The school of life

Story/Video posted April 21, 2019 in Arts & Entertainment by Ronny Boudiab


Across the bar, in a casual top and platinum blonde hair, Erin Tillery nurses a driink. To the naked eye she could be a cliche, just another girl out on the town. With a closer look it becomes abundantly clear that Tillery is doing a lot more than sipping a vodka soda.

“The thing that’s so great about the bar scene is that it creates an easy-going atmosphere,” Tillery said, “it gives you the opportunity to meet someone that could change your life.”

Through effortless confidence and an intellectually attentive social skill set, Tillery says she considers every bar she steps into to be a job fair. She utilizes her flirtatious and infectious personality to befriend people of all walks of life — knowing that it may only takes one good connection to change her life.

Tillery’s outspoken nature, seems effortless now. For her, it's the natural reaction to surviving childhood in an unstable home. Safety wasn't a given, so Tillery quickly mastered the art of being self-sufficient

“My sister struggled with a lot of mental issues and self harm habits that I triggered,” Tillery said, “it really took a toll on me and drove us apart.”

Tillery was kicked out of her home by her father at the age of 18 after failed suicide attempt by her sister. She enrolled at Penn State Altoona to begin her education as an art history major.

“Art is one of the only things my dad and I ever bonded over,” Tillery said, “even in the eye of the storm, we could both agree on the emotion a Brice Marden piece evoked in us.”

Tillery works at the the Philadelphia Art Museum. She says she is still awed by what she sees as she walks through the building, a stroll that can generate a cascade of emotions.

Though her appreciation for art remains strong,  her interest in Penn State dwindled.  She says she felt limited by the social scene on the branch campus. She dropped out shortly after her third semester.

She took a semester off and applied to several schools in Philadelphia and in New York City. She began bartending at a well-known bar next door to her new apartment in Philadelphia.

“One night I served this guy that came in a gin and tonic,” saidTillery, “we got to talking and next thing I know he’s asking me to apply to his gallery for an assistant job.”

She took the job, but wanted to return to school. She was able to do social media and marketing from Philadelphia and made time to go back to school at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her work for the art gallery helped to inject her into the art scene in Philadelphia.

Two years later, Tillery is looking forward to graduating to begin the next chapter of her life. She has used her connections to land an internship as a gallery assistant in Berlin, Germany.

She looks forward to travel. “Home is where I am,” Tillery said.

“I truly never would have gotten anywhere had I given up and stayed in my room when things got rough!” Tillery said, as she took a sip of her vodka soda and scanned the bar to see who she should meet next.

Photo Gallery: Travels with Erin




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