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Fine Arts Major Micaela Petkus Forges Her Own Path to Success

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

With determination, a mindset for success, and self-belief, Micaela Petkus has proven that those intangibles can be the bedrock for building a career, not settling, and becoming the true artist she envisioned at a young age.

Born on the Southside of Chicago near Midway Airport, Micaela spent her early years moving between neighborhoods on the South Side and graduated from Alan B. Shepard High School located in Palos Heights, IL. Long before high school, middle school, or even kindergarten, she took an early interest in art as she recalls, “The earliest age that I can remember making art is 5 years old- and I still have some of those drawings/colorings!”

Though art came to her at an early age, and brought a great sense of personal joy, she did not have parental advocacy when it came time to embracing her artistic endeavor. In fact, the opposite was true. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a mentor to support my artwork. I’m a first-generation college student, and my parents actually went to great lengths to discourage my siblings and I from going to college (verbally discouraging college and treating it like a non-option as well as throwing away college acceptance letters/pamphlets), so there was no support or mentorship for my art or for anything else.”

Although Micaela did not have parental support, she found solace in the fact that her sister, Faith, was always in her corner. As Micaela discusses, “In our adult lives we've been able to be that support for each other and recognize that we don't want to perpetuate the environment that we grew up in. She's only two years older than me, but she was the first of my siblings to graduate from college and we've been extremely close for our whole lives, so I was always looking to her as a blueprint for how to move through life, and I couldn't have had a better person to look up to. She's truly the greatest person I know, and I don't know what I would have done or would do now if I didn't have her by my side for my entire life.”

Having a tight bond with her sister also played a significant role in supporting Micaela when she came to the realization that stabilizing her mental health was top priority. According to Micaela, “Before Columbia, I attended Moraine Valley Community College as a Psychology major from 2015-2017 then transferred to UIC. I only spent half of a semester at UIC before having what I refer to as a quarter life crisis. I was extremely mentally ill and realized that the thought of being a social worker or therapist as I had planned, made me dread the future. I took about three years to work full-time and focus on healing from trauma that I’d experienced in my childhood and early adulthood. My sister was very supportive of my going to school initially, my withdrawing from school when I was really struggling in 2017, and my decision to return to school for art at Columbia in 2020.”

Being at Columbia has been transformative for her. The environment at Columbia has given her the chance to fully express herself, as well as be part of a community that embraces her skill set. Not only does she carry a stellar GPA, assist other students as a Front Desk Student Assistant in the Career Center, but this summer, she also found the ultimate internship. “I’m interning at the Chicago Mosaic School (CMS) in Edgewater. CMS is the only school in the US that provides formal education in the art of mosaic, and the school is attached to its gallery that features mosaic artists from all over the world. Some of my duties as the art administration intern are managing the administrative duties of the school/gallery, participating in fundraisers and events hosted by CMS, overseeing the classes, documenting work in the gallery, etc. Every single person is friendly, welcoming, and genuinely happy to be here. Since it’s a tight-knit group, there is a strong sense of community and support, not only in our positions but in our lives in general. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and the people I now have in my life because of it. My boss recently told me that they’d like to train me to be able to teach a Mosaic I course, which I’m very excited about!”

She draws on inspiration from artists such as, Alejandra Estefania, Evagmayun, Tina Maria Elena, and MOJO. “I’ve been creating in my studio apartments throughout the years. I love being alone when creating, since it is typically a very personal and cathartic experience for me. I gravitate towards creating very emotive work that relies on the audience’s ability to dissect symbols and colors to interpret the meaning that I had in mind while creating it. Some common themes in my work are transformation, spirituality, juxtaposition, and portraying extreme emotional states. I tend to gravitate towards portraiture, and find that the human face and body almost always plays a significant role in my work. As I work towards developing my technical skills, I hope to translate that into abstract surrealism.”

With her final semester forthcoming this fall, Micaela has this advice for students. “Keep in contact with your peers and professors, since you’re surrounded by creatives that will be doing or are already doing great things in the art world! Take advantage of the Career Center from the beginning of your time at Columbia. Having an ongoing relationship with your career advisor rather than waiting until right before you graduate will relieve so much anxiety and open your eyes to so many opportunities.”

With a wealth of experience to lean on, Micaela has a clear vision outside of Columbia as to how her career path will unfold. “I would love to assemble a group of artists- painters, photographers, videographers, dancers, actors, musicians, etc- to create an immersive experience. I firmly believe in the responsibility of an artist to be conscious of what they’re putting out into the world and how it affects others, and I would love to create immersive experiences that allow people to feel seen, understood, loved, hopeful, and inspired.”

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