Being an artist is a serious profession, but too often, many of the skills needed to succeed are not taught in art school.
For most artists, balancing studio time with career opportunities can be overwhelming, especially when they are self-directed.
Fortunately, this is where entrepreneurial groups like Ninth Street Collective (NSC) can help artists by providing them with tools to learn the business of art. With a focus on professional development, the Collective, founded by five female members, fortifies emerging and mid-career artists by generating long and short term goals, creating action plans and strategizing career paths.
From identifying exhibition opportunities to revising artist statements to self-marketing via social media, NSC functions as an essential resource for artists.
We spoke with the members of NSC about the genesis of the collective and what they see next for the art world:
Who is NSC?
Our five founding members are Courtney Childress, Audra Lambert, Shama Rahman, Melinda Wang and Heather Zises (our Pregame Arts Editor!). Together we have collaborated on exhibitions and workshops in the past, and bonded through our shared goal to advance the standing of emerging and mid-career artists.
How did you come up with the name ‘Ninth Street Collective’?
The name of our organization honors the Ninth Street Show in New York City in 1951, a ground-breaking exhibition that pushed American art to the art world’s center. For more information about the exhibition, please visit: Phaidon.
What was the impetus behind creating NSC?
The professionalization of the art world has created challenges for artists. NSC makes more accessible the services that are typically reserved for artists who are working directly with galleries, dealers and museums. Artists will receive specific and actionable advice from the collective’s members so they can spend less time on the business aspects of their careers and more time on their work.
Do you serve all artists, or only visual artists?
We serve all artists, but focus on visual artists and moving image artists.
What’s on deck for NSC?
We will be at the 4th Annual Independent Art Book Fair on September 21 & 22 in Brooklyn, sharing some of our favorite professional development books. Stop by to say hello and learn more about our services. The fair is free and open to the public. This fall, we will be launching an initiative for artists who focus on socially-engaged art and social practice. We’ll also be adding to our database of online resources for artists.
Are you optimistic about the future of women in art?
Heather Zises: I think the tide is changing and the concept of the glass ceiling is becoming increasingly harder to validate. From the Me Too movement to the political sector, women are making noise! It is an exciting time to be a woman in the arts because our hard work from the past feels like it is finally paying off. Were it not for trailblazers like Gloria Steinem, bell hooks or Pina Bausch, we would not be where we are today. This sentiment was one of the main reasons I co-authored 50 Contemporary Women Artists (Schiffer, 2018), a publication which features a selection of women artists and architects who have made groundbreaking contributions to contemporary art.
What has art lost in its lack of diversity in history?
Shama Rahman: This question is heavy and I had to come back to it multiple times to even try to scratch the surface with an answer. My gut feeling is to say…everything. Barriers of access for marginalized folks to engage with art, create art, write about art and see themselves in both artworks/ histories of art in mainstream avenues (institutions, schools, white box spaces) has meant those who are not heavily represented in the western canon (which is extremely white, cis, straight, ableist and rich) have had to create their own opportunities and communities to engage with creative forms. They are part of the history, but it means they are excluded from being celebrated/funded/promoted in the mainstream histories we hear about most and that often have longstanding legacies beyond the present. How can art history be complete if it doesn’t include everyone?
Who has been a mentor to you?
Audra Lambert: I look to innovative former curators who felt empowered to go against the mold when I’m planning out steps to revitalize an artist’s career, center on funding strategies for creatives or evaluating what an artist is communicating through their statements. Formative curators and art scholars I admire and look to as a model include Marcia Tucker and my own grad school professor Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, formerly of the Museo del Barrio. I see them as examples of fearless women in the arts unafraid to leave their imprint on the greater art world and seek out new opportunities for artists to succeed.
What opportunity was a game changer in your career?
Audra Lambert: Definitely striking out on my own as a consultant after consulting for art projects associated with major hotel chains, BMW, art shipping firm Crozier and in conjunction with public agencies such as NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs and the NYC Dept of Parks & Recreation was an empowering decision that has allowed me to reframe the expertise I gained working inside these agencies to better inform artists’ decisions as they take their careers into their own hands!
Shama Rahman: Leaving the art world (particularly museums since I worked at the Guggenheim and the Whitney) was a true game changer for me. My mental health improved, my perspective about creative fields expanded and I was finally able to separate my passion for artists from my daily grind, which meant I could do more for those I cared about without it getting wrapped up with my day job. After 2+ years working in marketing roles in media (first at The New York Times and now at The Wall Street Journal), I’ve made relationships with folks I would have never met if I stayed on a linear path, honed in on my transferrable skills and learned to be emotionally removed from my work, which has ironically given me brain space to do work with the art world I actually want to do.
Whose work is inspiring you right now?
Melinda Wang: I’ve been incredibly inspired by Hito Steyerl’s writing, films and installations on the most critical issues of today, including surveillance and privacy, art in the age of digital globalization, hyper-capitalism, the boundaries of institutions and the mutability of images. I’m in awe of her flexibility and dexterity with multiple mediums across such a breadth of subject matters. I hope more artists will experiment as Steyerl does, and leverage their opportunities to speak truth to power as she has.
Heather Zises: I’m continually inspired by the practice of women artists I have been so fortunate to work with throughout the years. Right now I am very taken with the ethereal and meditative nature of performance artist April Marten (who has a solo show opening at Monica King Gallery on September 6th) and I am thrilled to engage in conversation with pioneer photorealist Audrey Flack next month at The National Arts Club about how women artists of all ages are redefining themselves in today’s marketplace.
How will the industry change in the next decade?
Melinda Wang: I’m hoping that there will be increased transparency in all aspects of the art world. There have been huge strides towards a more transparent art market, in terms of sales history and provenance, but much remains opaque. We have had many conversations with artists, collectors, galleries and institutions about “bad behavior” caused by an asymmetry of information — much of which could be eliminated if there were agreements in place, artists and gallerists had a clearer understanding of each others’ needs, collectors had easier access to pricing information and authenticity was not a concern, among other things. Many initiatives are trying to address these problems, including our organization. I also hope that in ten years’ time, there will be a workable solution for artist resale rights in the United States, providing royalties to visual artists for secondary sales of their work.