By Liz Hitchcock
A lot of graduates finish school and try to keep their professional options open, in hopes of finding a job that they love. Baylor alumna Jen Dunlap found quite a few jobs she loves.
Along with being a visual artist, Dunlap has perfected versatility in her career. She incorporates performance art into gallery spaces and painting shows.
Dunlap lives in New York City and is a freelance art director for such organizations as College Humor, Nintendo, MTV, and CNBC. She helps organizations by putting on live performance shows, creating set designs and doing other various tasks that are required for video and film sets.
Shortly after graduating in 2004 with a degree in University Scholars, Dunlap decided to make the move to New York City, where she first interned for a company called thehappycorp global as the communications director, during which she networked with artists, performers and business-people in the New York area.
“I came up with a lot of creative events for them. … The biggest contribution I think I made there was with a networking party group called Liv Hard. I would come up with party ideas,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap also said that the pressure of this job cultivated her creativity.
“This was before people used their cell phones much and the idea of a flash mob was fairly new,” Dunlap said. “You would sign up to be on a mailing list and we would send out e-mails and text messages saying where the party would be that night. The parties would be ways to introduce yourself to other creative people.”
This creativity helped her transition into video production and set designing.
Dunlap’s art directing career in New York began when some of her friends asked her to design costumes for their band Apes and Androids’ concert.
While doing this, she became close friends with Celia Rowlson-Hall, a New York-based choreographer, with whom she would later collaborate for many performances.
“I would say yes, she is a visual artist,” Rowlson-Hall said. “But I would say her strength is humor.”
One large scale performance Dunlap and Rowlson-Hall created together – “Wanna Come to My Place?” – where they used an entire gallery to form a series of rooms. Each room was painted and designed by Dunlap in vibrant colors, and Rowlson-Hall choreographed performers in matching costumes who were located in each room to act out different scenes.
“A lot of [our performances] just have to do with having fun and also color and movement,” Rowlson said.
The job that pushed Dunlap most into performing art was working as an art director and a producer at CollegeHumor.com where she designed sets for and directed many videos that can be found online.
“They’re probably my biggest client, in the sense that I get the most work from them. … They have everything down to a science,” Dunlap said. “They get a script, we talk about it, and then we make it. Everyone there is just really fun to work with.”
Dunlap recalled that when she began working for CollegeHumor, there were only three people in the art department. The company has since grown and there are currently more than 20 people working in the department.
“[Working at CollegeHumor] helped me learn every aspect of the business of art directing and even production on a small scale level,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap resides in an apartment that doubles as a studio and still spends time painting, but is also working as a freelance prop assistant. She frequently scours the city looking for various items needed for props in Broadway plays and musicals.
“My previous studio mate makes props for Broadway,” Dunlap said. “That’s been this other course of work I’ve had in New York is doing prop assisting and shopping for Broadway shows.”
While at Baylor, Dunlap studied painting under resident artist, Karl Umlauf.
“She was one of the most outstanding assistants I’ve ever had,” Umlauf said. “She did more than just busy work and clean up studio. … It was quite a responsibility.”
“She saw how I had to work and how I had to produce… She even helped me produce a book, called ‘The Journey,’” Umlauf said of the two years that Dunlap worked as his assistant.
Umlauf said he could see Dunlap’s work progress from the time she graduated Baylor to the time Umlauf took some senior art majors to visit her art studio in New York.
“[Her work was] moving to another set of color, more intense colors. She changed the ways the forms were working,” Umlauf said. “They were larger and not so calculating. They were more aggressive and experimental. I thought that she was really branching out and moving farther ahead.”
Although she never took any theater classes at Baylor, Dunlap integrated performance art into the shows that displayed her paintings.
For her thesis painting show, Dunlap organized a performance where she and other girls presented a live dance show at the former Art Annex on Fifth St., titled “Art is for Eating.”
The performers dressed in eccentric costumes with colors that matched those of Dunlap’s paintings. Sculptures made from cake were hung from the ceiling, also resembling the paintings on the walls. After a short performance of synchronized dance, the viewers were invited to participate in the show by eating the cake sculptures.
With her studio as her home, Dunlap plans to make more visual art and intertwine other forms of art into her paintings.
“I think my goal for the next few years is to focus on fine arts and get more into painting and incorporate performance arts into that,” Dunlap said.
Happily living in New York, Dunlap continues to find odd jobs and creative work to support herself and satiate her need to perform and create.