This week we chat with Sophie Lucas, who is the Fair Director at The Other Art Fair, an international fair for emerging artists presented by Saatchi Art. Sophie leads the Brooklyn and Chicago editions. Over the past seven years, Sophie has been instrumental in developing the international editions of The Other Art Fair in Australia and the US. In 2018, she successfully launched the Chicago edition at Mana Contemporary, Pilsen, and re-positioned the Brooklyn fair to present as a key satellite fair during Frieze NY week.
Sophie has curated a variety of artist-led projects, working with artists from across the globe, and coordinated cultural partnerships with organizations such as Soho House & Co, The Big Issue and the Inside Out project. We are excited to share Sophie’s insight about working in the art world with you here! Enjoy and stay cool!
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first full-time paid job was actually at The Other Art Fair. I joined the fair in 2012 as the first and only official employee (I could claim the title of ‘employee of the month’ every month )
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
The importance of meeting people face-to-face (when possible). I have worked on fairs in multiple cities: each edition comprises 100+ artists, many local partners and several key sponsors. It is a challenge to manage these relationships but every fair cycle highlights the value of talking directly to people.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
My foray into fine art actually began when studying for my Music undergraduate degree. My dissertation focused on Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and as part of this topic, I explored the cultural movements of fin de siècle Paris. This led to a M.St in Art History and, from that point on, I knew I wanted to work in the visual art world.
What do you do now?
I am the Fair Director for The Other Art Fair, Brooklyn and Chicago. I oversee all aspects of our fairs in these cities: artist selection, curation, production, marketing, and more. I work with a small but incredible team!
Where are you from?
I am originally from Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town in the heart of the United Kingdom.
What is the arts community like there?
The history of the town is so unique thanks to the most famous former resident! – William Shakespeare. History and theatre are truly a part of life there.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
It has given me a love of culture and a belief that art endures – even over 500 years!
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Don’t hide behind emails and social media. There are so many fantastic exhibitions, fairs, open studios and lectures out there. You never know when you will be inspired.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
Launching our Chicago fair last September. I had no connection to the city so, in preparation for creating this brand-new fair, I spent a lot of time in Chicago and spoke to as many people as possible to ensure our fair felt connected to the community. It was a challenge but also an incredibly exciting experience! I love the architecture, the art and the history of the city.
What has been a challenge for you?
Moving to New York and running the fair from a small WeWork room! (Since then, the team has grown and we now have our own office space).
What is something you do every day at work?
Whilst much of our planning is organized on spreadsheets, I still use a notebook with squared paper; at the start of each week, I divide the page into four squares and plan out the key tasks. It is a good way to visualize and prioritize tasks every day.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
We once worked with a taxidermy artist (the talented Elle Kaye) and had to transport the frozen mice from an off-site fridge to the fair for visitor classes. I am very squeamish about taxidermy so this was not an ideal task!
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good boss is someone who understands the strengths of an employee and shapes the role to suit these skills, hence maximizing the potential of the individual. Similarly, a good employee is aware of their skills and proactively uses these to contribute to the team.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Thinking specifically of the fair… I am impressed when it is clear from an individual’s application why they would like to work with The Other Art Fair beyond a general interest in art. This could be demonstrated by a past project or role.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
It is wise to undertake individual research into the project that the team is currently working on so you are ready to take the initiative or proactively suggest ideas. In a small team, it is so valuable to have input from everyone and the most recent member of the company can often have fresh insights.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
I had a very useful meeting with a museum director once (a meeting I requested and was surprised when they agreed to it!) I remember watching this director look through my CV and realized how quickly their eyes jumped over everything that wasn’t directly linked to museum work. I had thought it was useful to show that I had a range of skills but in this case, it was simply distracting. Whilst ‘transferable skills’ can be impressive, it is also important to be focused. For example, on a basic level, if you want to work in a gallery, get the word gallery on your CV!
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
There are so many opportunities out there so just keep checking online resources and websites for listings. Follow the organizations that you are interested in and take every chance to attend an event and meet someone.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
Bring a clean, printed copy of your resume. Don’t be late.
Be ready to ask a question that demonstrates a genuine interest in the organization – it might spark the most engaging conversation of the whole interview.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
I was so excited when the timing of a recent one-day trip to Denver coincided with the solo show of NYC-based artist Jordan Casteel at the Denver Art Museum. I have heard Jordan speak about her approach to portraiture in the past so it was interesting to see which works she presented in her first museum show.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Of course, I am biased and would have to choose artists from The Other Art Fair! It is tricky to choose but a few highlights spring to mind: Marianne Hendriks, Chi Fun Wong, Katy Schmader, Gina Soden, Kirsten Valentine. (I would usually mention Benjamin Parker but my colleagues very kindly bought me one of his pieces as a wedding present – and I love it!)