© Photograph by Kathy Tarantola
Nicole Polletta is the Co-Founder of The Art of Change, a strategic consultancy focusing on fundraising, marketing and VIP relations for the art world and beyond. Previously she served as the inaugural Director of VIP Initiatives at the Peabody Essex Museum and inaugural Director of VIP and Sponsor Relations at FITZ & CO.
Nicole has successfully developed and managed high profile audiences and strategic partnerships for international institutions and organizations for over 15 years. She works with clients to establish the platform, messaging and outreach strategies to effectively engage the art world’s key opinion leaders and tastemakers. We loved hearing this entrepreneur’s answers, and we hope you enjoy reading this informative Frank Talk with Nicole too!
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first formal experience in the art world was as an intern in the Education Department at the Museum of Modern Art and my first paid job was as an Administrative Assistant at The American Friends of the Israel Museum, both in New York. Looking back, it’s still hard to believe how fortunate I was to have worked for two world renowned organizations at such a young age. Those were both formative experiences that had a significant impact on my career.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
At both MoMA and AFIM, I was able to work with an incredible variety of talented educators, curators, fundraisers, and special event planners. By being curious and offering to help with any task – big or small – I learned that in order to accomplish remarkable things, you have to master the seemingly miniscule things first. Each piece of a project requires attention, vision and detail and when done well, these elements culminate in a uniquely singular experience. Almost two decades later, I still utilize this approach every day for our clients at The Art of Change.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I grew up in a family of artists, so I was immersed in the arts from childhood. I lived just a short drive away from one of Calder’s foundries, Serge Iron Works, in one direction, buildings by McKim, Mead & White in another direction and the Louis Kahn designed Yale Art Gallery in yet another direction.
I didn’t realize the importance of these pieces of art and this architecture until later in life but even as a child I remember being in awe of them. By the time I went to college, I knew that I wanted to focus on art history and studio arts.
That being said, my studies really focused on the academic side of the art world so when I was given an assignment to visit the galleries in Chelsea and walked into Cheim & Read in 1998 for the first time, I immediately said, “Wow. I need to be here!” Just a few short years later, I started working at FITZ & CO in the heart of Chelsea, eventually becoming the inaugural Director of VIP and Sponsor Relations for nearly a decade.
What do you do now?
I’m the Co-Founder of The Art of Change, an innovative audience development consultancy. You tell us what audience you would like to grow within the art world, and we will create a strategy and work with your team to implement it and exceed those goals.
I’ve worked with arts organizations around the world for over 15 years specializing in marketing and VIP relations. My Co-Founder, Karen DeTemple, has worked with arts organizations around the country for over 25 years specializing in fundraising. Together, we both have extensive experience in partnerships and events.
We use our complementary skillsets to provide a comprehensive level of expertise to our clients. In a short time, we’ve been fortunate to build a diverse base of national and international clients that allows us to keep a finger on the pulse on a wide array of markets and sectors. Our work keeps us busy and on-the-go, but we absolutely love what we do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Connecticut and went to New York for college. After graduating, I worked in New York for almost two decades and in 2011, I moved to Boston to be with my fiancé and now husband. I love the East Coast and it’s always been the perfect home base to return to from wherever my travels may take me.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Life in the art world is not a 9 – 5, Monday to Friday commitment. My Co-Founder and I are constantly on the go to meet with current and potential clients, see exhibitions, and attend special events. We are also constantly connecting people – artists, curators, gallerists, and more. So even though the hours can be long, if an immersive experience where you can engage with a wide variety of people is something that you enjoy, then the art world is for you!
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
I’ve been fortunate in my career to have worked for a variety of arts organizations – artists, art fairs, biennials, foundations, publications, museums – and in a variety of places all over the world. All of these moments and experiences have greatly shaped who I am as a female entrepreneur. One of my most rewarding accomplishments has been to share these experiences and hard-earned knowledge by mentoring young women. Now more than ever, it feels important to ensure that they grow into leaders in this field.
What has been a challenge for you?
I’m always challenged to find enough time to do everything that I want! The Art of Change keeps me quite busy as there’s always another meeting that I want to have, another exhibition that I want to see and some other unexpected thing that comes up that I absolutely must do.
What is something you do every day at work?
Even amidst the mile a minute pace of my workday, I always find time to take a few moments to look at a piece of art. The magic and mystery of what an artist can create is the reason that I decided to pursue a career in this field in the first place. It keeps me grounded to that inspiration and keeps us at The Art of Change anchored to our mission.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
At The Art of Change, we look for employees who have passion for the organization’s mission and a willingness to work hard to create something larger than themselves.
A good boss is defined by someone who can not only craft a vision to steer their organization beyond the status quo, but who can inspire and lead their employees to realize that vision. A good boss realizes that the collective can accomplish far more than the individual and is able unlock the full potential of both their team to help realize the mission of the organization.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Having a passion for the organization and the field, possessing a strong work ethic, and being honest makes someone hirable to me. If someone brings those key elements, we’re confident that we can teach them the rest.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
To go above and beyond to get the job done. I’ve been doing this since I was an intern and I’ve continued to do it up to now for our clients. I’m writing strategic plans one minute and then helping to re-rearrange flowers right before the doors open for gala the next. No task is too big or too small to make sure that the finished product is as stellar as it can be!
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
Give back to your community – whether it’s through volunteering in the arts, social services, or another area all-together that matters to you. When I’m reviewing resumes, I want to see that the potential candidate is taking an active interest in bettering their community. That’s something we believe in as company: our tag line is “Building relationships is our art. Creating community is our passion.”
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Do your homework about your projects, your collaborators, your clients, and any other key aspect of what you’re working on. Being prepared and asking the right questions is invaluable to getting more involved. In turn, that will help position you to show your value to your organization.
It’s also important to put together a strong network of advisors who can mentor you as you follow your path.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
There have been so many great exhibitions, it’s difficult to choose one best so I’d like to share my three best by location:
Torbjørn Rødland: The Touch That Made You at Serpentine Galleries, London curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Amira Gad
There was something familiar about the visual language of these pieces but what they said together was so new and exciting. I especially loved the video 132BPM from 2005, that I could have watched all day.
François Morellet at Dia: Chelsea organized by Adjunct Curator Béatrice Gross with Assistant Curator Megan Holly Witko
This was minimalism at its best – simple yet surprising, delicate yet strong, all at the same time.
Legacy of the Cool: A Tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks at MassArt’s Bakalar & Paine Galleries curated by Darci Hanna
I’ve long been a fan of Barkley L. Hendricks work. So, to see his pieces alongside a selection of other leading voices of figurative artists of color was phenomenal.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
There are so many amazing artists so it’s difficult to choose just five, but the following is my list as of today:
- Gordon Matta Clark
- Louise Nevelson
- David Benjamin Sherry
- Shazia Sikander
- Jack Whitten
I chose these because they represent a variety of backgrounds, media, and periods and I would love to see them presented all together!