I absolutely love working on the #My9to5 posts because they allow me to connect with so many talented, inspiring and intelligent women. I always learn so much from the stories and insight they’re able to offer. And I’m particularly excited about this month’s profile, because I speak to art curator Lily Ackerman. I know very little about the art world, and Lily provided such a fascinating look at how the industry operates. Read on for her career story…
Let’s start right at the beginning… How did you develop an interest in art? And did you follow a conventional path into the industry, by studying fine art at university etc?
I actually did American Studies with an emphasis on politics at university. So I wasn’t thinking about going into the art world in any way. But I grew up in quite a creative environment and was always involved in art through my family.
I did a multitude of jobs after university. I worked in marketing for a while, and also for a children’s charity. But I really wanted to start something myself. My dad actually had an art consultancy business of his own, and one day I ended up renegotiating a contract that had been left open after he became ill. From there I developed the confidence to start my own business, and I started to work with the 45 Park Lane hotel. It all took off from there, really.
What does it actually mean to be an ‘Art Consultant’? Could you explain a little bit about what your role involves, for those of us who aren’t already in the know…
My focus at Ackerman Studios is to look for new ways to showcase art. The art world is changing so quickly, and it’s difficult for galleries to keep up with their overheads. So I’m taking a more disruptive route, and I look to place emerging artists or established contemporary artists in different spaces – hotels and restaurants, for example. Anywhere that will get the artist maximum exposure.
I’m the curator in residence at the 45 Park Lane hotel, and put together a yearly programme of art for them. Each show usually lasts for about two months, and all of the artwork is for sale. Every year I create a theme for the hotel. This year it’s all about the uplifting power of art. And next year will focus on emerging artists – I’ll be using the hotel as a platform to showcase the best emerging talent that we have here in the UK. I also work with brands, such as Jack Barclay Bentley, to source artwork or sculpture for their showrooms.
What does your typical workday look like? If such a thing even exists…
I’ve actually tried to create more of a “typical day” for myself, because I find that structure works well for me. When I first started the business I was saying yes to everything, and was never able to get much done because I always spent half of my day trekking around London.
So I now get up at 6.30am every morning, and by 7am I like to be at my desk. I have an office space at home which I work from. I use the task management programme Asana for all of my project management work, and I find that really helpful. I always keep my head down until about midday, and try to get all of my business planning and emails out of the way during that time. I always feel much better once I know that I’ve got all of the difficult tasks out of the way!
I tend to be out and about every afternoon. Either visiting an artist’s studio to talk about the ways that we could progress their work, or having a meeting with the operations team at one of the venues I work with. And I also host an artist’s lunch every month at 45 Park Lane, which takes up quite a lot of my time.
How do you like to unwind after a busy day?
I often have to attend events and private views in the evenings. But I try to make sure there are a few nights each week where I’m able to wind down at 5pm. I make a real effort to turn off my computer, log out of email, and go to a hot yoga class. I’m also really into The Sopranos at the moment, and I enjoy spending an evening at home watching an episode and cooking dinner. It’s a nice way to draw a line under the day.
And, if I’ve had a really busy week, I might spend the afternoon at a gallery. It’s a great way to clear my head, and it also gives me a chance to see what else is going on in the art world.
What’s the biggest challenge that you currently face in your 9 to 5?
Establishing the idea that art doesn’t have to be showcased in the traditional model of a gallery is a constant challenge. I believe that art should be part of the everyday. I don’t think it should only exist in gallery spaces. Artists need their work displayed where people can actually see it. The more somebody interacts with your work – consciously or subconsciously – the more likely they are to buy it.
Artists are actually really open minded about this. Especially this new generation of artists coming up under social media and blogging. They understand that they need to be out there and create a brand for themselves. The challenge comes from galleries, who are resisting change because they believe art should be displayed in a certain way.
And, on the flip side, what is the biggest perk of your job?
Getting to see such creative talent on a daily basis. Definitely. I love being involved in the creative process. Studio visits are my favourite thing! I gain so much when I get to know an artist personally, and it always makes me feel more connected to their work.
It’s hard being an artist. And you have to manage your career so carefully. So I love the fact that I’m able to work with a lot of younger artists and help them shape their careers. Being able to give people a platform to showcase their work is something that I feel very proud of.
As your own boss, how do you continue to stay motivated and remain productive?
I’m still figuring it out. But I actually think that owning your own business allows you to work to your best advantage. I know that I’m at my most productive in morning, so I never schedule meetings before lunchtime. And, although there are days when you don’t get as much done as you’d like, I know that I can always wake up at 6am and work solidly until 1pm to get everything done. It sounds really cheesy, but it’s all about knowing yourself.
Which other women working in the industry inspire you on a daily basis?
They’re not necessarily art-specific, but the interior designer Cheryl Tarbuck is a family friend, and someone that I’ve always been inspired by. Cheryl has her own interior design company, and she’s such a hard worker. Growing up around her work ethic – and also seeing her ability to laugh when things go wrong – has been really important to me. I have a tendency to be quite serious. But I think it’s really important to keep a sense of humour when facing challenges at work.
And, finally, what is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And who gave it to you?
My dad always used to tell me this amazing story. About 40 years ago he cooked for the Dali Lama. And everyone who came to this event was allowed to ask him one question. My dad asked, “What is luck?” And the Dali Lama replied, “If you have 100 people in a room and a piece of luck is offered, only one person will recognise it. The other 99% won’t see it. Because half of the battle is recognising the luck.”
That’s something that I think about quite a often. There’s so much opportunity out there, that it’s just a case of seeing it. It’s important to go out, make connections and try to talk to everyone in the room when you’re at an event. Because you will always come away from it with something. It’s just about finding the luck.
Catch up on the previous #my9to5 interviews here.