Academics and Research

Senior Jillian Neilson takes her strong work ethic to new art career

Jillian Neilson was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim internship in Venice, where she’ll be moving this fall to work at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The French poet Charles Baudelaire once said, “Inspiration comes of working every day.” If that’s true, Jillian Neilson will have no problem with inspiration as she embarks on her career in art.

“I’ve never had less than two jobs at any given time for the past nine years,” says the senior, who will graduate this month with a dual major in art history and Italian, plus a minor in business administration. “I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve ever had, whether it was with the Denver Art Museum, being an arts and crafts summer camp counselor or selling items at Cirque du Soleil’s gift shop.”

Currently, her jobs include working as an undergraduate peer adviser at the University’s Office of Internationalization and teaching Italian language and culture in an after-school program. But wait, there’s more—she also is a nanny for two kids, ages 1 and 3.

Where does all the energy come from? “I’ve always been motivated to earn my keep, so having a job has always been very important to me,” she says. “When the job is enjoyable and fun, it’s easier to stay energetic.”

Nicole Hubbell King, the program manager at the Office of International Education, confirms that Neilson is not afraid of work.

“She throws herself into [her work] with energy and passion and finishes with style,” King says. “And as a peer adviser, she’s been an ideal role model for other students.”

All of Neilson’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year she was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim internship in Venice, where she’ll be moving this fall to work at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

There she’ll get hands-on experience creating and giving museum tours, leading educational activities with children, staffing various customer service positions and providing general support to staff in all departments.

“I’m beyond thrilled to return to Italy and pursue my passions,” she says. “Italy’s beautiful, full of gentle people who do everything with gusto and passion, whether it’s making a meal, having a simple conversation or just saying hello. I love being a part of that culture. Since I am such an emotional person myself, I feel right at home.”

She takes with her to Italy an already impressive background in museums, from her time spent working at the Denver Art Museum gift shop to her internship at museums in Rome while a student at DU.

“I think the experiences definitely played a part in my getting the scholarship,” she says. “I’m also excited to modernize my art history knowledge. The Guggenheim collection is one of the most important collections of 20th century art in Italy.”

Her love of Italian art began with Michelangelo after reading The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone’s biographical novel about the artist’s life.

A high school trip spent visiting Italy and its museums solidified her love of antiquities. “I knew from that point on I’d be studying art history and the Italian language as soon as I enrolled in college,” she says. “I was a confident freshman with two established majors coming in, and I never changed them. I’m excited to see where this opportunity will lead me.”

The undergraduate Commencement ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 9, at Magness Arena. For more information or to watch a live stream of the ceremony, visit


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