We are so excited to bring you this week’s Frank Talk with Erin Kim! Erin is the Director of Partnerships at Mana Contemporary where she forges partnerships with arts organizations and institutions throughout the nation to help artists gain access to resources and find community. She also sits on the board of Palazzo Monti, an artist residency and nonprofit in Northern Italy just outside of Milan. Previously, she led Consignments at Artsy where she helped collectors make smart, strategic decisions on buying and selling within the secondary market. Erin holds a BA in Art History & Archaeology from the University of Maryland and resides in New York, NY. Please enjoy reading this week’s Frank Talk below!
What was your first job in the Arts?
I started as an Information Sciences intern at Artsy back in 2015.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
I would say that job taught me to be open to learning new things that may seem out of your realm. Soaking up as much as possible will help you do other, seemingly different aspects of the job better.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I started off painting and drawing when I was very young, but what got me serious about art was during middle school when I read Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to Theo. He was so heartbreakingly passionate about his life and paintings. Theo was so important in shaping the artist’s path. It took several more years but I realized eventually that’s what I wanted to do – help support artists in realizing their creative vision.
What do you do now?
I recently joined Mana Contemporary, a massive arts center in Jersey City just outside of New York. We have over 270+ artists working in studios here and over 1,000 artists in our larger community. I serve as Director of Partnerships, where I help these artists gain access to resources in the art world. I’m developing a membership program for both artists and patrons to cultivate a community dedicated to improving the quality of life for artists in all stages of their careers.
Where are you from?
Born in Dallas, TX but mostly grew up in NJ. I would travel back to Dallas quite a bit during the summers.
What is the arts community like there?
Dallas has an amazing community with its incredible collections and the Dallas Art Fair. I also love the pockets of intense artistic activity you find in NJ. For example, the town that I grew up in was close to the liberal arts college Drew University, which was filled to the brim with students who were poets, artists, playwrights, and musicians and were serving the larger community outside of the campus by putting on shows, art classes and productions. Of course, there is Rutgers University with its amazing fine art programs and last but not least, Jersey City and its surrounding area has so much to see year-round.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Absolutely – an incredibly supportive family, along with proximity to all the museums in NYC helped me a great deal.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Work hard, be kind and help others where and when you can.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
Actually making the change to work in the art world. I was at an advertising agency and decided I wanted to work in the arts. I wasn’t being hired at the time by any arts organization so I decided to learn a new skill. Therefore, I enrolled in a three-month long coding bootcamp. Aftewards, I applied to Artsy which was one of the hottest art / tech startups at the time and got my foot in the door with an internship.
What has been a challenge for you?
Striking a work/life balance. My vacations and evenings can sometimes still be filled with art but I try now to turn my attention elsewhere and reset.
What is something you do every day at work?
Talk to artists. What we’re doing here at Mana Contemporary is special in that we’re building and maintaining a community of artists and all their supporters. It’s important to hear directly from artists what their needs are in this current market to better serve this community.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
Nothing too weird for me!
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee is someone who puts their best foot forward both internally and externally. They will make the best effort to bring value to their colleagues while also bringing value to external partners and constituents. A good boss is someone who excels at both and leads by example.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
The best people I have worked with were always passionate about problem-solving and figuring out solutions from all different kinds of angles. They are receptive to feedback and constantly looking to improve themselves. Most importantly, they radiate positivity and people can’t help but want to work with you.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Be fearless and communicate what strategy works best and be able to articulate why. Back up your ideas with reasons as to how it will serve your company’s mission (and the bottom line).
What are things you can do proactively to boost your CV?
Delve into learning new skills. I’m 100% all for continued education and new courses or taking on new challenges show me that you’re a go-getter and you constantly want to improve yourself.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Keep your eyes and ears open. If there are people you admire and want to learn from, reach out to them for a coffee or a phone call. Get out there and see as many shows, meet as many people and learn as much as you can.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
I would avoid speaking negatively about your past employers.
Any other anecdotes about your experience in the art world that you would like to share?
Working in art demands hard-work and dedication but can be incredibly rewarding. It can be both drudge work but then exhilarating the very next day. I remember frantically responding to auction inquiries at JFK at midnight completely sleep-deprived, then the next day strolling into a top-tier auction house in London to bid in their Day sale by contemporary masters. Then running off to have a drink with an old friend in town for Frieze I hadn’t seen in years. I’m sure that’s how a lot of my friends who work in galleries feel after pulling late nights putting up a show by an artist they love.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Jessica Stoller @ P.P.O.W very recently; Nicolas Party @ Flag Art Foundation; Matthew Wong at KARMA; Young Picasso at Fondation Beyeler.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
A painting by Caroline Walker; a re-interpretation of Renaissance paintings by Jesse Mockrin; a painting by Manuel Aja Espil a recent graduate of Skowhegan; a lifetime print by Ana Mendieta; and a Sara Anstis pastel work featuring her wild women roaming about.