It Started With My Curiosity – and Maybe a Little Jealousy (episode 1)

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This is part one in a series about how I went went from emerging artist and residency director, to bringing countless of artists to Art Basel Miami and other big art fairs around the world, while giving them the best professional practices to show up confident. It may sound like a quick success story, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Monika Proffitt headshot2014Back in 2012, I was the director of a residency program in the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. But alongside that, and most importantly, I was a struggling artist.

A friend of mine had recently been picked up by a gallery, and the gallery decided to take his work and show it in their booth at Art Basel Miami. So yes, this story begins with just a bit of jealousy. But how can you blame me?

We’ve all been there, telling our friends we are happy for them while running circles in our heads wondering how we can get that success too. Because, there I was, still trudging through the art scene, all alone, and my friend was having his work shown in the biggest art fair in the Americas.

“Congratulations!” I said. (“No fair!” I thought.)

Luckily, the jealousy didn’t last long, because I really was happy for him, and I quickly found myself consumed with curiosity instead.

I wanted to know how he got the attention of that gallery who brought his work to Art Basel Miami in the first place. I wanted to figure out if there were other artists like me – who didn’t already have gallery representation – that were finding another way to get themselves seen and recognized at such a big venue. In the back of my mind I realized that I had no idea how an emerging artist could get their work included in a show like that – and it really bothered me.


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So that year, I decided to attend Art Basel Miami. I was on a crusade to find out why I didn’t see my own work there. Was it my lack of imagination and ambition? Were the doors really closed to emerging artists, and if so why? What was the application process, how were they selecting their artists? And in the end, how do I get my chance? I was also looking for any work by other emerging artists, somewhere in that dizzying maze of wall space.

After my initial investigation, I was disheartened, to say the least. There were no emerging artists. Everything looked like a polished piece of a big gallery’s “portfolio.” In fact, I overheard the word “portfolio” so often it felt like I was at an investment banker’s fair, not an art fair. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who thought they were a *very* important person.

So amidst all the fancy people buying expensive things, I began to question what I was seeing, and the whole art market in general. Why aren’t there emerging artists at big fairs like Art Basel Miami? Why can’t artists like me show my their work there?

What answers did I find? Stay tuned for Episode two.

In the meantime, here is a guide with 6 tips to make your application stick.

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Dedicated to nurturing the careers of emerging artists, Starry Night’s programs are designed to lower the traditional barriers that artists face when trying to establish themselves, and help them to start making a living doing what they love.  To learn more about our comprehensive online training program, Artist Resources & Tools, click here.