Interview: Jennifer Lee, Arts Entrepreneur

Jennifer Lee; Owner and Founder of Jennifer Lee Fine Art

Jennifer holds a BA in Art History and a Minor in Business Administration from Southern Methodist University, along with an MA in Fine and Decorative Art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She is now the owner of Jennifer Lee Fine Art in Dallas, Texas.

1.    What role, if any, does a business plan play in building and launching an arts organization?

A business plan is a necessity to any new organization, and you will be told over and over again that your organization will not survive without one; however, there are no set rules to how it should be structured. It’s intimidating at first, but just getting the basics on paper is all you need to do in the beginning. As you develop and grow, you business plan will too. Mine definitely is still forming. There are many great resources out there, and the best thing to do is find a similar organization with a good business structure, art related or not, that will work well for what you would like to do with yours. This will help you accomplish what it is you’ve set out to do.

2.    What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring artist entrepreneurs about planning?

You should clearly define your goals, and mission/purpose. This does not need to be complex. Keep it simple. Continuously think about it, and leave room for change and innovation. Secondly, network and find good mentors. Do this from day one. You will be so surprised how willingly people are to assist you and work with you. Finally, find a good lawyer and business advisor to help you figure out what type of organization to form, and will file all the paperwork. This is worth it in the long run.

3.    What do you believe are necessary qualities, if there are any, for artist entrepreneurs to possess or develop?

You must have a passion for what you are doing, and a deep understanding of the art world and market. It is also important to have a strong understanding of general business, economics, and art law. Finally, you should always be looking for new, unique opportunities, and gaps that need to be filled in the industry. You should be open to new ideas and flexible with time.

4.    What inspired you to begin your own arts organization?

When something excites you, and you enjoy talking about it and sharing what you’ve learned with others, then that’s a clue to your future. I have wanted to be in the art business since my first Art History course at SMU during my freshman year. That interest was fostered throughout my four years at SMU through my participation in many of the courses, internships, and study aboard opportunities. In 2010, I graduated with a BA in Art History and a minor in Business Administration and went to graduate school at the Sotheby’s Institute in New York City to pursue a Masters in American Fine and Decorative Art. Living in New York, and going to classes at the Sotheby’s Institute exposed me to the many facets of the art world. After graduate school and a few jobs with different arts organizations in New York, I moved back to Dallas and decided it was time to start my own venture with the encouragement of family and friends. With Jennifer Lee Fine Art, I am able to draw from many experiences and use skills I have acquired over the years by performing art appraisals, selling art, and consulting. I find joy in helping people and I am happy I have found a unique way to do that. The Dallas art scene is thriving and it is amazing how many arts organizations now exist in the DFW area. It is a fun time to be a part of it all.

5.    What kind of financial backing did you have to begin your organization?

This is a private matter that I prefer not to answer; however, financial backing for many art organizations usually involves fundraising, finding backers, borrowing, and private funding.

6.    What unexpected problems or situations arose in the planning of your organization that you wish you had been better prepared to handle?

Mistakes are inevitable for any new organization. Certain relationships you form in the beginning, and endeavors you take on will not always work out. It is crucial to be conscientious of this fact. Finally, always put your interests first and make the most of your mistakes. If you do this, what you learn will help you thrive.

Interview by SMU student in Arts Entrepreneurship and Dance, Ellie Butler.

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