In this week’s Frank Talk we sit down with Laura Bennegadi, who is the Co-Founder and CEO of ArtBound Initiative, a global internship program which connects students with key players in the creative industry in New York, Berlin and Hong Kong. Laura grew up in Paris and holds an MS in International Strategic Management from the Sorbonne University. Based in New York since 2011, Laura worked in the theater industry as an Associate Producer on three shows, including The Band’s Visit, winner of Best Musical and 9 other Tony Awards in 2018. From 2013 to 2017, she was the Assistant Director of the T. Fellowship program, in association with Columbia University School of the Arts. She is now chair of the board of the nonprofit Good Food for All. We are thrilled to share this rockstar CEO’s Frank Talk with you here!
What was your first job in the Arts?
I started my career in theatre as an associate producer. I worked for two theater producers on several Off-Broadway shows, including The Band’s Visit, which since has moved to Broadway and just won 10 Tony Awards in 2018, including Best Musical.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
I learned quite fast that you need to build a solid pool of investors and donors who believe in you and support your projects if you want to become a successful creative producer or initiate major cultural projects. Fundraising was a fascinating process for me to learn as I come from France were most cultural projects are publicly funded.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I was born and raised in Paris where I graduated from a Masters in Management at the Sorbonne University. I moved to New York upon graduation, as it was always the goal for me. I knew very early on that I wanted to be involved in the creative industry somehow but my exact career path was not clear then, as I’m sure it is for many recent grads. I started into the theater industry by chance, when I got a job for a venture capitalist who was producing theatre and supporting cultural projects in the city.
What do you do now?
I am the Co-Founder & CEO of ArtBound Initiative, a global internship program. We connect students and recent graduates with key players in the creative industry in New York, Berlin and Hong Kong. You can read more about the program at www.artboundinitiative.com
What is the arts community like there?
I grew up in Paris where the art community is quite vibrant but very insular and inaccessible. The best thing about France is that people are able to launch cultural projects even if they do not have the funds or access to wealth. All they need is to understand the system and know how to apply to public funding; there are several funds available for exhibitions, performances and film developments both in France and Europe.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
I think it’s more my journey which has shaped what I do today vs. where I come from. Having worked in the theater industry and then transitioning to the art world when meeting Nicole Cohen, Founder of the Berlin Collective who was connecting students with artists and galleries in Berlin. We decided to launch ArtBound Initiative to create a dedicated internship program in the arts with real added values such as professional coaching, travel support and networking events for the participants.
It’s a full circle for me to work on ArtBound Initiative since I wished a program like this was in place when I first came to New York and tried so hard to find a company in the industry who could sponsor me for a visa. It would have been valuable to have a support system to help me get a foot in the door. As soon as I was in, the rest of my career went much smoother.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Spend your time and efforts cultivating your mentors and your network in the industry. It should become a daily part of work; the art industry is really all about your connections. And it doesn’t have to be fully inaccessible if you’re not the daughter or nephew of an important art dealer. There are several ways of building a network from scratch and that is something we’re touching upon a lot with the participants of ArtBound Initiative.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
Having co-founded ArtBound Initiative and having the honor to mentor over 50 students and recent graduates so far in the launch of their career. Our participants are now working in several creative fields and pursuing their studies all over the world. They will soon become leaders of their industries. There is nothing more rewarding then seeing one of our participants getting great work opportunities and launching projects on an international scale.
What has been a challenge for you?
Making sure we build ArtBound Initiative as a sustainable and relevant program to emerging creative professionals. The challenge when you work with the new generation of artists, designers, filmmakers, producers, is to always stay up to date and understand the new tools available to them to progress.
What is something you do every day at work?
I facilitate connections between our participants, alumni and other creative professionals for them to broaden their network on a daily basis. I also contact our network of organizations, artists and designers in New York, Berlin and Hong Kong to see if they are interested in hiring our participants.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
No complaints so far. I’ll keep you posted on that one!
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee is someone who goes beyond their scope of responsibilities and daily tasks if they think it will benefit the organization. A good boss is someone who values the sense of initiative and who understands the importance of surrounding themselves with people smarter than them.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
When they really tailor their pitch and materials to the organization they are applying for. When I see generic cover letters or resume that do not look specific to the position advertised, I always know that people didn’t put effort in preparing for that opportunity.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Be specific and focused in your pitch. No one will chase you later to see if you really did what you said you would do. Many young professionals try to remain quite broad to try to have as many opportunities as possible but professionals’ value someone who is trying to be specialized.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
Have your mentors look over it and give you feedback. Show it to people in the industry and ask them for advice on how to improve it. Resume coaching is crucial when you launch your career.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Gather as much information as possible about the different positions within your company to have a greater understanding of your career perspectives. Based on that, start strategizing your outreach to see how you can get to that specific position faster. Do all this while staying humble and subtle of course.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
- Ren Hang
- Kerry James Marshall
- Tony Oursler
- Egon Schiele