Lily Scharff ’23 is a Fine Arts major with a minor in Textiles. She is a student ambassador, a member of the Student Engagement Committee, a Visionary Honors Scholar and a peer tutor for Visual Thinking and Color Theory classes.
This conversation has been edited for length.
Cathy Young: How did you get interested in textiles? How does that combine with a Fine Arts major?
Lily Scharff: I’m really interested in the integration of textiles and fiber specifically, something that seems more like a craft into something like fine art which is more prestigious.
CY: So when you make work, are you including textiles that you’re making?
LS: Yeah, a lot of the time I’ll be taking apart and resewing canvas, or crocheting something and then painting on top of that, things like that because I think it’s really interesting to look at a practice like crocheting or macramé, things that have been seen as like lower art forms—most likely because they have been traditionally work that has been delegated to women and people of color—and then integrate that into something that has traditionally been seen as a higher art form like oil painting and combine the two.
CY: Wow, so you’re deconstructing and then creating something new, that is amazing.
LS: I’m trying to!
CY: So tell me a little bit about your leadership roles on campus. I know that you have many.
LS: Yes! I have been working as a student ambassador with Admissions for probably 3-3.5 years now. What we do is act as a jumping off point for students who are interested in Moore, and guide them on their journey through learning about Moore, applying, into being accepted. So we do things like tours, and hold on-campus events like Open Houses. We were doing a lot of virtual events in the height of the pandemic. I’ve been doing that for a while now and I really enjoy that.
CY: It’s an incredibly important role, I’m sure you know. For a lot of these prospective students, they will identify Moore as you. You know what I mean? You’re their point of contact here and they fall in love with the school because they fall in love with you and the other ambassadors.
LS: I definitely remember when I was touring here and shadowed a class here, interacting with the student ambassadors felt so different here than other schools.
CY: How was it different?
LS: Everyone at Moore was just so inviting. I feel like we had such similar interests and lives, and it didn’t feel competitive. Even though I was talking to a student that was so much older than me, I was just a junior in high school, I still felt like we could be friends! They felt like they were truly engaged in what they were doing, like they wanted to be there and they wanted to be meeting with you, as opposed to some other schools where you can tell that the person who is doing it is kind of not happy to be there, not fully engaged.
CY: Awesome. So you’re an ambassador, what else?
LS: I’m a member of the Student Engagement Committee, SEC, we do a ton of different things that starts with orientation, so the first week that students are here on campus we kind of act like the first friends the students make when they get here.
CY: Oh I love that, first friends is so beautiful!
LS: Yeah! We help with move-in and things like that but we also do fun events like showing students the amenities on campus and teaching them about resources in the area like Sweat Fitness and where Blick is. Beyond that, I’ve done peer tutoring for a couple years, I peer tutored for the Visual Thinking class, a freshman class that happens over two semesters, which is a deep-dive into a single project. That’s a really fun class to peer tutor because everyone’s doing something so wildly different [laughter]. So you get to walk around and be like “hey what are you working on?” and see if anyone needs any help. Sometimes people do need help with more specific stuff, but a lot of the time someone will be like “can you take a peek at this? Does this look better or does this look better?” so that’s always great. It’s also a great way to meet the incoming freshman, because everyone has to take that class, so I met about half the freshman at the time and I’m still close with some of them. I have also peer tutored the Color Theory class, another freshman-level class. I love color theory, it’s like a fun puzzle for me so when they asked if I could help I was very happy about that.
CY: That’s fantastic, so you are really engaging with our incoming students right away. And then you can bring them into the Student Engagement Committee!
LS: Yes! Right now we’re working on a ton of events. We’re currently planning all the Halloween events for October, like the costume contest.
CY: Let me ask you, if I buy a generic Halloween costume just from a costume store, am I gonna totally lose cred with the students?
LS: [laughter] No, I think that coming in a costume at all will get you a lot of credit. I know the faculty and staff get excited about Halloween but we don’t always see them fully dressed up.
CY: I’m gonna do a full-on costume! It might be something that looks very mass-produced, but I’m going to do my best. [laughter]
LS: We’ll still definitely enjoy it. You’ll see a lot of us in costumes!
CY: I can’t wait! I know all of your costumes are going to be amazing. Next year my plan is to commission a couple of students way ahead of time to make me a costume.
LS: That’s such a good idea!
CY: I didn’t get on it quick enough for this year.
Okay so you talked a little bit about this with the ambassador that you had met, but what first attracted you and brought you to Moore?
LS: Definitely the sense of community. I think touring other art schools—because I was only looking at art schools—I felt that a lot of them had a very competitive energy, like you were competing for opportunities that felt like there wasn’t enough for everyone, and coming to Moore I felt like it was really abundant, that we all understood that there’s a place for every single one of us out there. There are a lot of roles for artists and designers, and that no matter how similar any two artistic practices are, we’re all different people with different interests and we’re all going to end up somewhere where we’re going to be happy and utilize our skills, so there’s no need for negatively competing with all of your peers. I feel like the supportive environment was different from other art schools that I had experienced, and that made it feel like Moore was the best place for me and the healthiest environment for me to create in.
CY: That’s beautifully said, and I love the idea that Moore has a mindset of abundance instead of a scarcity mindset. How do you think of yourself and your work now as an artist and designer as compared to when you started at Moore?
LS: I think going into Moore I had just made the decision that I wanted to go into the arts. I wasn’t sure for a really long time in high school what I wanted to do, then in the second half of junior year of high school I was like “I’m gonna do it, I’m going into the arts because that’s what makes me happy,” but I didn’t really have a direction of what I wanted to do with it or what specifically drove me to make art, like what I was interested and passionate about; I was just kind of doing a little bit of everything. And there’s nothing wrong with that—I still do a little bit of everything, but I definitely found a niche area that I’ve been exploring within the last few years here, and I can see it develop and grow throughout my time here.
CY: Let me ask you the same question about your leadership skills. You clearly have really developed your leadership skills here, does that feel different now from when you first came here?
LS: I have always been a naturally anxious person, I have always been like the artsy quirky kid growing up, so in my high school I wasn’t necessarily a popular kid, which kind of led me to shy away from doing any more responsibility-based leadership actions. Because I didn’t feel like I was welcomed in a lot of spaces in my high school, I kind of shied away from doing things like that. Then coming here, I love Moore so much that I wanted to help out, I wanted to be involved. I feel like it’s helped me grow so much as a leader, it’s helped me take on more responsibility, learn how to balance and tackle things. I was thinking about it a few nights ago, realizing I’m going to be graduating this year and thinking about how much I have changed as a person and it almost brought me to tears because I am a completely different person than I was when I walked in here four years ago.
CY: Well you’re bringing me to tears now! [laughter] And I think in my role, what you hope for is that we’re providing a life-changing education and experience for our students, and also that our students are able to fully be themselves here and that they do feel welcome here and that they feel embraced by the institution, so to hear you say that is just making me verklempt.
Can you describe an experience that you’ve had here at Moore that has shaped your career path or your goals for the future? Anything that really impacted you?
LS: I had a couple of different conversations with professors that lead me to have this really big realization, that may not actually be that big of a realization, it might actually be common sense to some people but it was a roadblock that was stopping me for some time. I remember I was having a conversation with one of my sophomore Fine Arts professors, Roderick Jones, he was talking about what is your artistic practice? And talking about like what is studio time? What counts as studio time? And for me, I’ve always thought that if I’m making work, or researching making work, there has to be some kind of output, like I have to see a result in order for me in my head to be like oh that was me working. And he was like actually everything you do is you working. You need to take breaks, that’s part of you working, sometimes scrolling through Twitter is you working, sometimes just sitting there and taking time for yourself, taking a nice shower and having a cup of tea, that’s working. Every part of you is part of your artistic practice, and hearing that and having that finally click in my head led to me feeling so much less guilty about working on things and maybe not having the output that I wanted, because it’s not just about product, it’s about everything that you do to get to that place. And once I started prioritizing all parts of my life as an artistic practice, it lead to me making work that I was so much happier with.
CY: So beautifully said. I think what you’re highlighting there is that as artists, it is our whole self that is coming through the work. It’s not a compartmentalized part of us. So attending to your whole self is attending to your work.
What is one major aspect of Moore’s history or legacy that you think will continue to endure and feel relevant in the future?
LS: Something that drew me to Moore from the beginning was our role as a historically all-women’s college. I think that our progression to focus on specifically underrepresented individuals in artistic spaces is something that stands out to me a lot. I feel like all of my life I’ve tried to be socially aware of things going on in the world and my place not just as a woman but as a white woman, and that I have a relative role of privilege to people around me, and that I can use that to uplift people that may not have come in with the same level of privilege that I have. So I think that’s something I will take with me is the mission of helping further the underrepresented, and I will say as a woman in the arts we are definitely underrepresented, but as a white woman, I have so much more accessible to me than a person of color or a gender nonconforming person. So to be able to help my friends and my peers that may not have the privileges that I have is something that I would want to take with me.
CY: What is your big dream for Moore in the future? If the sky was the limit, what would you like to see Moore do or be or become?
LS: I like that Moore is small, I think it would be nice to be a little bit bigger, but not too big, because a large part of why we have such a strong sense of community is because of our size. I would love for Moore to be more involved directly in Philadelphia. Being involved in events and community outreach in a way that we haven’t before would be really interesting, because so much of Moore is that we are in this amazing and vibrant city where the arts are so central. The students need the city and the city needs us.
CY: I completely agree. I do think we’re in such an extraordinary place. This summer when I first started, at lunch I would just go walk around to get a feel for where we are and what is around, and everywhere I walked, within a 30 minute walk radius, I found incredible public art, gardens, culture—so much to see. Philly needs Moore and Moore needs Philly.
What is your biggest piece of advice for future Moore students?
LS: Time management. I think that was the hardest thing for me coming in. Art takes a long time, and a lot of effort. And just because you put in a lot of effort doesn’t mean that it will turn out the way that you would like it to, which also was a big thing for me to learn, like “I’ve been working on this for ten hours, and I still don’t like it” vs. something that’s like doing a math assignment, once you answer all the questions, the questions are done. With an art piece you can keep going back to it. So I think it’s really important to learn how to prioritize what you’re doing and when you’re doing it so you’re not being pressed to the last minute. Art takes so long and so much effort and energy that it’s so easy to get burnt out, especially when you’re trying to complete all of your class assignments. When you’re working out in the world as an artist, you’re not going to have six classes with deadlines, you’re going to be doing things at a different pace, so this could be like the strictest pace that we’re working at, so I feel like if you can get this down, you can do anything.
CY: That is fantastic advice. I’m a choreographer and I’ll never forget reading an article by a reporter who had interviewed a well-known choreographer and their takeaway was “this person spent six hours in rehearsal with 15 dancers to generate 20 seconds of choreography” and it’s like yeah! This is not time efficient, creating. I think what you said, Lily, is so right on that one of the gifts that we have as artists, but also one of the challenges, is our internal voice telling us yes this is right or nope that’s not it. I think that most of us who are makers cannot and should not override that voice. We need to know that we love what we’ve created and what we’re going to share, but that makes it tougher for us too if we’re like I’m on a deadline and I have to get this done in three hours because if that little voice is telling you no, then it’s a no.
You give great advice, so let me now ask you: what is your advice for me as the new president of Moore?
LS: I think you’re doing an excellent job connecting with the faculty, staff and students so my advice is to continue with that. [laughter] I think it’s easy when you’re doing your job up here, you’re very busy, just to become separated, so I think your push to talk to the students and interact with the faculty, it helps keep you grounded. That is very admirable and something that we definitely need.
CY: Thank you, Lily. I need the help of student leaders to keep finding ways for me to connect with students, so if there’s an activity or event you want me to come to, let’s do that. The more I can hang out with Moore students in a casual way, the more I can understand who we are and what we should be doing.