This week we chat with Jessica Salzer. Originally from New York City, Jessica moved to London in 2014 where she began her career working with artists to help realize their projects and exhibitions. She currently works for Marc Quinn as Projects and Exhibitions Manager, working on various upcoming shows throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. A large part of this role includes community outreach, fundraising and the marketing and communications strategy for a major humanitarian artwork Quinn is working on.
Previously, Jessica freelanced with Nick Knight assisting with sales, archiving and exhibition planning while simultaneously consulting a number of emerging artists. Before moving to London Jessica worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New Media Communications. She now holds an MA from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in Contemporary Art and a BA from Bates College in Interdisciplinary Studies. Please enjoy reading Jessica’s Frank Talk!
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first job in the arts was front of house at The Olin Arts Center and Bates College Museum. Every Tuesday and Sunday evenings during college I would greet my fellow students – painters, photographers, musicians, art historians – and the local community who were going to classes, attending events, or visiting the museum.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
Working at Olin taught me about the democratization of art and its capacity to build a community. Art is for everyone and is a powerful force that brings people together. Olin was one of the only places on campus open to our Lewiston neighbors. It allowed me to become a part of the local community and for the community to become a part of Bates College.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I was really lucky to grow up in New York, a city with some of the best cultural institutions in the world. I basically lived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a teenager, so it made sense that my “aha” moment happened there. I remember visiting the Costume Institute’s Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy exhibition in 2008 and being completely in awe. The exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, was truly interdisciplinary – mixing art, costume, culture, film and imagination – it made me realize how transformative, layered, and paradigm shifting exhibitions can be. I knew from then on that I wanted to work in the arts.
What do you do now?
I currently work for the artist Marc Quinn as a Projects and Exhibitions Manager. This is an all-inclusive and very hands-on role that varies project to project and exhibition to exhibition. In general, I act as the studio liaison for partners, collaborators, exhibitors and press. The biggest project we’ve been working on is Bloodcube, a major humanitarian public artwork about the refugee crisis. I strongly believe that contemporary art has a social responsibility. Art can and should act as a conduit for communication and finding different ways to talk about what’s happening in the world today. This project does just that and I feel very grateful to be a part of an artwork that will make a difference.
Where are you from?
I grew up in New York City, in Greenwich Village so I was born into an atmosphere rich with artistic heritage. The apartment I grew up in once belonged to Patti Smith, I often think of what it would be like hanging out at home with Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe back in the 1970s/80s.
What is the arts community like there?
Like any metropolis, New York has a thriving art community, but the village has a particularly prolific artistic past. It was the heart of Abstract Expressionism, the Beat Movement, a hub for Cabaret and Jazz and an epicenter of liberation. Walking through Washington Square Park, past Smalls Jazz Club or the Stonewall Inn, the area is beaming with history and inspiration.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
I think my clear love affair with New York and New York institutions points to YES! But also living in London has given me a different perspective, opened new opportunities and provided me with a more global network which is equally important.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
If you’re working in the art world it’s because you love art. Not everyone gets to combine their passion with work. Enjoy it!
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
It really depends on how you define one’s “greatest accomplishment” and how you measure success. I’ve been a part of some amazing projects, many of which have made me feel inspired about the potential for art to catalyse social change and provoke public discourse. These have all made me feel incredibly accomplished but I am definitely still learning and growing so perhaps my greatest accomplishment is yet to come!
What has been a challenge for you?
Moving to London was a challenge but a very exciting one. It forced me out of my comfort zone and broadened my perspective of possibilities.
What is something you do every day at work?
Around 3pm I have a major sugar craving so I usually go out to buy gummy bears for me and my colleagues. They love me and hate me for it.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
A day doesn’t go by without me thinking “that’s kind of weird” but I think the strangest was when I was working as a Production Assistant for the MTV Music Awards and had to run around New York searching for rhinestone collars for tigers to wear during a live performance. Needless to say, the best place to find such goods so last minute was at the adult toy shops in the West Village!
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee is committed, curious and hungry to learn.
A good boss will help guide, encourage, and teach. I think a good boss should want any employee to flourish and achieve their full potential.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Knowledge, intrigue and a strong sense of self is something I always look for.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
I think bringing a positive and can-do attitude to the workplace helps people stand out. There is no question that everyone at some point gets side-tracked, run-down, or loses enthusiasm but having the ability to shift that energy goes a long way.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
I am no HR expert but I’ve sent a lot of CVs and have seen a lot of CVs. I am a strong believer that they should never be longer than one page – do your best to highlight the most important and relevant experiences for the role you are applying to. Also, your GPA and exam scores are irrelevant to me. These numbers are not indicators of what type of human you are or what type of employee you will be!
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Don’t underestimate grunt work, it makes you a better employee and employer in the long run. Starting from the bottom and working you’re way up is a really fulfilling process and humbling experience.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
An interview is just another conversation between two people. Be prepared, have interesting questions ready to ask and don’t be too rehearsed. Go into any interview relaxed but confident.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
I’ve become quite spoiled to be honest. While I love going to a good exhibition, in the past year or so I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of artist’s studios including Anish Kapoor, Daniel Arsham, Gary Hume, Kehinde Wiley, Jonathan Yeo, JR, Louise Bourgeois, Mickalene Thomas, Rashid Johnson, Ryan Gander and many more. To me, no exhibition compares to the intimacy of seeing art where the art is made – it is the center of an artist’s creative universe!
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Choosing just 5 is nearly impossible but if I had the opportunity to own something today I would start with works by Georgia O’Keefe, Joseph Albers, Mickalene Thomas, Rashid Johnson and Tomas Saraceno.