Inspiration came to close friends Julia Wehkamp and co-founder Amanda Dunn, while they were sharing a bottle of wine and some conversation. Amanda was working in the art market, while Julia was creating unique educational programs. It didn't take long for the conversation to move towards established art auction houses and galleries having a disconnect with the next generation of collectors, specifically – the young professionals looking to invest in art for the first time, those looking to diversify their portfolios, first time home buyers looking to fill their walls, or those coming from emerging markets, such as Asia or the Middle East.
The two talked about how intimidating it can be to step into a gallery for the first time and ask important, but difficult questions like, "Can I take the piece home and try it on my wall before I commit?" or "Can I pay in instalments?" or "Do I need insurance on this piece?"
After comprehensive research on the market, listening to the needs of collectors, and the industry as a whole, it became clear that accessible and relevant education was desperately needed. By combining their specialized expertise in fine arts and international marketing with education-centric business skills, One Art Nation (1AN) was created.
How do you work to make art more accessible for everyone?
We built 1AN to be an innovative and unique platform, separate from the conventional online art networks offered, to help create transparency in the art market. By educating art-lovers about terms and conditions, pricing, and consumer rights, we aspire to increase their confidence in purchasing decisions and reduce the risk of things going wrong. However, to those ingrained directly in the art market, we also aim to increase transparency on a far wider range of topics, such as provenance, finance, fraud, and market manipulation, and so on. By facilitating the exchange of such information, 1AN is helping to narrow the gap between sellers and buyers in the future.
What is the biggest misconception about purchasing artwork and beginning a collection?
That you must be rich to collect art. Building an art collection on a budget just takes a bit of thought and a lot of patience. I have exchanged, haggled for and bought pieces to make up my collection of anything from prints to photographs to original oils, picked up anywhere from yard sales to international contemporary art fairs to local artists directly. I found one of my favourite pieces by an indigenous artist at Value Village! Since I buy for love and not investment, although it's a bonus if it's both, I don't care about building a 'trendy' collection; instead, I want something that will ultimately tell a story about me and my life.
And it's so important, when beginning a collection, particularly if you are on a budget, to never underestimate the talent and inherent value of emerging artists. Artworks by young artists start at a certain price, at an entry level if you like, and gradually their price/work goes up according to how their career trajectory is going – what exhibitions they've had, the reviews, invitations to participate in art fairs and galleries, who has collected their work in the past, etc. In fact, we did a talk on this topic – Emerging Artists: A Popular Entry-Level Market for Buyers.
How do you find speakers and topics to keep your education platform leading edge?
The first matter of business is always finding out what topics are in demand, which we do through targeted surveys, market analysis, and general chitchat with art enthusiasts, collectors, and professionals.
Once we determine which areas to focus on, we seek out speakers who can cover those topics, whether it's on their own or in a panel discussion. We always look to partner with forward-thinking experts who are aligned with us in our dedication to the ongoing goal of quality education for art enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. Hosting the lion’s share of our content online allows us to target speakers no matter where they are in the world.
Although we created 1AN for emerging collectors and enthusiasts to learn in a non-threatening and even anonymous environment, we quickly found that half of our growing membership was, in fact, very established collectors. They were also hungry for education, but on topics focusing on succession planning for their collections, donating to non-for-profits and even taxation. Therefore, we curate our educational content on the A-Zs of art collecting.
Most recently, although our focus has always been art collectors, we found an increasing demand for education from professionals, both in and out of the art market. So at the end of last year, we launched our first curriculum for professionals – Art Advisory 101. It's proven hugely successful and participants have requested Art Advisory 201, which we will produce in the fall. In the meantime, we are currently producing the Art Wealth Management program, which is focused on wealth managers and private bankers with clients who collect art. With art playing an increasing role in the overall market, many wealth managers struggle to advise their clients on art-related issues because their firms don’t have in-house art expertise available. 1AN to the rescue! So as you can see, all of our activity is inspired by a genuine market need.
What does your typical day look like?
My life is a mash-up of many personal and professional moments. I write proposals, research art market trends, curate art programs, barter media agreements, attend gallery openings, manage emails, moderate events, and create solutions. I also change diapers, walk the dog, brew another coffee, travel the world, kiss a scraped knee, sing lullabies, and search for that favourite stuffed animal yet again.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
This sounds so cliché, but how cool that I am in a position to 'do what you love, love what you do'? I am proud that I have set myself up to make a living by doing something I genuinely enjoy, all while working from home. The flexibility of working for myself affords me time to travel and spend time with my friends and family. And the best part is, I see my entrepreneurial spirit in my four-year-old. Last weekend, she set up a stand in front of our house and sold her home-made cupcakes and store bought candy for a tidy little profit. And yesterday, she must have painted 10 pictures while we prepared dinner and when I asked her why so many, she said that next weekend, she wants to have an art sale on the porch!
Who are some of the people you've had the opportunity to work with at One Art Nation that have influenced you the most? How?
1AN has afforded me the opportunity to work with so many inspiring people... I don't even know where to start. Since we do our best to involve some of the most respected opinion leaders in the industry, I have often been humbled by our speakers. For example, we did a talk last year at Art New York with one of the original Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of feminist, female artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. The group formed in New York City in 1985 and still having to be anonymous, she wore her gorilla mask during the talk... how badass is that? She has seen such a massive transformation in the art world over the past few decades, yet she is so humble and happy to share.
We have worked with legendary photographers, such as Bob Gruen who wasn’t afraid to just go for it as a kid with a camera and a dream to document the likes of John and Yoko, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley, and we even worked with Metallica bassist - turned artist, Jason Newsted, who’s not afraid to reinvent himself.
But aside from some of the experts we've worked with, I am influenced by my business partner and 1AN co-founder Amanda Dunn, who can hustle. I think it’s safe to say that we complement one another and believe in each other’s strengths, values and objectives. From the jump, her shared enthusiasm over business ideas has inspired me to clearly visualize the process of achieving a goal... which is really the root of it all, isn't it? I mean, starting a new company can entail many setbacks and disappointments. Nonetheless, we are always able to maintain high morale by being honest with each other and non-judgey, which goes a long way.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Someone once advised me to stay focused. Too many projects pile up because a better idea comes along before the project is complete. Getting distracted by the exciting new ideas is easy, but rarely yields better results. When I map out my next project, new ideas get documented and stored to be addressed when I can focus on them.
What about the worst?
When I started my first business over ten years ago, I was advised to 'stick to my plan'. That quickly proved to be impossible and not in a 'fun-challenging' kind of way. Although a business plan is a helpful tool, it shouldn’t be the ultimate, unchanging guide for a business. I quickly found out that sometimes things change, in my case, often things change. So, I review my plan regularly but always adapt it to those changes. It allows me to be an opportunist!
Oh, and here's another one I've heard time and time again: work hard and success will come. Sure, hard work is important when it comes to running a successful business, no question. But it isn’t the only thing that matters. Don’t think just because you’re putting in long hours and trying your best that success will eventually come. Sometimes it’s more important to work smart than to work hard. Ultimately, the results you get are what matter. It took me a while to figure this out.
How is the local art scene looking?
Toronto is an eclectic and cosmopolitan city with a vibrant culture. If you're into art, there's always something new to discover! With our world-class galleries, museums, and cultural centres, Toronto's rich and diverse art scene is very accessible, which I love. For example, while street art is thriving, the city also hosts a number of art fairs, from Art Toronto to my personal favourite, the Artist Project (you may recognize this art fair from our Spotlight interview with Toronto artist Mary McLorn Valle!) and many other smaller, independent fairs in between.
I live in the Junction Triangle and our art-game over here is strong! With The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) opening up in the area, artists’ spaces all around, and incredible galleries such as Angell Gallery, and Olga Korper Gallery just around the corner, there is no shortage of cultural fuel to be had. The creative energy is all around and it seems as though anything goes! I love it!
Who are some of your favourite artists? Why?
From the first time I saw a Norval Morrisseau when I was a kid, I have had an affinity for indigenous art. But I'm always careful to do my due diligence – to learn about the artist, their culture, and the influences that shape their unique art, always making sure that the work is authentic Indigenous art. In doing such research, I came across Kenojuak Ashevak, a Canadian pioneer of modern Inuit art. It's so clear that her imagery is a pure result of her imagination, as she really did have her own sense of design. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I find such comfort in her arctic animals.
And then, last year at Art Basel Miami, I fell in love with the works of an Italian artist, Rudolf Stingel. A massive gold leaf chain link fence was incredible, but the best was this huge oil piece with the most delicate gold pattern, that I will never forget. Even though I lacked the millions to buy that one, it solidified Stingel's spot as one of my top artists!
But some of my very favourite artists are not only young and emerging, but also local. I went to a small public art sale recently where I fell in love with the work of a young Toronto-based artist, Carli Paintings. The piece I purchased from her is one of my favourites... it's so feminine and strong. I get so many compliments on it too, so I know I’m not the only one smitten.
And local artist Rebecca Brianceau also became a favourite recently, when I added an ocean-inspired piece of hers to my collection last Christmas. Her work is so refreshing, although it has deep meaning behind it. I love the layers her work takes you through, emotionally, and her colours are insane. Keep an eye out for this artist, for sure, as her career is on that upward trajectory that we talked about earlier!