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The Organized Artist

Kelly Sherman '02 BFA
  • Alumni
  • Trustee
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Artist, MassArt trustee, and innovation consultant Kelly Sherman wields her creativity and curiosity to find the next big idea in organizational strategy.

People who wind up at art school often feel they want to make something that doesn’t yet exist. That’s how it was for me. Sometimes I feel like a kind of seer. The challenge is to understand what I’m seeing. The art studio is especially designed for this, as is art school. It’s full of others who are similar and educators who understand and nurture us. It’s a place to learn skills and techniques but that’s not really the point. Art school helps you explore your inner itch and challenge yourself to broaden your view. Ultimately it helps you make sense of what to do with the talent or trait that seems to set you apart from others.

I chose to major in sculpture for the freedom it offered. The opportunity to experiment with different materials led me to blow glass, weld metal, carve wood, spin yarn, and make films. Time outside of class was just as rich. I joined my English teacher’s neighborhood poetry group. I worked with professional artists and curators in the galleries. I swapped books with my physics teacher. I actually enjoyed physics! Every day felt exciting and fun. My time at MassArt was full of play, expansion, and creative growth. I felt empowered and surrounded by people who had faith in me.

My time at MassArt was full of play, expansion, and creative growth. I felt empowered and surrounded by people who had faith in me. Kelly Sherman

An Avenue For Innovation

Determined to pursue a fine art career, I had a gallery job lined up after I graduated. I was devoted to my artwork in my off hours. It served as a tool to indulge my curiosity. I used it to learn about myself as well as others, who I often interviewed. I would tell their stories and mine in unconventional ways, using graphs or architectural drawings. 

After winning the Foster Prize from the Institute of Contemporary Art, I was invited to speak at the design and innovation consultancy EPAM Continuum. Their strategists insisted their process was similar to mine but for business purposes. It led to a three-month internship and then five years as a strategist. I learned about consumer research, business, and design. My team included engineers, designers, and MBAs and we worked for Fortune 500 companies like Penske and American Express. I interviewed people everywhere, as far as India and China. We came up with ideas for new products and services and business models. It was a second education in a place that valued my identity as an artist. 

Eventually, I left to work with nonprofit organizations and taught the innovation skills I had learned. Over time I developed my own consulting practice delivering organizational strategy. I see strategic planning as a form of innovation. I work with others to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist, like a blank canvas for a different and better future.

Does my current work use the skills I honed at MassArt? Absolutely. It’s grounded in creativity, problem-solving, discipline, and curiosity. Ultimately curiosity is my greatest strength. I’m open to what others may find uncomfortable or weird. There’s little I can’t handle—I went to art school. MassArt celebrated this intrinsic need to explore and gave me the confidence to trust wherever that might lead me.

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