Dynamist Blog

Jobs No One Expected

The LAT's Steffie Nelson profiles Vanessa Gonzalez, who creates and coordinates events for the Museum of Contemporary Art:

As MOCA's development events manager, coordinating an average of 35 events a year, Gonzalez is more rock 'n' roll chick than art geek, with her platinum hair, platform shoes, high-gloss lips and vanity plates that say "GR*UPIE." Over the past five years, she's produced events that have made MOCA one of the hottest social tickets in town, like this past fall's "Skin + Bones" fete, which attracted such A-listers as Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. With the growing L.A. art scene, the museum's membership has also shot up, which, according to MOCA's director, Jeremy Strick, can be linked in part to "the unique atmosphere Vanessa helps to create."...

A first-generation Mexican American who was raised in Monterey Park, Gonzalez, 31, found her special events calling early, directing her cousins in plays and turning the family abode into a haunted house for Halloween — "with soundtracks that I created the day before, and all-out lighting effects." Costumes too, of course. "Absolutely! I would raid my mother's closet, and of course I had no idea when I was 7 who Karl Lagerfeld was, but I was wearing it!"

After finishing her theater degree at Cal State Fullerton, Gonzalez moved to London with four suitcases--one containing just shoes--to immerse herself in the Brit pop scene. She helped launch Ian Schrager's first international boutique hotel, St. Martin's Lane, returning home after she'd pushed her visa to the limit. Through the newspaper she found a job in MOCA's visitor services department, and two years later she began producing donor and fundraising events.

This is the kind of job that no one ever imagined as a serious career 20 years ago--and that people still don't think of when they ask, "Where will new jobs come from?" The new sources of jobs are much more fragmented than the old, and more and more of them involve creating experiences rather than stuff. These event-planning jobs are increasingly common, as organizations realize that what people will pay for these days is in-person attention. I seem to get at least two internal emails a week advertising events-related jobs at Atlantic Media.

For insights into the underlying dynamics, see Fred Turner's 1996 Reason article on the "charm economy," and Neal Stephenson's brilliant, hard-to-find, and probably illegally posted story, "Jipi's Bad Day," originally published in the 80th-anniversary issue of Forbes in 1997. (I still have the issue, though it's 1,245 miles away at the moment so I can't check the story's title.)

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