of the teaching artists.
So, the former Visions student became the teacher, offering a painting and drawing workshop for the students now exhibiting their work at SMoCA as part of the Visions ’23 exhibition—the first time Visions students have shown their work in the museum.
While preparing her workshop, Masker said she thought a lot about how her own Visions experience often pushed her out of her comfort zone, so she tried to build the workshop with that mind. The resulting workshop focused on a stream-of-consciousness manner of sketching, primarily using colored pencils and markers. As a bonus, one of Masker’s own siblings was part of the Visions cohort, so she had the opportunity to teach them.
“They all made really unique, great work,” Masker says, adding that it’s still somewhat surreal to see her name mentioned as an influence in some of the students’ labels for the current exhibition. “It’s full circle with the program. I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity and to give back to a program that gave me so much.”
This is the first in a series of Spark blog posts by Brian Passey, Scottsdale Arts communications manager, exploring the Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation programs and how they enrich the community with arts education and opportunities.