Name: Victoria Donaldson
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
College/University (if applicable): Alabama A&M University
Degree(s) (if applicable): B.S. in Industrial Technology with a concentration in Graphic Communications and Minor in Art History
Fun Fact(s): I’m a Leo and a Dragon and my favorite color is green (that’s about as fun as it gets).
Could you give us a short introduction on who you are and what you do? My name is Victoria Donaldson (of course)…I’m 28 y.o. and I am the Visitor Services Manager at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Outside of my work at CAM, I also cohost a weekly radio show on St. Louis’s community radio station, 88.1 KDHX, called RWTHNTC (Rawthentic) with Nappy DJ Needles. In addition, I host a monthly film screening and dialogue called Black Cinema Club where we watch and discuss films and other subjects that relate to black culture. On the side, I work at Vintage Vinyl, a local record store, I practice photography (mostly as a hobby) and I’m also learning the art of turntablism (pray for me).
What did you major in and where did you go to college? Initially, I attended Howard University and left after one semester. Then I attended St. Louis Community College at Forest Park and would eventually transfer to Alabama A&M University. I was a Biology/Pre-Med major at Howard, focused on Communications at STLCC-Forest Park and was a Biology/Pre-Med major at AAMU until I changed my major to Graphic Communications so that I could focus more on my photography.
How did you find/obtain your job/school training? Growing up, I always wanted to attend an HBCU for college and Howard was my first and ONLY choice at the time. Eventually, I learned the hard way that Howard isn’t cheap and federal aid isn’t as easily accessible for students at private institutions. So, once I left, I knew I would continue my education but I only felt comfortable attending another HBCU. Alabama A&M was fitting for me because I had a lot of high school classmates there and I knew it would be reasonable to my finances. All in all…money was a major factor!
What does a typical day look like for you? There’s no such thing as a “typical day” for me. A lot of things come my way unexpectedly…whether at CAM, during RWTHNTC, for Black Cinema Club, even that random call-in at Vintage Vinyl, I live without a sense of expectancy for the most part which is really hard for some like me who likes to be prepared and organized for whatever comes my way. However, I’m learning (slowly but surely) how to manage a random life.
What do you like most about your job? Least?
What I like the most about my job is also what I like the least…let me explain. I love meeting people and discussing art with them. I like showing how accessible and personable art can be for even those who are new to the world of art. It has a bad reputation for being only available to upper class/elite citizens. However, at CAM, we push the notion that art should be accessible to all.
With that said, I’m naturally an introvert and being the face of the museum can be exhausting. I’m the first person and that initial connection that visitors have with the museum so I have to be personable, friendly and warm, even on my worst days. However, it is something that I’m mastering and eventually, it will become second nature.
What advice would you give someone seeking to enter this industry? Tough skin is key and the ability to stay to true to yourself is most important. Art is ever-changing and it is important that those involved in it remain grounded and firm. Otherwise, you will get lost in the sauce.
How do you feel being a Black woman in your industry? As a product of St. Louis’s public schools system and HBCUs, I was never the minority in any school or institutional setting. Going from that to being one of four people of color at my job has been a very unique and eye opening experience. I was always aware of my Blackness and my womanhood but never has it been so prevalent because I represent a small population in the art world. There are galleries and museums that represent Black women in the arts but there aren’t enough. Eventually, my part in this industry will be to bring greater representation of Black women and Black people in the arts.
What would you tell your 16 year old self? Everything you believe is valid. Your opinion matters. Remain true to yourself and your light will be brighter than ever. I love you.
Who do you aspire to be? Who are your role models – dead or alive? I aspire to be a gallerist and I want to own a gallery in St. Louis that is dedicated to photography related to those of the African diaspora. My role models are basically any Black woman in photography and Black women who exude characteristics that I find most admirable. Those women include Deborah Willis, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems…all who are photographers and/or historians of the art form. Then those who I have connected with in my personal life such as Dr. Barbara Jones who was professor and coach at Alabama A&M, Bertha Bowers who I worked with while at AAMU, Cheeraz Gormon, she’s an artist in so many ways and one of the most awesome women I’ve ever met and my mother, Laura Lomax, the epitome of beauty, strength, courage, love, intelligence, and charisma.
What is the most important thing you’ve done in your lifetime so far? Traveled…this has been the most important accomplishment because it has been the most rewarding. The privilege to travel all over France as a 14 y.o. was the best thing to ever happen. It opened my eyes to life outside of the society we live in and it left me wanting to learn more about other places. Later, I was granted the opportunity to visit Ghana which was the most spiritually awakening experience and left me with a greater self-awareness. Whether traveling domestically or internationally, these experiences are the most fulfilling and leave a mark of my conscience and my spirit. As long as I keep traveling, this will be the most important thing I’ll do throughout my lifetime because it allows me to learn more and grow…and as Lauryn said “anything that ain’t growing is dead.”