Name: Elizabeth Moroni (@softfury)
Role: Visual Artist
If you should ever see one creative resume in your life, then Elizabeth Moroni’s should be the one. She’s worked a variety of different jobs, including an Admin and Sculptor’s assistant at an L.A. gallery, a Clay Studio Manager, a Volunteer English Instructor at the L.A. Public Library, and a nanny. (Not to mention her previous stints as a sushi chef and admin at a financial management company.)
Elizabeth, 25, moved from rural Colorado to Los Angeles about three years ago in pursuit of a bigger adventure. She currently works on improving her different crafts in Highland Park, a neighborhood just north of Echo Park and Downtown L.A. Her long-term aspiration is to ultimately work for herself as a visual artist. “I would love to be a stop motion animator,” She says, “I know that’s a lot of work, but I love illustrating and creating designs.”
The art world is a tough industry because it implies that you break in with the help of connections and gain notoriety as you try to climb upwards. Creating a career path in visual art, especially in Los Angeles, can reveal a dark underbelly of elitist and racist practices, misogyny, and those in power turning a blind eye to issues. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s experiences at the art gallery and clay studio were not positive, as she was the only employee to older, male bosses. Feeling isolated at a job can take a huge mental and physical toll on us, especially when we’re looking for mentorship and coworkers who share the same interests and goals.
Of course, we know that these toxic experiences exist outside of the art space as well. At the financial management company, Elizabeth also worked in a male-dominated environment. “The worst part of that job,” she remembers, “was how often I was casually disrespected on a daily basis.” From employees talking slowly to her and being surprised that she could complete simple tasks, she received this constant reminder that she should be so lucky to work there at all.
Now, she’s taken the plunge to pursue exploring her own art through stop-motion, sculpture, and more.
Cultural Chameleon: Describe your day-to-day with juggling these jobs.
Elizabeth: When I worked for the gallery and clay studio, I was stretching myself very thin because I was also nannying and teaching English at the Library. The gallery owner and clay studio were both paying me under the table, below minimum wage. I had to find nannying shifts to sustain myself. At the time, I didn’t fight for minimum wage because I felt lucky to have an art job at all. I didn’t graduate with an art degree and am fairly new here in Los Angeles, so I lacked the artistic credibility and connections that many people need to establish an artistic career. I’d usually wake up really early, alternating shifts between the gallery, studio, and library.
At nights, I would nanny for a few local families. Children are hilarious and refreshing to be around when things get stressful, so I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with them. After that, I usually worked for a few more hours on personal projects.
Could you describe your workplace and management at the art gallery?
The art gallery owner was a paranoid and isolated individual who obsessed over his Instagram popularity and had suspicions about his friends sabotaging his career. He would constantly make comments about my body and how my face wasn’t symmetrical.
He was misogynistic and constantly sexualized women. After an artist visited the gallery, he told me that she wore shorts to be “slutty” for his attention. It was during the worst heat wave of the summer! Because of those comments, I wore the most ill-fitting clothes possible. It was particularly difficult in the summer because we didn’t have air conditioning so I boiled under the sun like an oven.
What kind of work did you do at the gallery?
I did everything for the gallery. I organized shoots, took photos for his jewelry line, typed up legal contracts, reached out to artists and art dealers, and assembled large plexiglass structures. I created a website for the gallery and for his jewelry line, I established a financial transaction system and updated all social media pages.
However, my work was met with constant criticism and negativity to the point of verbal abuse. I voiced my discomfort and discouragement multiple times, but he’d tell me how lucky I was to be working at a gallery without a degree and that no other boss would “deal with my shit”.
After months of fighting, I was finally able to raise my pay to minimum wage, but it didn’t get any easier. He was very racist and would complain to me about his Latino neighbors. It angered me to no end (I’m Puerto Rican). When I met his comments with shock and criticism, but he would usually get angry and defensive, saying that he was just joking and that I was too sensitive. He even refused to use an African-American model’s photos to promote his jewelry line because he thought the model was “too dark”. After months of criticism and gaslighting, that comment was the last straw. I walked out and never returned.
What about the clay studio?
As for the clay studio; the owner hired me over the phone before meeting me, and gave me the keys to the shop the first time I came in. That should have been a red flag for me, but I was very excited to learn about ceramics because I have always been interested in sculpting.
Thanks to that job, I was able to sculpt in my downtime to improve my skills. The owner was kind but had been involved in a nasty dispute with a former employee that left the studio without members. Former members warned me about the owner. Later, I learned the shop owner was listening to people’s conversations over a security camera and withholding important information crucial to run the business smoothly.
We had previously discussed the things I would work on when I came into the shop: renovating, organizing administrative information, establishing a billing system, updating the website, and establishing a firing schedule so that member’s work was coming out of the kiln regularly (the business had a bad reputation for being behind in firings).
However, when I began working there, the owner seemed reluctant to give me any access to financial records and give me passwords to software I needed to use. He also told me he wanted to postpone renovations. I found myself powerless, and his reluctance to allow me to fire the kiln myself kept us behind schedule. It was clear that he had trust issues. My title was studio manager, but I was really a glorified janitor, as well as damage control.
It wasn’t long until the owner decided he didn’t want me sculpting while I was working. I usually would finish all my daily tasks within an hour or two, so this left me hours with nothing to do. I knew I was being watched, so I ended up sitting in the back office sketching or sneak-sculpting so I could continue to make progress.
The building was deteriorating. When it rained, the place would be freezing and swamped with water and when it was hot outside, it was unbearable inside. Rats and pigeons nested in the ceiling and the walls, so when an animal died, it was all you could smell, but you couldn’t do anything about it because the corpse was in an inaccessible location. It was a nightmare. After a while, I grew restless and ended up leaving as well. Ultimately, it could have been a more rewarding experience than it was. Both jobs left me disappointed and unfulfilled.
Is what you’re doing now aligned to what you would want to do in the future?
Since my two creative jobs weren’t aligning with my goals, I decided to nanny part-time and spend the rest of my time focusing on how I’m going to monetize my art. I want to be my own boss, in charge of my own success and growth. I’m tired of being told what to do by older men who don’t care about my aspirations.
I’m enamored with sculpting, but ceramics can be a long, expensive process in which accessibility to equipment or being able to afford a membership is important to perfecting your craft. I decided to shift my focus to stop motion animation. Sculpting is an important part of stop motion, so I think this shift makes sense. I have a lot to learn!
Are you financially independent?
I’m so lucky to have a partner that’s supportive of my creative growth. I rely on him a lot right now since I’ve decided to focus my energy on monetizing my own art. Right now, I’m building my “empire” so to speak. I make earrings on Etsy, custom ceramic pipes and bongs. I’m in the process of creating a sound diffuser product and becoming a certified tattoo artist- all of which can potentially generate money over time.
It can be difficult to acknowledge that you aren’t the breadwinner in your partnership, but it also inspires me to work harder to show him how much I appreciate his support. My goal is to make enough money to contribute to our household.
What do you love most about your jobs?
I enjoy the social and artistic aspects; even when things aren’t ideal, I’m constantly being inspired by artists I met or growing within my own artistic space. As an artist, it’s easy to isolate yourself but it’s so important to put yourself in a social space with other artists!
Nannying is valuable to me because children are very raw, transparent, and funny- just the most authentic beings with intense emotion. They’ve had me reflecting about things I normally wouldn’t think twice about, like machinery, bugs, fashion, or fear. Spending a day with a kid is a great way to think outside of the box.
Teaching English at the library is valuable too. My student is in his 50s and worked hard to immigrate to the US with his family. He’s overcome so many hurdles and is starting his own business, he’s one of the strongest people I know. It’s hard for some to remain open to learning new things and it speaks volumes that he keeps putting himself out there to accomplish his goals.
What do you wish you didn’t have to deal with in your industry or jobs?
I disliked being a subordinate to people who didn’t care and being disrespected solely because I’m a woman. If I could give any advice, it’s to surround yourself with people that push and inspire you, instead of those who stifle your growth. I think there will be other opportunities for me in the future and I have to not allow myself to be discouraged by my past experiences.
The biggest lesson I learned from Elizabeth is this-
You deserve respect in the workplace too.
If your job is not fulfilling you and you aren’t getting the respect you deserve, leave. You are strong enough to bounce back. Surround yourself with inspiring people who push you up, not bring you down. A job is a job, but creating a fulfilling career is much more important in the long run.
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