Kellie Riggs Explores Life After College in Lecture

Kellie Riggs combined the influences from her time at RISD and her time in in Italy to curate "Non-Stick Nostalgia" at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC.

Life after graduation is something that every college student worries about. What to do next and where to go with one’s degree are concerns that weigh down heavily upon hundreds of thousands of former college students. 

However, in a recent lecture sponsored by the Student Art Alliance, Brooklyn-based curator, writer and jeweler Kellie Riggs discussed her own career trajectory as a way for students to know that no path is set in stone and being self-made is possible. The lecture was held on Oct. 2 from 11 a.m. to noon in Lecture Center 102.

“I tried to focus on my self-made career path since I graduated from art school. I wanted to lay importance on the fact that you can invent your own career with self-initiated projects, the right networking and the will to be curious and wanting to create platforms for people,” Riggs said. 

Riggs began her lecture by discussing her background at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), receiving a BFA in Jewelery and Metalsmithing, learning about the field of contemporary art jewelery after studying abroad in Italy, and becoming involved in the Padua jewelery scene. After graduating from RISD, she received a Fulbright Grant and based her research around this scene.

“I was interested in placing Italian contemporary goldsmithing in like an art history canon versus a jewelry canon,” Riggs said. 

However, Riggs highlighted some of the issues she faced in her research.  

“I’m not an arts historian,” Riggs said. “So that was like a weird idea I had, and I wasn’t really hitting the books.”

Riggs continued to study the jewelry scene and its relation to modern art and published some of her work in the Dutch jewelery magazine Current Obsession. As Riggs explored the contemporary jewelery scene, she took note of how insular the community was, and how impenetrable it was to outsiders, describing it as ‘cult.’ 

“To explain it like a cult is an easy way to describe its subcultural value,” Riggs said. “People travel from all over the world to see it, to make shows about it, but the field remains hidden from art [and] jewelery at large, and it’s not as institutionally valued as ceramics or fine art, or fashion even.”

“I use the cult metaphor like ‘cult cinema,’ like the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ So this kind of jewelery is the cult version of jewelery,” Riggs said. She also curated a project focused on this ‘cult’ theme, aptly titled “Cult.” She found the nature of jewelery cultish in of itself, in that it allows self-expression while emphasizing devotion to the jewelry in question.

In the lecture, Riggs also covered the most recent exhibit she curated that was presented at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), titled “Non-Stick Nostalgia.” The exhibit was inspired by the optimistic view of technology and the future around the Y2K era. People saw the future as bright, fluorescent and way ahead of the curve. “Non-Stick Nostalgia” featured 29 artists whose works portrayed this idyllic future.  

For Riggs, this exhibit was set up in three parts. “The first [part] was tapping into the idea of nostalgia, and how it’s relative to each person. For millenials, we were doing all of our identity formation on the early Internet, like making screen names and [being] in chat rooms,” Riggs said. 

“There was this attitude that the future was tomorrow, and so I wanted to create a space that was reminiscent of that dreaming as a kid in that time, like dreaming about tomorrow,” Riggs said. 

The second part of the show covered the conflicts that new technology causes, such as device attachment and how we’re becoming more dependent on technology. Finally, the third part covered the concept of digital avatars and combining them with minimalist jewelry.

Ultimately, Riggs sees modern exploration of the Y2K essence as something more pressing in our culture. “From an aesthetic value, this Y2K essence thing is really popping up, and I think it’s more than an interest in the aesthetic,” Riggs said. “It’s really about missing feeling optimistic about tomorrow, because we don’t anymore.”

Riggs currently doesn’t have any plans for curating upcoming shows as she is currently attending graduate school. She is also organizing a symposium in Brooklyn regarding jewelery and how it is worn.

Riggs hopes that students walk away from this lecture more willing to take chances on their future. “I would just encourage [students] to say ‘yes’ to experiences and opportunities,” Riggs said. “That’s a lesson I’m still learning, just like say ‘yes’ [and] be open.” 

The student art alliance will continue to host guest lectures throughout the semester. The next one will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 23 by painter Geoff Chadsey. The final two will be held on Nov. 13 by Leigh Craven and on Nov. 20 by Sophia Narrett. More information can be found at