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Curating a Life

Callie Beattie sitting on a bench in a gardenAfter her third year in art school in New York City, Callie Beattie (MSLS ’24) was feeling overwhelmed and unsure. She had been passionate about a future in photography, but that life was starting to feel like the wrong fit. So, she dropped out and moved back home to Richmond, Virginia.

She had been passionate about a future in photography, but that life was starting to feel like the wrong fit. So, she dropped out and moved back home to Richmond, Virginia.

One of Beattie’s early jobs was working in a photo gallery, where she helped process the archives of photographer Louis Draper, a Richmond native known for his photos of Harlem in the 1960s.

“I didn’t know anything about archives at that time, I just knew about photography. I would scan photos and do blog posts about anything I wanted to. It was so fascinating to me.”

She started a small press as a way of continuing her artistic journey and staying engaged in an art practice. Mainly, though, she worked service jobs like walking dogs and being a barista. Her parents encouraged her, confident that she would find her way.

After almost 10 years of work, she started feeling an urge to make a change. She thought about her archival experience in the photo gallery and her passion for art, and started to make a plan.

The first step was finishing her bachelor’s degree, so she enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University and earned her B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on visual culture and media studies.

“I didn’t want to go back to school until I really knew what I wanted to do. I was like – I want to be a visual materials archivist. I want to go to grad school for that, so I have to finish my undergrad. That was really the catalyst. It’s been a very focused journey.”

Her interest in archives is one of the factors that drew Beattie to UNC. She wanted the physical, hands-on experience that couldn’t be gained from an online program. She wanted to work in a special collections library and she wanted to stay relatively close to family in Virginia. UNC checked all the boxes.

“I just started falling into it. It all made sense. I didn’t know artist archives were a thing until it was my first year at SILS and I took art and visual information management class taught by JJ Bauer. That class changed everything for me, in terms of falling into my groove at UNC.”

“I love artist archives. It feels very personal. You get to trace the creative process through multiple materials and media types. I would say it’s like getting into their brain – and in a way you do, but mostly tracing the creative process is so cool to me.”

While in school, Beattie worked two campus jobs. The first was in Wilson in the digital production center and repository service at Wilson Library. She worked with legacy audio materials, digitizing materials such as records or VHS tapes She performed conservation work to support the audio engineers and conducted some long-term digital preservation work.

Her other job was with the Southern Futures Project, where she was the research assistant for Grammy, Pulitzer-Prize, and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens. While Giddens was the artist-in-residence with Carolina Performing Arts, Beattie would help pull materials that Giddens was interested in as a way of being creatively inspired. She describes the experience simply as “amazing”

“I’d love to work with artists as a researcher again. I think it’s such a unique area.”

During the summer after her second year at SILS, Beattie received a coveted placement as a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress. She worked in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division and spent 10 weeks processing and arranging the archive of contemporary book artist and letterpress printer Russell Maret. She also created a LibGuide focused on the Russell Maret Artist Book Collection and Archive.

Now, as she prepares to graduate, Beattie is packing for a return to Washington D.C. She accepted a 10-month position as a Librarian in Residence at the Library of Congress, once again working in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

“It’s just such a nice place to work. Everyone was so welcoming, so supportive, and everyone is excited to be there.”

As Beattie reflects on her time at UNC, she’s effusive about the people she met along her journey.

“Elliott Kuecker is just the most amazing professor ever. So supportive. So dedicated. I took his community archiving class last semester–it was amazing. He put the practicum together that I’m doing. He’s taken us under his wing and provided opportunities for us to have professional opportunities and grow. I feel lucky to have encountered such an awesome professor.”

“Everyone is so nice–everyone I have worked with at the library, at Carolina Performing Arts. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some genuinely kind people who are supportive and excited about what they’re doing. I don’t know if I would have been able to push through all three years with such enthusiasm if it wasn’t for them.”

She said she also couldn’t have made it without the support of her parents and her boyfriend, Ian.

“I used to feel bad about it (dropping out), honestly. Like all those feelings – you feel like a failure. You let your dream die. But now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Had I not gone to art school and taken a lot of time off – all of that was so formative to doing what I do now. I can look back and trace each moment and say it all led to doing this, which is really cool.”

“Beyond the art and artists – underneath all of that, I think you get into archives and libraries and things for access, ultimately. You want to pull the curtain back. You want to provide resources for anyone who may want them. And I want to do what I can to not have all of these amazing materials be so siloed. I want to provide access to information. Access to knowing what resources are available. I think there are ways to do that within my niche in an interesting way.

Related Programs: Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS)