November 09, 2012
|Katy Bakker ’07 and Alya Poplawsky ’08 scout art for clients at Art Basel Miami Beach. (Photo Patricia Lois Nuss)|
By the time Katy Bakker ’07 and Alya Poplawsky ’08 met working at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in 2010, each already had their sights set on pursuing a career in the art world. “We both had a vision of wanting to do something on our own and make an impact on the Central Florida art scene,” said Poplawsky, who majored in a Latin American and Caribbean studies and minored in art history and Spanish. She went on to obtain her M.A. in art business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and the University of Manchester, London, UK. “We could see that being an art consultant and a curator would allow us to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the art world.”
But rather than hand out resumes, they drew up a business plan. In October 2010, they opened a/k/art, an art consulting and curatorial firm with a goal to bring modern, contemporary, and emerging art to Central Florida. “We incorporate art into people’s surroundings, either through helping private individuals create unique art collections or creating cutting edge pop-up exhibitions that encourage dialogue and community engagement in the arts,” Bakker said.
To say that they love what they do would be a colossal understatement. “I would have collected art regardless, so it is not so much a job as an extension of something I love doing,” said Bakker, who was an art history major at Rollins. “We love creating exhibitions that open people’s eyes to something new and starts a dialogue whether they love it or hate it.”
What's a day in the life of this business?
Poplawsky: What’s exciting about our job is that we get to work on a variety of projects, so every day is different. Our job allows us to travel where we visit museums, galleries, and art fairs allowing us to keep on top of art market trends.
What have you loved about this experience?
Poplawsky: We have realized that a big part of our job is educating our clients and the public about art collecting (strategies and philosophies) as well as art and its importance, and it is a great feeling when people that we have worked with become enthusiastic about art.
We love to go on art scouting trips, and love it when we discover a truly brilliant work of art that is awe-inspiring and breathtaking, and showcases the genius of the artist.
And it’s great to own our own company because it has allows us to determine its the direction plus have freedom and creativity. Not to say that there hasn’t been a few obstacles thrown in our way, but we have learned to overcome them. Everything is a learning curve for us; we are always trying to better ourselves as a company, and better serve our clients.
Why do you see this as your dream job?
Poplawsky: a/k/art allows us to be on the front lines of making art history. Educating people about art and collecting, and actually acquiring work to build an art collection, or designing a unique art program for a restaurant or lobby, or coming up with a unique concept for an exhibition that inspires public dialogue is what helps to determine what will come to be seen as the important art of our time. Collectors today play an invaluable role in determining an artist’s status, and whether or not they make it into the art history textbooks.
Bakker: I love seeing artists in the beginning of their career and seeing where they go and if we had a part in that or just knew they were going to “make it.” I love introducing new collectors into the art market and helping them build something great. Each collector has his or her own taste and aesthetic, which creates really unique collections.
What was the moment when you both decided to create something of your own versus getting jobs?
Poplawsky: There were definitely some people that thought we were crazy to start our own business in a down economy, but I think that if you can do it then why not? We found ourselves a unique niche in the art scene in Central Florida that hadn’t been explored and could potentially be very profitable. There really isn’t anyone else in this town that does what we do. I also think it is never too early to pursue your dream, and a/k/art is definitely my dream if not our dream.
Bakker: It is a big risk starting your own business, and yes, it was a down economy when we started. However, I think the point in our lives played a factor, i.e. being young, no kids, not much to lose yet. It is the least risky time to take a risk if that makes sense. We are a unique business in Central Florida, and that was appealing. Sometimes you just have to take the initiative.
Where do you think this entrepreneurial spirit comes from?
Poplawsky: In grad school, I took a career workshop and they made us outline where we would see ourselves in five years, ten years, and twenty years. When you really sit down and are forced to see that far ahead it’s really difficult! Bottom line, I wanted to find my own niche in the art world, create something of my own, and become an expert in my field and widely recognized in the art world. After my contract ended at the museum, I was like, what’s next? What can I do next to reach my aforementioned goal? Katy and I work so well together and we did a lot of research before we went into business together, and a/k/art was born. It wasn’t just the next logical step, but really the best thing that could have happened.
Bakker: My dad created a very successful business from the ground up, so it is something that I never really thought to shy away from. Entrepreneurship was something that was never discouraged – my brother has developed a successful company as well. Also, you have to fully believe and commit to something to make it work, and naturally the two of us have very determined personalities and I think that lends well to entrepreneurship.
Why do you think creating something of your own was such an appealing option?
Poplawsky: In a field that is dominated by taste-makers, culture-makers, and the unique, you really do need to create something of your own to establish yourself among your peers and colleagues. And, nothing beats being your own boss and making your own hours.
Bakker: You have to be ready to take responsibility, work hard, and overcome heartbreaks, but that makes our success so much more gratifying and invigorating.