Aja Martin is currently the Gallery Director at Zhulong Gallery, located in the Arts District of Dallas. She has worked for the Nasher Sculpture Center, The Dallas Museum of Art, the Blaffer Contemporary in Houston as well as Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, to name a few. She continues to be a very active member of the art world.
Can you please talk about how you became interested in art/the art world? What sparked your interest? Anything specific that inspired you?
I took a survey in community college as a required course for a degree in international business. I fell in love with the subject matter, the mystery and constant evolution of art. I was also pretty good at it, so decided to shift my major and start thinking about how I wanted to be involved in the arts.
Did you have a business plan when you started the gallery? If so, did it stay the same or constantly change?
One of my first tasks when brought on as the director was to develop a business plan. The business plan, as well as the mission statement, the approach, the budget, and the roster are constantly evolving in this, our first year. I believe the next year will be different, and that we will be able to settle on some things and build from there.
Did you have to take risks? Do you think taking risks are necessary?
Absolutely. So much about art is personal, subjective. I believe that any time I decide to work with a particular artist, I am risking the gallery’s resources in hopes that we will see some return in the sale of art. It’s a very complex beast, the gallery.
Did you face any challenges? If so, how did you handle them?
Part of running a gallery is facing and handling challenges every single day. I believe that confidence and persistence have helped me resolve the most turbulent challenges I’ve faced.
Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?
Yes, otherwise, how will you begin the cooperative experience? I had some practice with this since I had just formed an independent curatorial firm about 6 months prior to taking this position. It was a difficult process that took about a month, or more, but in the end, I felt like I’d answered questions that would help ensure my success. It was the same with the gallery, only, some of the goals of Zhulong were dictated by the gallery owner and not me.
Are you happy with how your business is now? Anything you would change?
I’m almost never content with things at present and believe there is always room for improvement, and refining. I’d like a larger staff, which would give me more time to focus on this explosive area of art where visual art and technology meet.
What have you enjoyed most about being the Director of Zhulong Gallery?
Mounting exhibitions with the artists, and seeing the validation they feel at the end of the process, and when cash follows!! I’ve also enjoyed the resources that Zhulong provides for travel, and creating relationships all over.
What do you find unique about your career field?
The need for flexibility. I am not aware of another field where so much shape-shifting is needed. This means there is always possibility, though, if you roll with the punches. Even though I am not in an institutional setting, I am doing everything I want to do. And I don’t feel like this is the end, or, the last sort of position I will hold.
What sacrifices have you had to make to succeed in this field, and do you feel the scarifies were worth it?
I don’t really see that I’ve made sacrifices to succeed, I feel lucky for all the opportunities I’ve had. If anything, I’ve succeeded despite my decisions not to sacrifice. If I could do it all again, I may have sacrificed more earlier on in order to obtain exactly what I set out to do originally, which was be a curator at an institution.
What 3 pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?
Be flexible. You never know what a position will afford you until you are in it.
Learn about the art market and art. Nothing beats an individual that’s savvy at business and has a strong understanding on art/art history – these people are rare.
Interview by Allison Perry, student in Developing an Arts Venture Plan, Arts Entrepreneurship at Meadows School of the Arts, SMU.