Joey Lico is The Cultivist’s Global Curator & Sr. Director, West Coast + Latin America. Before joining The Cultivist, Joey was in director positions at the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), followed by Independent Curators International (ICI), where she nurtured a huge variety of projects across all disciplines of art. From 2008-2016, and under the Obama Administration, she worked with The White House as an adviser on their ACT/ART Committee bringing contemporary art into public policy. Joey is a Co-Chair of the Executive Committee for the Whitney Museum’s Contemporaries. We are thrilled to share Joey’s Frank Talk with you here!
What was your first job in the Arts?
While I was still in undergrad, I was an “Intern/Receptionist” for Phaidon Press—though, within the first three months I was promoted to Editorial Assistant.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
Practically, it was that you should never, EVER, walk into your boss’s office—even if you think it’s going to be a five second directive—without a pad and pen (or today, an iPad).
More holistically, it was that the people you start out with—collectively low on the totem pole—are very likely going to be the people you work with once you’re at the senior or top levels in your career. So make friends, and keep them! It’s so important to have a network of people who you’ve “grown up with” in the industry.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
It was inevitable. Not to be overly romantic, but outside of politics, there was nothing else that inspired me enough to want to dedicate my life to it. And it was like that since I picked up my first crayon!
What do you do now?
I am the Global Curator + Senior Director, West Coast and Latin America for The Cultivist – a global arts club.
Where are you from?
It speaks so much to my life and our times that this question confuses me–I never have a simple way to answer it! Does it mean “ethnically,” “where I was born?” or “where I am living now?” So, I’ll answer in all three ways….
I am a Brasilian Lithuanian Jew, born in Bahia, Brazil, raised in New York, and now living in Los Angeles. Though, I consider myself a New Yorker at heart.
What is the arts community like there?
Luckily, all three of them celebrate art and culture vividly and actively.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
It assumes a perspective on the art world that is inherently global, rather than universal. My entire career, from intern to director, I’ve focused on bringing many voices to the table—it’s great to see it’s now something all institutions and organizations are being held accountable for, but growing up transnational meant it was always a part of my life, and my work.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Maintain your integrity. And, treat everyone with respect and dignity. I mean, everyone.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
I always feel the most energized when I’ve worked on a collaborative curatorial project. But I suppose, I get most energized when I’m thinking about a project artist Cheryl Pope and I curated for The Cultivist. We had this really out there idea to invite a number of artists and curators to get inside a boxing ring and do performative works – and so many people we truly admire in the art world took a leap of faith on us and said yes (!). Every single person involved in that project will have my gratitude forever.
What has been a challenge for you?
Getting my foot in the door was truly the biggest hurdle. I don’t come from a family of collectors or people in the art world, so my resume wasn’t going to the top of anyone’s desk when I started out and I wasn’t in a position to take an obscenely low, unlivable, salary. I really had to work to get someone to even consider calling me in for an interview! Standing on my own from the start in an industry that is, sadly and still, actively favoring those that come from money, was something that was a struggle, despite my talent, and it’s part of the reason why I am always looking broadly at talent pools.
What is something you do every day at work?
I carve out 30 minutes every workday to look through all the unsolicited DMs, emails, and packages from emerging artists and art spaces. I think the art world is really good about telling artists and smaller institutions what NOT to do, but they rarely give useful advice on how to get your work or your programs seen so I always set time aside to review what someone was thoughtful and proactive enough to send my way.
What defines a good employee or boss to you?
A good employee is someone who takes pride in everything that they do, whether it’s making photocopies, helping set up an event table, or running a Board meeting. If you are putting your best efforts forward, no matter how big or small the task is it shows me a lot about the work ethic.
A good boss is someone who understands that not every employee is motivated or learns processes in the same ways, and certainly may not be motivated in the ways that they are.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Honestly, one needs the necessary skills always, but I do look for what I call a cultural fit. Meaning, will they get along well with the team already in place. Unfortunately, that’s not something that can really be advised upon, but it should help those still starting out to understand that sometimes, you have the skills, but the employer is just looking for a certain personality to hold the current dynamic in balance. Teamwork is really essential.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Work hard and don’t live up to the expectation that you’re “entitled.” When I first started out I was the first one in the office and I did not leave until all the directors had gone home (and that would usually be around 8:00 pm). I don’t expect my team to work that obsessively, but I do hope that there is the drive to exceed expectations and output.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
I’m sure everyone says internships, so I’ll add: learn another language. Even if you already speak two or three, learn another. The art world is global, so you’ll find it really useful down the road.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Treat looking for a job like a job. It’s a 9-5 process.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Oye. There are so so many, We Wanted a Revolution is a top one, but Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, was one that really renewed my faith and inspired. The co-curators put the exhibition together over eight years from research that didn’t exist! There’s not a lot of writing about Latin American artists (at all, let alone for women, and from this period) so they had to go to Latin America and ask around – literal fieldwork! That show is a gift to exhibition history and future research.