Frank Talks

Emily-Jean Alexander – Director of Artist Project

Emily-Jean Alexander

This week we chat with Emily-Jean Alexander, who is the Director of Artist Project and the Director of Gallery Relations for Art Toronto, two annual art fairs held in Toronto Ontario. Emily-Jean has been working in the field of Art Fairs since graduating from Sotheby’s Institute of Art with her Masters in Art Business. In addition to these two events she also volunteers her time with the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery’s annual Power Ball fundraising event. We are thrilled to share Emily-Jean’s art world insight with you here! 

What was your first job in the Arts?

Like many people I first started volunteering and interning during my undergraduate and post-graduate programs. My first official job was covering a maternity leave position for Art Toronto in 2013, whom I am still working with six years later.

What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job? 

My position was title Production Coordinator, and I was the “go-to” person for all the gallery and exhibitor questions, booth designs, our catalogue production and administration. Leaning how to streamline all the projects, when you are communicating with one hundred or more of parties on each of them was a big learning curve.

Soaking in as much knowledge and admitting to yourself and others when you need more clarification or gave an incorrect answer was and remains to be a key learning as well. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry? 

Both sets of my grandparents fostered an admiration of the arts in my sisters and I from a young age. We would attend museum shows, orchestral performances, were in dance or music lessons and would travel to see historic sites.

That foundation all came full circle during my undergraduate degree when I pursued Art History and Classics and was introduced to the variety of career opportunities that you could have in the arts even if you were not strictly an artist yourself.

What do you do now?

I am the director of Artist Project, which is an artist exhibited fair whose purpose is to connect art lovers with art makers for a more personal experience with art.

I also continue to work as Gallery Relations for Art Toronto, which is Canada’s International fair for modern and contemporary art.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Newmarket Ontario, which is just north of Toronto, where I currently live.

What is the arts community like there?

Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world which has given it a very diverse art scene. It is also the home of many organizations which work nationally to promote arts and culture across Canada.

Toronto continues to expand its cultural offerings, as we have biennial which is launching this year, as well as an ever-expanding public art program. It is also home to many museums, commercial galleries and artist run spaces.

Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?

Growing up I understood the challenges faced by small business owners, and the personal investment both in time and money that goes into participating in trade events or shows. I try to use this to empathize with artists or galleries who are really stretching themselves to participate in our events. While I can’t directly influence the outcome of an artist or gallery’s experience at our fairs I work to give them the best tools possible to be successful.

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

Spend time and energy cultivating a relationship with a mentor or someone who you work with that inspires you. Build a trust and understanding that can get you through pivotal moments of your career. Have this person challenge you and try your best to challenge them too.

What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?

Each year presents new opportunities and challenges for the fairs I work on. 2015 was one of the most challenging as we re-invented Art Toronto under a new directorship. The transformative power of change that we experienced that year was overwhelming. Standing in the middle of the fair that year and seeing what our team had accomplished is one of my favourite memories.

What has been a challenge for you?

A typical libra, I am very uncertain sometimes in making decisions and often am “devil’s advocate” in our team meetings. We can’t please everyone at our fairs with each decision we make, and it can be challenging to either stick with a course of action or stand up for why you believe something is the right thing to do.

What is something you do every day at work?

I re-evaluate my “To Do” list, multiple times a day!

What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?

Bouncing people from our fairs is always an interesting experience. I’m no linebacker – but I’ve had to escort my fair share of people from our events from adult temper tantrums, people who rush our security and “pop-up” performers.

What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?

Initiative. Trust.

What do you think makes a person hirable?

Working in events, if you can tell me about the system you have on how yours organize your time, work flow, projects and communications to keep yourself on track then you are impressing me in an interview.

What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?

In the arts, I would say keeping up with the news and attending events. This will demonstrate your interest in the arts as well as provide you with subject matter for conversations and for pushing the envelope on what you are working on.

What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?

I think it’s important to be well rounded. Find a cause not related to the arts to spend your time volunteering or raising money for.

Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?

Don’t be afraid of the phone. Sometimes the quickest way to get something done, or to make someone happy is to call.

In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?

Make sure to get yourself comfortable in the interview room before you begin with the Q&A. Take that glass of water, take off your jacket and open up your notebook. Ground yourself and show that you are fully present in mind and body before beginning.

What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?

Douglas Coupland’s exhibition VORTEX at the Vancouver Aquarium. The combination of his work and the setting, and how the aquarium took on the message of the global plastic pollution crisis throughout all of the exhibits was well done.

Beyond coming away with the feeling that we need to be doing more about this crisis, I discussed widely about the experience of overhearing how Coupland’s central installation was stopping parents to educate their children about pollution. The docents’ presentation as well as other conversations I could hear exemplified the power of large scale artworks to impact discourse.

If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

Rachel Ruysch, David Hockney, Ned Pratt, Alex McLeod and Karla Wozniak.