When Tiffany Williams ’07 was applying to colleges, she wasn’t thinking about the West Coast. When she was enjoying a bustling media job with NBC Universal at the famed 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, she wasn’t planning to leave it all behind to become a full-time artist and studio owner.
“I think the biggest thing I have learned on my journey that I would love to share with Baylor students is that they have done all of the hard work and taken the hard classes and are expecting to go to college and have some grand outcome, but life is not linear. Your career is not linear.”
The former Baylor Student Council president, Round Table member, and Community Service leader said her college counselor, Brian K. Smith, encouraged her to apply to the University of Southern California. “When I was thinking about colleges, he got me out of the mindset to stay local. When he presented the idea of USC to me, I was thinking, what is a Trojan?” she laughed. “But learning that I could move across country was a milestone.”
They (Baylor students) have done all of the hard work and taken the hard classes and are expecting to go to college and have some grand outcome, but life is not linear.
After graduating from USC with a B.A. in international relations and a minor in fine arts with an emphasis in painting, she moved to the East Coast to attend Sarah Lawrence College and started working as a page at NBC. “I have always been curious about women’s stories and was doing a master’s in women’s history while building my career at NBC,” she explained. Her work included management roles with “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and the 2012 Olympics in London. “I got exposure to so many things. As my career took off at NBC Universal, so did my passion for women’s history, and my desire to paint also began bubbling up.”
She was devoting more time to painting when a chance encounter at a party changed her course in life yet again. “A co-worker hosted a party in Queens, and a guest there told me that if I ever needed a creative retreat, she had a house in Georgia that I could use. It was around 2014, and I was feeling like I needed a transition. I was good at doing so many things, but not so good at doing things for myself.” Williams said she began to ask the question that would lead to her next bold move: “If I can be successful at building a career, why can’t I be successful at something I am passionate about?”
Williams took the brave step of quitting what many would consider to be a glamorous media job and headed to the retreat in Georgia to “reset and to paint.” For the next nine months, she painted while wondering if she could commit to art fulltime. “I knew I had the skill and talent but was missing something. I started reaching out to other black women about barriers – and realized that community isn’t inherent. I had one at Baylor and one at USC. So, I decided to create a space that I needed and that my peers needed as well to help with the barriers, such as exhibition opportunities, affordable studio space, and resources to produce art. I realized, too, that because I’ve been in corporate that I have a unique combination of being business savvy as well as creative and know that a lot of artists struggle with promoting themselves and their art.”
If I can be successful at building a career, why can’t I be successful at something I am passionate about?
Since 2016 she has been the founder and executive director of TILA Studios in Atlanta, a visual arts incubator that provides emerging black female artists in the metro Atlanta area with a co-working space and a shared gallery space. “We are in the growth phase now, so every day presents a new challenge. But really, for me, I am always seeking new opportunities for my members. I’m building alliances in the city of Atlanta and working toward policy changes,” she adds. “Georgia is among the lowest states in public art funding – it’s ranked 47 in the U.S.”
When she considers her drive and ability to evolve personally and professionally, Williams thinks of family. Raised by a single mother who earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, and a Ph.D. while putting her children through private schools, Williams says her mother “modeled what investing in education was.” Her sister, Jessica Williams, graduated from Baylor in 2006 and is currently in residency in pediatrics at UCSF.
Her thoughts also turn to Baylor – specifically Walkabout director Tim Williams, former Community Service director Joli Anderson, English instructor Chris Watkins, and former college counselor Brian K. Smith. “I talked to them about my dreams, and they never told me no. They taught me to explore who Tiffany could be.”