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Kristin DeAngelis Landscape

Uniting Advocacy and Education: an interview with Kristin DeAngelis, Owner, Director and Curator of 107 Bowers Gallery & Artspace

Kristin DeAngelis is Owner, Director and Curator of 107 Bowers Gallery & Artspace, which was established in New Jersey in 2016. Prior to this, she spent 5 years curating shows and teaching children the fundamentals of visual art in the Metro New York area. Dedicated to nurturing pre-emerging talent, Kristin also hosts children’s art classes and promotes learning through inquiry. Alongside this, she is the Curator for Silverman Buildings in Jersey City. Kristin has an extensive background in marketing and sales, and previously completed multiple courses in Art Business, Art Education and Collections Management at the NYU School of Professional Studies.

Breaking away from the traditional gallery model, 107 Bowers Gallery & Artspace promotes participation in the arts and strives to empower practitioners of any age. The business represents a bold selection of contemporary artists, who practice in various mediums such as painting, ceramics, mixed media, photography, metal and interactive installations. Guided by the principles of advocacy, education, and outreach, the venture prides itself engaging artists, collectors, and members of the New York Metro community. 

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Kristin via video call between London and Jersey City…

1. Describe your business in 5 words: 

Art sales, art education, and art advocacy. These three pillars define every single thing I do, especially whenever I’m out representing the gallery, which is a lot of the time!

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

Previous opportunities I was involved in were always about making art and new connections, so I truly believe that everything you do takes you to the next phase of your life. I’ve always wanted to know what went on behind-the-scenes in a gallery, and I got in touch with a gallery volunteer after some friends introduced me. He told me, “I’m in charge of art education, why don’t you help me with that?” I didn’t really see how that was related to running a gallery back then, but when he grew to trust me, the more I was able to learn from him. That was always something I did from a volunteer basis.

Later, this space became available in Jersey City and my husband wanted to make an investment, so we purchased the space and that’s how we started. I created the gallery, and now we run art education and advocacy programs. You could say one thing led to another because this opened the door for me to hold my second position as Curator over at Silverman Buildings. This was another thing I owed to the people I knew. Looking back, I really didn’t take the traditional path of going to school for art history or taking on an internship, it was just about making connections and letting things play out naturally. It’s really about leaving doors open and deciding if you want to walk in now or later. 

After realising that I would need to learn how to run the gallery successfully, I went to the NYU School of Professional Studies and learnt about things like international shipping and trade shows. While I did make educational choices like this, most of my career path has been very organic. 

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession?

It’s really about the people, and I wouldn’t be in this job if I wasn’t focused on helping others. I’m always fascinated by meeting new people, learning about their perspectives and what sort of art they enjoy collecting and why. I’ve always wanted to help others get into a better position, be it in their careers or collections. It all goes back to how the artists are the rockstars – whether it’s a five-year-old in a class or a mid-career artist, I want to assist them. I’m their supporter, their cheerleader, their roadie, and do my best to get them to the next level. I’ve always found this both interesting and rewarding!

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession?

Art sales. My previous background was in consumer packaged goods. I’ve worked for various companies that sold essentials such as toothpaste or laundry detergent and understood how to market them in order to get consumers to choose your brand. No matter what, people need clean teeth and clothes. In contrast, no one necessarily needs art in their life, although it might bring them great joy. Making a sale is actually really hard, and I’ve always known that as a marketing and sales professional. 

The most common challenge is when you’ve already built a relationship with the person you’re trying to sell art to and for some reason it falls out. Then you have to learn why that sale didn’t go through while not taking it personally.

Ultimately, it’s knowing that nobody really needs art so you have to create a narrative to show the customer it will bring them great joy. You don’t need to spend $10,000 on art – you could spend $10 dollars on it and all that matters is that it makes you smile when you get up and look at it every day. 

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?

This wasn’t from the art realm but from the context of marketing and sales. It’s really about listening; people want to tell their stories in their own cadence and timeline. The best salespeople are the listeners, and I believe that’s super important. While I could tell customers all these amazing things about the artist and their process and how wonderful it would be to have this piece in the office or at home, none of that really matters unless you understand where the customer is coming from. Half of the time, you get to think of yourself as a counsellor because art can be therapeutic and help solve their problems, but you really do have to make an effort to listen.

6.  What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!)

I’ve had a couple of interns here at my gallery and I always tell them it’s really important to go out and see everything that you can, even if it’s not from an art perspective. Of course, you need to have knowledge about the art, especially if you want to specialise, but it’s really about learning all you can about the industry. If you want to be a gallerist or a curator, you have to go out there and see what’s being done and decide if you want to do something similar or break the mould. It’s going to be harder to do so but that might be more successful. Finding your voice is the most important thing and this is how you go about doing so.

I was talking to someone who was applying for a position at a very well-known gallery and advised them to visit all the galleries run by the owner. I urged them to understand the type of people who work there and recognise every single nuance, including the space, everyone in it, how the staff interact with the clientele, what type of language they use, what they say and even how they’re dressed. Every detail forms the brand, which you have to understand if you want to work there. It’s extremely important for people who want to work in this industry to know what they’re getting into, constantly evaluate it, and understand where your place is and how to be indispensable for the person you’re working for. 

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address?

For someone with a small gallery, it’s really about keeping the doors open. Having a brick-and-mortar space is expensive! Deciding to go online and how you’re going to market yourself is crucial as well. I’m a relationship builder, so a lot of the time my collectors come back and I make it a point to learn what they’re looking for and ask if they’re hunting for anything. For me, it’s about fostering relationships and that isn’t anything new. As a small business my priorities are definitely different – I’m not particularly torn between going to Art Basel or Frieze this year!

On a personal level, I also face challenges with regards to turning the salesperson in me on or off. You don’t always want to be selling but it’s so ingrained into what you’re doing that you’re always talking about art. I’m really conscious about coming across as wanting to sell all the time, but of course, I’m going to talk about my gallery or curatorial projects if someone asks about it. Sometimes I’m concerned that art is all people think I talk about when I’m actually quite well-rounded. However, I do believe the best salespeople are versed in conversation and that really benefits building relationships with new and old clients alike.

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why?

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 8.48.53 PM

‘The Starry Night’ (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh. Image from:

Without a doubt, I’d be ‘Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh! I am so completely taken with this painting, the feeling, the complexity, the material, and the thickness of the paint – just everything. It brings me to another place and makes me imagine new opportunities on the horizon. Van Gogh being a tortured soul aside, everything about the painting comforts me. 

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited?

AWAD’s been amazing. You get to meet other members and learn about them as people, their ideas and their careers. Getting to see great art with them is always a plus. I don’t get to go for events that often because I’m always trying to do way too many things at once, but I do make it a point to see the galleries of fellow members’, such as Ivy Brown’s.

Whenever we go there, I’m always blown away because her selection of works is so different from what I tend to show. And there is so much artwork to show.  When I see art that I like, but may not make sense for me to show, I know I can put the practitioners in touch with her or any of the other gallerists and curators from AWAD.  They will always be in good hands.  It feels great to know that I can refer them to other members who have more connections and are able to further their careers more than I can. 

I’ve also had amazing experiences with AWAD events – I know Dina (the New York City Chapter Coordinator) works really hard on this. One really memorable experience for me was going to the library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oh my god, that was just incredible! The collections really took my breath away, and I feel really fortunate to have these opportunities.

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network? 

Show up!  While you aren’t always able to attend everything and be physically present, social media helps a lot. Keeping in contact, either via email, Facebook or Instagram, really allows me to support women in the Association. It’s super important and I try to go the extra mile, and it’s really about doing your best to be present and show your support. This opens up opportunities to learn more about what others are doing and how you can work together. Even just getting a cup of coffee with somebody is really helpful! 

AWAD members are so supportive of one another.  An example of this was at the launch of New Jersey’s 14C Art Fair, run by Robinson Holloway.  A group of AWAD members show up in my booth and I nearly cried! I was so honored that these seasoned professionals showed up at my gallery during the show.  As someone who is still early in her career, I was really moved by that. I can happily say that I do what I can to reciprocate. Support is always appreciated and I thank this Association for theirs!

Facebook: @107bowersgalleryartspace // Instagram: @107bowersgallery

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