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My Biggest Lesson: Nicole Baragwanath

17 January 2023

This article first appeared in Little Black Book written by, Nicole Baragwanath, Interactive Projects Director, Detroit.

Not too long after graduating college with a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and returning to Michigan to begin my career, sometime around 2006, I was struck with fear and bewilderment that I was going to need to somehow balance making money and making art.

The commercial world of advertising was new to me, and I quickly gravitated towards digital art and technology. Coming from a background of fine art, I was worried I would be losing myself as an artist in order to have a career. I quickly realised I could be who I am both creatively and professionally. The digital world is filled to the brim with creative souls, technologists, engineers, writers and innovators.

There was a person early in my career at an experiential design studio that taught me that there is a path to creative success, and it begins with mentoring and treating everyone as a vital part of the team. It takes a diverse group of people to create an engaging and emotional event or activation. I realised that not only could I excel and grow in my career, but I could also offer others the same.

I was about 23 and I had been working as a production coordinator at the experiential design studio for about four months. I was feeling like there would never be a place for me in the creative industry where I could combine my love for the arts with a thriving career. I felt intimidated working alongside people who had qualifications and skillsets that I didn’t have. I didn’t realise yet the strength in bringing a different background to the table and how that can in fact breed creativity.

Before I began my professional career and after college, I was really struggling to find a position. I was looking for opportunities in art galleries and museums since I thought that was my natural next step. I found myself working as a manager in clothing retail and I wasn’t sure where to go from there. That’s when I met the owner of the experiential design studio that took a chance on me. She was impressed with my sales and management skills and was curious to know more about my background. She was so excited to hear I graduated in fine arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was even more thrilled to hear about my knowledge in computer software. Within a couple weeks I was hired, and this opportunity kicked off my career in the creative industry, which would eventually lead to other more senior roles in the experiential design field.

During my time at the experiential design studio, I worked with a creative technologist whom I was initially quite intimidated by because of his impressive background and skillset. He would often give me challenging projects to work on that were likely above my skillset, while at the same time making sure I knew that I was a vital part of team and mentoring my growth. I had so much admiration for him, and I realised that it wasn’t because of his intelligence and skillset but rather because of his approach to human development.

This stuck with me because it made me believe in myself and my capabilities, as well as giving me the confidence to find my way as a digital producer and project manager.

It changed my understanding of team dynamics and the importance of mentorships. These learnings have served as a foundation for the framework that I use when mentoring young professionals today.

Along with technological advances in our industry and developments in the world at large, I always try to stay agile in the way I approach any task or project. I continually reimagine and re-evaluate the dynamics of mentorship and the strength of a diverse team.

It is my feeling that positive mentorship, challenging one’s comfort zone, and providing opportunities, change the way people respond to themselves, their work and others.