Danielle Forest – Executive Assistant to Marian Goodman
Danielle Forest was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and now lives in New York. She holds an Undergraduate Degree in Art History from the University of Winnipeg and a Masters Degree in Fine Art History from the University of Toronto. Danielle has published writing on contemporary art for various online and print magazines; currently she is Executive Assistant to Marian Goodman of Marian Goodman Galleries.
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first job in the art world was during my undergraduate studies at the University of Winnipeg. They have a small, nicely programmed gallery, Gallery 1C03, tucked underneath the two main escalators upon entering the University. You could apply and be a gallery sitter for a few hours a week. I remember small but notable exhibitions by local, well-known artists like Diana Thorneycroft and Winston Leathers, that particularly stood out. The program was academic and thoughtful. It gave me an opportunity to learn about contemporary art outside the classroom, with artists working at that moment, and engage with the local community.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
I think one thing I learned in that role that I carried into others, was to really immerse yourself in the arts community. Winnipeg was obviously a nice stepping stone, since it’s smaller, but I really got to know the artists and curators that were working and producing beautifully conceived work and shows. Being within that community fabric, I then felt more comfortable when a friend and I know curated our first small show: In Our Own Backyard, an exhibition of the artists we knew and loved locally. I then left for Toronto, where I won a coveted paid internship at a commercial gallery (a bit more cutthroat than 1C03). Once in this new city, I made the same efforts; I went to every exhibit, talk and performance. For lack of a better word, I networked, but in a genuine way; I liked everyone I met!
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
Oddly, very early! I remember being in elementary school and junior high and obsessing over the older girls who were artists, the ones in the 90s who could draw perfectly. My best friend in my pre-teens came from a very bohemian family. Her mother was an art therapist and encouraged her daughters to each paint their bedroom walls with any mural they dreamt up. Her older sisters were colorful and creative and I admired that. From there, I went to Catholic school and we had our choice of studying Home Economics or Art. Naturally, I chose Art and once a week in high school, Art class was dedicated to Art History. I remember learning then about “iconography,” and the ideas of a visual history filled with symbols was totally seductive. I know better now, but I think I always had mythologized artists and not being one, I wanted to work alongside them somehow.
What do you do now?
I’m the Executive Assistant to Marian Goodman who presides over galleries in New York, Paris and London.
Where are you from?
What is the arts community like there?
It’s small but invaluable to the city as a whole. Northrup Frye had described Canadians as having a garrison mentality; because of the sometimes cold and inaccessible outdoors, Canadians are compelled to be huddled together indoors, where creativity and communication can flourish. I think in Winnipeg that sentimentality was exemplified. And while there are accusations of provincialism in Canadian art institutions nationally, Winnipeg supports its own while providing platforms to important international artists. Institutions like Plug In for instance have a really wonderful international program, while MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) provides supports and encourages women artists working in Winnipeg through educational programs and mentorships.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Absolutely! Winnipeg is a tight-knit community that celebrates art and culture. I valued that from an early age and could access and engage with it easily.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Meet people in the art world, keep making connections. I even get lazy now sadly, but it’s so important to continually engage with and learn about artists working today, about the curators interpreting their work, with the gallerists promoting it, the museums collecting, etc.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
I’m very proud to work for Marian Goodman, who I admire greatly!
What has been a challenge for you?
Remembering to stay active in the community and visit museums, see gallery exhibitions more frequently. Work is busy, personal life gets busy, but I miss bouncing around to shows, drinking bad wine and meeting peers.
What is something you do every day at work?
Aside from the regular routine: answering all my emails, follow up on any open items, review any new previews or museum exhibitions with our artists, pour my mint tea… I like reorganizing and decluttering. We are a very paper gallery and keep a lot of files. During one interview with a major blue chip gallery, a Senior Director mentioned how important it is that everyone in the gallery, from Junior to Executive level, still pick up stray trash that might get dragged in. I think that’s so important, really in any industry. No one person should be above any job that needs to be done.
What defines a good employee or boss to you?
Saying yes often, being resourceful and proactive, maintaining a positive and light attitude, genuinely caring about work.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
The same as above of course, but another simpler level: a recruiter once told me a major mistake interviewees make is conveying that the position they’re interviewing for is one they see as a stepping stone to the next role. Instead, when asked where you see yourself in two years, she advised to answer along the lines of growing within that role, gaining new responsibilities, increasingly contributing to a team. It’s simple but makes so much sense. The role can change with you if you work hard.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
Keep detailed, but simplify! Especially structurally.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Without bias, I loved Danh Vo’s mid-career at the Guggenheim: Take My Breath Away. I also visited the Herbert Foundation in Ghent which was really incredible. I had never been and it’s such an influential foundation. In addition to showing works from their permanent collection, they mount really interesting archival materials from the 60s and 70s. Elaine Cameron-Weir, a fellow Canadian, also had a beautiful presentation in the main floor of the New Museum. I admire her and I think her work continues to develop strongly.