Natalia Camacho H.

June 09, 2023
MPub graduate Natalia Camacho H. (Photo credit: Natalia)

Meet Natalia Camacho Henao, our newest MPub graduate whose experiences at SFU Publishing helped shape the spaces that she now occupies with a profound sense of joy, responsibility and freedom. 

“I love working for public institutions that celebrate art and culture. Since the Vancouver Art Gallery is an amazing cultural hub, it is a great place for me to learn and grow. All I ever wanted was to make books, and it didn’t matter what they were about. Now that I work as a publishing assistant, I wake up happy everyday because I get to do what I love.”

During our interview, Natalia discussed what led her to the MPub program and what awaits her next. As she receives her post-graduate degree today, she also celebrates a year of doing some incredible work the gallery. For her, life has come full circle.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

So, I am originally from Bogota, Colombia but I also lived in El Salvador in Central America. I did my Undergraduate studies in Communications, with a Minor in Publishing at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in my hometown, Bogota. Before coming to Vancouver for the Master of Publishing (MPub) program, I worked for almost four years at the National Library of Colombia with their digital publishing team. 

You are almost at the finish line! How does it feel to be graduating with a Master’s degree?

I am very excited! My family’s flying in from Colombia, which is very special. Yeah, I am honestly thrilled to be graduating. I am excited to have a proper convocation where I get to celebrate this milestone in my life with my family.

That is amazing! Can you give us a glimpse into the journey that brought you to this point? 

During my last semester at Pontificia, I got the internship at the National Library and eventually started working there. This was in 2018. You know you reach a point in life where you start thinking, “I can stay in my comfort zone and stick to this job that I’ve had or I can look for a different opportunity or go back to school.” For me, it was about going back to school. Although I really liked my job and I learned a lot, I thought I needed to keep up with the industry. So, when I decided to look for a program, I found the MPub, and here I am now.

It’s interesting that you decided to do a Master’s in publishing even though communications was the focus of your undergraduate career. How did that happen?

Well, it’s sort of a funny story. When I was doing my undergrad back home, I got into the Communications Major because it was the only program that allowed you to a Minor in Publishing. Looking back now, I feel fortunate because you hear people talking about how they studied something that they didn’t particularly like or enjoy. Even though I really wanted to do study publishing, I learned valuable lessons from my communication classes. Anyway, I always knew I wanted to make books - which is a part of the work that I currently do - so it’s great. I am happy that I took the MPub because it opened doors and gave me the opportunity to to pursue what I love. 

What did you like about the program? Did you have any favorite courses? 

Given the structure of the program and the size of the cohort, the faculty puts in a lot of effort to get to know you and understand where you're coming from. Not only do they help you learn whatever it is they are teaching, but they also encourage you to realize your full potential. While the faculty is incredibly supportive, the program itself encourages curiosity and collaboration. In my first semester, I had an amazing class with Hannah McGregorwhere we studied how the publishing industry works in Canada. Since I am not Canadian, I would always make references to Colombia and she encouraged that. She wanted us to bring our personal experiences to the classroom which was refreshing and useful. According to me, that is a great way to learn and expand our knowledge.

Besides the learnings and the opportunities, what else has the MPub program given you? 

Connections! For instance, I regularly meet John, our director, for coffee. It is nice to have built these relationships that I value. I felt and still feel very welcome by the faculty. They’re all incredibly nice and welcoming. As a student in the MPub, you get to build great connections with your cohort and other industry guests. The faculty professors are just as amazing and supportive. It is really nice to cultivate those close relationships with them. 

Are there any memorable moments you’ve held on to that you would like to share with us? 

Well, I think I look back very fondly on the book and the media project presentations. I think we were lucky to be a very friendly and united cohort. There was a time when the faculty too realized how close we were. In retrospect, I think we used every celebration as an opprtunity to bond and hang out with each other. While there were many special moments, the book project was one event that I will always remember. We presented our projects to our faculty and we had a reception right after that - it was really nice! Thanks to the MPub, I feel like I’ve made lifelong friends.

You also had the opportunity to work at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Is that internship ongoing? 

Yes! I work as a publishing assistant at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I first had the opportunity to intern there through the MPub program. Because of my background at the National Library of Colombia, I’ve always been interested in cultural heritage institutions, be it museums, libraries, or archives. When I moved to Vancouver to join the MPub, I started looking for an institution whose values aligned with my own interests and that is when I decided I wanted to work with the publications of a museum or an art gallery. 

As soon as I expressed my interest in the Vancouver Art Gallery, one of our faculty members helped me contact my (current) boss after which I got an interview and then the internship. My internship ran from June to September of last year and it took a similar path as my other one back home. Once the internship was up, they asked me to stay on as a part-time student and I agreed. I actually celebrated my one year anniversary at the Vancouver Art Gallery just last week. With my graduation and my (work) anniversary coinciding, everything has come full circle. 

What does being a publishing or publications assistant mean? How would you explain the job to someone looking in from the outside? 

In the simplest terms, Publishing is about making written content available. In regards to what I specifically do at the Art Gallery, I support all the publishing that goes on for their printed catalogs and their digital app. So, you know, when you go to any museum or gallery, you typically visit the gift shop afterwards. That is where you come across catalogs - with interviews, essays, art critiques, notes - of the art show you just experienced. Along with these materials, you might also find big and beautiful reprints or reproductions of the artwork. That is the kind of work I do with the gallery. 

Speaking of art, we are currently working on this beautiful hardcover; a volume of Parviz Tanavoli’s work. An Iranian Canadian artist, Tanavoli’s work will be featured at our upcoming exhibition which opens on July 1. Like I mentioned previously, the hardcover publication includes essays about him, his life, his relationships - everything about his practice. Our publication has amazing photographs of his sculptures, but what’s particularly fun about this specific one is that you get to see the entirety of the sculpture. What I mean by that is when you typically see a picture of a sculpture (David, for instance) you only really get to see the front of it. However, we decided to also include the back of the sculpture, which is not what people are used to seeing. 

When we see a sculpture in person, we get to go around it and see it from all sides, but if it is within a book, we only get a 2D version which usually presents the front of the sculpture. So, the idea is to recreate or replicate the feeling or the experience of an art show. For example, when you see a painting in person, you are able to observe the brushstrokes. Similarly, we work towards presenting those intricacies and nuances. Having said that, every catalog depends on the artists and the curator of the exhibition. For instance, we have a fashion fiction exhibition which is currently on view. Since every exhibition is different, it demands something unique of its catalog each time. 

Do you have any advice for current and future Publishing students?

Get ready because you are going to be reading a lot. Even though it is a publishing program and you would think people would know that already, I myself was surprised at the level of work, but in a good way. It may not be literature, but you still have to do plenty of reading. Another thing would be to get to know your cohort. Although the studying is important, most of the value comes from the relationships that you build through that process. You are not only learning from the faculty, you are also learning from your peers; the people around you who share a common goal. When you are in the program, time is fleeting, so make sure you cherish every moment. Let me leave you with a cheesy but honest advice - learn to appreciate and live in the moment! 

So, what’s next? 

Right now, I think I'm just going to enjoy not having to study for a grade. I love the MPub, but there is obviously this pressure to turn in your homework, which I am glad to not have to worry about anymore. But you never know. Studying is also something I enjoy, so I might just find another Master’s program to do. For now, I am keeping my options open. Celebrating this huge milestone with my family and friends is something I am excited about. Thankfully, I’ve taken some time off to do that. In regards to my plans, I look forward to being back at the gallery in two weeks to work on continue working on the two books I’d mentioned before. 

Lastly, is there anything that you’d like to highlight? Something worth noting, perhaps?

You know, people refrain from talking about money, but I think this is worth noting. Despite my international status, I had the same tuition fee as other domestic students which obviously made it easier for me to apply to the MPub. Although I have no knowledge about other programs at SFU, I can speak to our Publishing program. The faculty, including Jo-Anne (Ray), who is the manager and admin at SFU Publishing, is there to help. They understand that everyone is trying to do the best they can, especially post the pandemic. I can’t speak highly enough of the faculty as well as John (Maxwell) and Amanda (Lastoria), my supervisor for the MPub project report. I want to end by saying I will forever be grateful to the faculty and my cohort. You never know what could happen next, but I truly appreciate everyone for shaping the path that I am walking on today. 

Congratulations, Natalia! We are so incredibly proud of you! 

Learn more about the MPub program here