Letter to the Editor: In Recognition of Business and Art

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There are few places I would rather be than New York City just as autumn starts to show its colors and the temperature begins to drop. It was such a weekend this October when I took the train from Washington, D.C., up to the city to meet the Davidson Friends of the Arts group arriving from Charlotte. While there was no identified theme for the trip, other than an impressive and well-coordinated slate of visits to various art institutions, I came away from the trip with my own: the business of art requires savvy and responsible management to meet defined goals.

We started our weekend-long tour at Sotheby’s. Geraldine Nager, Sotheby’s senior vice president, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility’s exhibition and auction space.

The weekend concluded with a Davidson Friends of the Arts reception at the Alvin Ailey studios, where we were surrounded by stunning views of the city.

The weekend concluded with a Davidson Friends of the Arts reception at the Alvin Ailey studios, where we were surrounded by stunning views of the city.

We enjoyed a thrilling half hour with the curator of their jewelry collection, passing around stunning pieces from the 1920s, 1970s, and 1980s. We learned a bit about auction seasons, what curators look for, and how they decide what an item is worth.

Following our tour, we were treated to a wine tasting in their storefront cellar, curated by the Sotheby’s staff, where they boast you can buy a bottle, starting at $20 and up (and up). It’s true. I found the $20 bottle. With 20 years in marketing communications under my belt, I quickly understood the smart business tactic behind the store: make the Sotheby’s environment (and brand) accessible to a broader clientele. Bring people in the door and broaden your audience and appeal.

The next day’s highlights included a guided tour of the Whitney Museum near the Highline and a visit to the Talwar Gallery in Union Square. At the Whitney, we learned that like many great collections, the contemporary pieces at this location began through the generosity of a passionate individual, namely Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. At the Talwar Gallery, owned and operated by Deepak Talwar ’89, Deepak shared that after finishing his degree in economics and working successfully in the financial sector, he also wanted to pursue his passion for art. For 15 years, Deepak has represented artists from the Indian Subcontinent, ensuring exposure and a livelihood for artists many in this country would otherwise not know.

Our final evening of the tour included a reception hosted by the Davidson Art Collection Advisory Committee and Friends of the Arts at the Alvin Ailey Studio. An impressive and welcoming space, with glazing that breaks the barrier between the dance studios and the street, we received comments from the director of legal and business affairs, Elena Paul, Esq., ’85.  Elena also received her bachelor’s in economics before pursuing her juris doctorate, and happens to be the only inside counsel for a major dance company. Her day-to-day responsibilities equate more to a COO.

After learning as much as we had—and really just scratching the surface of what it takes to run an independent gallery, a world-renowned dance company, and a legendary auction house, it was only fitting that our visit would include a hard-to-come-by ticket to Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you haven’t already heard, the Broadway smash hit summarizes Alexander Hamilton’s life through rap and R&B numbers. Aside from being an electrifying portrayal of New York City during and immediately following the Revolutionary War, the depiction of our “ten-dollar, founding father” gives new attention to the establishment of a national bank, as well as the fact that while the seat of political power is Washington, D.C., the seat of finance is New York City. As I did not receive a degree in history from Davidson, I’ll stop there and just encourage you to pick up the original Broadway cast recording or watch the 60 Minutes special.

I will also encourage you to do three more things: 1) Enjoy the arts; pay the museum fee and visit your historical sites and cultural institutions. 2) Appreciate the thought, discipline, work, and money that are needed to preserve, curate, display, and provide access to our cultural heritage. 3) Support your college.

I am so grateful for the weekend I spent with the people on this trip and for my alma mater that values balanced contribution and perspective—much like the balance between business and art.

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Molly Johnson Wagner is from Arlington, Virginia.

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