Alumni Feature – Allison Milham (MFA ’12)

Allison Milham, MFA '12
Allison Milham, MFA ’12

We are delighted to feature another wonderful alumna from UA SLIS this month: Allison Milham. She graduated in 2012 with an MFA in Book Arts. She is currently a visiting instructor in the Book Arts department during Professor Embree’s sabbatical.

Allison is currently teaching two courses – one in bookbinding and one in letterpress printing. “Previously, I’ve taught book arts at Colorado College, The University of Utah and Florida State University. I’m really enjoying working with the graduate students here in SLIS and getting to spend time in these great studios again! In the summer of next year, I’ll return to Colorado College to teach a book arts course at a guest instructor. I’m also currently in massage school and plan to start working in that field next year as well.”

We are now at the year and a half mark since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and people of all ages and occupations are still feeling its effects on their lives. “COVID-19 has shifted things for me as an artist and educator and has—as is the case for all of us—forced me to be much more flexible and more adaptable with how I approach work and other responsibilities I have in my life. Several commitments (teaching, artist residencies, etc.) were canceled and/or pushed back due to the pandemic, including my coming here to UA. I’ve been lucky to have had a fairly steady flow of commission work throughout the pandemic including printing and binding freelance gigs that have helped keep me afloat.”

Allison said if she could come back to UA to take any one class, she would love to take Professor Kyle Holland’s Contemporary Papermaking course. “I learned papermaking with Steve Miller when I was in the program and just fell in love. In the class I took with Steve, we were primarily focused on pulling consistent, beautifully formed sheets to be used for printing and binding applications. But I love the idea of papermaking as an art form in and of itself. I’ve been seeing some of the work students are making in Kyle’s class this semester and there’s some stunning pigmenting and pulp painting going on!”

Allison’s advice for current and prospective students is mostly directed towards those who a pursuing, or are interested in, the MFA or Certificate in Book Arts program, “It’s a good idea to think hard and creatively about how you will use your degree and skills to support yourself in the future. The Book Arts is a very small field, which, on the one hand is wonderful because it means we have a very tight-knit community and it’s relatively easy to connect with folks. But on the other hand, there just aren’t that many opportunities for steady employment. I think many students have hopes to go into teaching following their MFA, but the reality is that teaching opportunities are limited, especially full-time/tenure positions. The good news in there are many other avenues and ways to plug in with the unique and advanced skillset we gain through this program. There are positions in book conservation, in community arts outreach, and lots of possibilities for getting your own business going in job printing, small press publishing, book binding and repair work, graphic design, etc.”

“It’s a really good idea if you’re wanting to be self-employed to take business classes and learn all you can about how to be successful in marketing, sales, and all the things that tend to be a challenge for us artists! I also encourage students to get creative about how they might make a living. It’s possible to do a number of things to make it work. I have a friend who is a letterpress printer. Part of the year he makes prints and teaches, and then the other part of the year he drives a commercial boat, and that’s how he’s able to get by. I know folks who wait tables or do other side jobs in-between work in the arts and education. It’s a tough time right now, but there are lots of ways to make it work—you just have to be flexible and creative. I think above all, it’s important to be clear about what you desire for yourself in this life and what unique gifts you have to offer to the world. Then try your best to figure out how to make it work from there.”

We thank Allison for giving us the time to learn more about her and the work she is doing. We can’t wait to see where your Book Arts journey takes you!