Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

October 6, 2004:

Since changing careers, Sara Sill ’73 has had two solo art exhibits. (Courtesy Sara Sill ’73)

Sara Sill ’73’s Mountain Birds collage started with two photographs of walls in Saluzzo, Italy.

From Wall Street to Carnegie Hall
Law career behind her, Sara Sill ’73 now lives in art world

After college and law school, Sara Sill ’73 had been handling corporate contracts, public offerings, and mergers and acquisitions as a corporate lawyer in New York. The work was interesting but not personally compelling.

In the mid-1980s, she read a New York Times article about a nonprofit organization, Young Concert Artists, that helps unknown musicians break into the public arena and gain the experience, publicity, and contacts necessary to make successful solo careers. Sill, who had played the piano since childhood and majored in architecture at Princeton, called the director of YCA to arrange a meeting. Within months, she had left Wall Street behind to become the organization’s director of development and finance. Of the career change, Sill says, “I never looked back.”

Because many of YCA’s performers have had no professional experience outside their conservatories — some don’t even own formal concert attire — Sill helps some of them shop for their first tuxedos or gowns. The musicians also must learn how to shake the conductor’s hand, how to deal with adoring fans, and how to handle both good and bad reviews. “They have the talent,” says Sill. “It’s the rest — the exposure, the polishing of the raw stone —that is up to us.”

Of the 300 to 400 musicians who audition each year, only three or four are selected by YCA. Among the musicians YCA has promoted are soprano Dawn Upshaw, pianist Murray Perahia, and the Tokyo String Quartet.

Surrounded by people making art, Sill has rediscovered her own creative energies as a visual artist. She had drawn and painted in her youth, but she didn’t have time during college and while practicing law. “It was a part of my soul that I put away,” she says. In the mid-1990s, during a trip to see the Parthenon in Greece, she started drawing again. “I was surprised how much was still in my hands,” she says.

Since then Sill has had two exhibits at the National Arts Club in New York. Her recent works are collages inspired by summer trips to Europe. She photographs statues, boats, restaurant tables, local scenes, and lots of buildings and architecture elements. When she returns to her New York apartment, she cuts and pastes her photos to make collages. She then enlarges those collages and glues them onto museum board or transfers them onto etching paper. With paint and brush she accentuates or edits the photos, sometimes adding elements that weren’t actually there or blurring or deleting extraneous details. “I use paint to suggest what I saw,” she says. Some of her artwork incorporates everyday items that she collects during her visits: food labels, a piece of film, a ticket to a show.

Although Sill, who was born in Israel, long ago left corporate law, her former self — dressed in a pink ruffled blouse with a demure tie — popped up in her exhibit last May. In a self-portrait she had glued photos of herself from different periods into windows of a palazzo in Venice.

By K.F.G.