Art Consultants Help Advance Artists' Careers

Some artists are great at promoting themselves, finding buyers and generating attention to their careers. Hats off to them. For many other artists, however, having a middleman speak on behalf of their work is vital to their careers.

That middleman can be an agent or dealer (or gallery). That person might also be an art consultant. At times, art consultants are gallery owners and even museum curators who advise individuals and companies in the area of decorating or building a collection on the side. Those who are free agents, only serving the interests of their clients, generally don't have galleries and or represent particular artworks or artists; rather, they tend to work from their offices or homes, maintaining information (bios, slides, press clippings) on a variety of different artists whose work may be of interest to particular clients. Most focus exclusively on contemporary art -- works created by living artists -- while others will hunt through all styles and periods, depending upon the interests and budgets of their clients. "Our criteria for selection revolves around our clients' tastes," said Josetta Sbeglia, an art consultant in St. Louis, Missouri. "We hope we like it, too."
These clients are a mix of private collectors, corporations, law firms and health care facilities. "The healthcare industry is growing, and hospitals see the value of art and creating spaces that are more pleasant," said Talley Fischer, a sculptor in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, who has been commissioned to create large installations for a variety of health care facilities through art consultants hired by these institutions, who usually are brought in to help these institutions find artworks when in the process of building new or renovating existing spaces. Fischer noted that she promotes herself directly to art consultants.

Many companies prefer using outside consultants -- finding expertise through people who are members of the Association of Professional Art Advisors (, for instance, although quite a few advisors who are not APAA members or work as gallery owners also offer their assistance to private and corporate clients - to hiring their own in-house curators as a cost-savings move. These companies look to acquire artwork, because "art in offices enriches the lives of the people who work there," said Laura Solomon, an art advisor in New York City, who not only helps her clients purchase artwork, but will take charge of framing or installing pieces in the offices, rotating existing artworks around the offices from the collection and even putting together special exhibitions from it.

Consultants learn of artists in a variety of ways: They attend exhibitions at galleries, as well as at art fairs and juried competitions; they receive recommendations from other artists; they go to open studio events; and they are contacted directly by the artists, through the postal service, telephone or e-mail. Some consultants encourage artists sending them material, while others do not -- it makes sense to inquire by telephone or letter what, if anything, a particular consultant is interested in seeing before mailing a portfolio. Lorinda Ash, a New York City art dealer and consultant, said that "I get phone calls, FAXes and emails from artists all the time, but that's not how I ever become interested in an artist. I find artists through going to galleries."

On the other hand, Jennifer Wood-Patrick, an art consultant at the firm of Art Advisory Boston in Massachusetts, welcomes receiving material from artists but noted that "we have a limited amount of time for telephone conversations and sorting through packages sent by artists." She prefers emails from artists that describe who they are and include images.

"Tom is very busy, so I try not to bother him with things he won't be interested in." The Tom in question is Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial, an investment and wealth management company, and he and his wife Mary select all of the artwork - 2,400 pieces and growing - that adorn the one million square feet of office space at its St. Petersburg, Florida headquarters. The person trying not to bother him too much is Emily Kapes, curator of the art collection, who identifies the type of artwork (80 percent two-dimensional and the rest sculptural works in bronze, glass and stone) that often represent images of the American West and wildlife. She receives telephone calls, postal mail and email from artists and galleries around the country, all offering their artwork for purchase. "I can filter out the artists that usually wouldn't be collected," she said, "and, otherwise, pass things along to Tom. Tom is known for supporting living artists."

Emily Nixon, a Chicago-based art advisor, too, receives numerous communications from artists, but she tends to rely less on submissions from people she has never heard of ("I find that artists may not know what corporations want, and many are unfamiliar with contracts and pricing," she said) and more through visiting art gallery exhibitions, art fairs, auctions and receiving recommendations from people (artists, dealers, auctioneers) with whom she has had a long-time association. The artists who are of greatest interest to her "should be in a gallery and have had numerous sales." It doesn't hurt if these artists have sold work in the past to other corporations, although that is less significant than the fact that they are represented in a gallery.