Jenn Tran (W '19) is the epitome of a Whartonite. Concentrating in finance, legal studies, and BEPP, and a member of the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club here at Penn, a career on Wall Street isn’t all that elusive for her. What makes her distinct from everyone else who only knows the buildings Huntsman Hall and Steiny–D, however, are her artistic ventures. A member of The Collctve and the local Philly Art Collective, Jenn has a passion that’s almost anything but the Dow Jones Industrial Average: art.
For Jenn, the art began at an early age. She would go “into the big kid’s area and get those 'How To Draw' books,” she recounts. Though much of her high school career was consumed with her life as a full–time athlete (clearly, a girl who can do it all), her artistic interests were revived her freshman year at Penn. It was here that Jenn knew she’d have more time to spend on her art. Starting with an Instagram account for her work, her art has since spiraled into something so much more than what she describes as merely a “backseat passion.” Not only does she produce art on a regular basis, but she also participates in art shows and public projects around the city. With her business knowledge, she’s also launched her own website to sell her art.
For someone so artistic, Jenn has only taken one art class, but it was one that set up her drive to continue with art. The class itself was about public intervention, and though she “actually hated the whole class,” one project in particular renewed her passion and allowed her art career to really take off. The topic? Do something for the public. So she and another girl went down to Rittenhouse and set up a huge canvas in the Square. Sprawled across the canvas were words telling the public to “come paint with us, come express yourself.” In her words, “the idea was that people would stop and watch me paint, and kind of glance over and be like, what do you mean come watch me paint?... Somebody would stop by and we’d be like ‘Hey, join us! We’re doing a project, come take a break, express yourself in the middle of the day.” At the beginning, Jenn was “super nervous” but the project was a huge success. Her piece reached an audience that spanned across social groups, from “old business men who literally came down and crouched on their knees to draw something or write something” to “multiple homeless people” to “teenagers and pretty young kids.”
While the project in Rittenhouse was an academic and artistic success, it also opened some professional doors for Jenn. “It was a great networking opportunity for me. I met a couple guys who hit me up to be in their art show.” After that, Jenn launched her own website, advertising original paintings she’s made, detailing public art projects she’s involved in, and even selling her work. “There’s definitely a business side to it. I’ve only sold a few originals, lots of prints, but I do sell it. I definitely try to harness the creativity and business mindset, and turn it into something more than just a hobby.”
With such a depth of involvement in art, it makes you wonder why Jenn plans on a purely Wall Street career path. But her answer to those questions makes sense. “I never don’t see art in my life,” she says. “I just never see it being a full–time career, because the best art that I have doesn’t come from something needing to be done. The best art comes from inspiration from somewhere, like spontaneous–type stuff.”
Still, Jenn actively finds ways to balance what she sees as an almost separate art life with her academic one at Penn. Beyond her participation in art shows around the city, she recently sat down with an art agency to discuss taking some of her projects to the next level. A public intervention project. Maybe even a book.
But these long–term goals aren’t all that Jenn has planned for her art this year. “I’m doing a mural in Brooklyn,” she said. “I’m going sometime this month. It’s pro bono work, but this guy has a blank space that he wants to be painted. And this company might bring up a squad to film it.” More of Jenn’s plans include a “sticker–bombing” revival of her street art projects “Take Your Broken Heart,” a sticker of Robin Williams with a message behind mental health, and “Silence is a War Crime,” one about the Syrian refugee crisis. These two projects highlight what Jenn sees as the theme of her art, saying “it’s supposed to invoke empathy and make people feel vulnerable.”
Jenn’s strong commitment to her art is impressive given her academic path, but she says the key to it is being confident in your work. “It was literally like telling myself to grow a pair. I realized I just needed to go out and put myself out there, and put my art on the walls.” But never was she alone in this process: she had an incredible group of supportive friends to share her art, a large part of which she credits to her sorority. A member of Chi Omega, she says she had “just gotten into a group of 200 girls.” So she “posted to our Facebook group and said ‘This is what I’m doing, I’d love some shares.” With the immense support she received, “that’s really what pushed me.” It allowed her art to gain even more recognition, which in turn, inspired her to continue.
When asked what she likes most about being a student artist, though, Jenn talks about the all of the opportunities there are off of Penn’s campus. “There’s so much in Philly. The different art shows that I’ve been a part of, the different people I’ve met. It inspires me to keep doing this. Living this art life is so different.”
So next time you walk around Center City, keep your eyes open for her Robin Williams stickers or her next public art project, and maybe find a little inspiration to pursue your own passions, whatever they may be.