With Art Basel Miami Beach almost here, it was perfect
timing to speak with art world insider, Adam Abdalla, founder of art PR agency Cultural
Counsel and board member of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA).
Adam shares the story of how he came to launch his company (which
represents the likes of Creative Time, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art,
Independent Curators International and SculptureCenter), his ‘must sees’
at NADA fair, and his advice on how brand marketers and publicists can best
collaborate with artists.
How did you get started in art & culture PR and what’s been your path to founding Cultural Counsel, the firm you launched in 2015?
In early 2006, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, I went down to New Orleans with a group of my friends who were all visual artists. We were doing mostly reconstruction and deconstruction of homes that were destroyed by the storm, helping where we could. On our second trip down, we connected with a local non-profit in the 9th Ward that helped provide building materials to the community to renovate their homes and businesses called The Green Project. They had a washed-out storage facility, which was full of materials that were pretty much toast. So in absence of a functional use, we proposed to The Green Project's Board of Directors to convert that space into a community arts center and exhibition space. We lived and slept in the storage facility for about three months, renovated the space, and then started staging exhibitions and programming. Since I wasn't an artist and of the group was probably the least adept with my hands, I took upon it myself to write press releases about the project, wrangle donations, book bands and act as the de facto spokesperson for the opening of the space.
For 20-year-olds making it up as we went along, it went pretty well—we were profiled by NPR, The Times-Picayune, Gambit Weekly and other local publications. Some of the work in the opening exhibition (entitled Art is Garbage if I recall correctly) landed in a few national magazines. It was definitely a transformative series of events. For the first time my life I naively asked myself "Can you promote art as a job?"
From there, Susan Grant Lewin, a well-regarded architecture and design publicist in New York, hired me as a receptionist, and over three years I worked my way up to a Senior Executive position.
In 2010, I had the pleasure of joining Nadine Johnson, where I was Senior Vice President of Arts and Culture for nearly 6 years, launching and subsequently growing that division of the company to over thirty world-class clients.
Based on that decade of experience, I launched Cultural Counsel. I've always prided myself on this ideal of existing beyond the role of a "press officer" by immersing myself in the content, intelligence and machinations of my client's businesses. To that end, the way to truly understand how to best collaborate with corporations, museums, galleries, and other institutions in the art world was through taking on the risk myself. Today, we have the pleasure working with such great clients as Creative Time, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Independent Curators International, SculptureCenter, Netflix, of course NADA, and many others.
Your agency specializes in art clients – what drew you to focus on this niche specifically?
I think artists are today’s greatest problem solvers – and are the connective glue between so many different fields - business, entertainment, fashion, real estate. There’s no limit to who you may encounter at the crossroads of the art world.
You’re a board member of NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) – can you tell us about its mission and how/why you became involved?
The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is the definitive non-profit arts organization dedicated to the cultivation, support, and advancement of new voices in contemporary art. We do two major fairs a year, featuring our member galleries – one in Miami Beach in December and one in New York in March.
I did the PR for NADA Miami Beach in 2009, the year we moved the fair the Deauville. Following that year’s success, Heather Hubbs, our Director, asked me to join the Board. I’ve been an active member ever since.
For those attending the NADA fair in Miami this December, who are some artists showing there that you can recommend to look out for?
Some of my personal highlights to look out for include:
Milano Chow’s drawings at Chapter NY
Loie Hollowell’s trippy paintings at Feuer/Mesler
Yoshiaki Mochizuki’s subtle abstractions at Marlborough Chelsea
The work of Suicide’s late Alan Vega at Invisible-Exports
Margaret Lee’s gestural steel sculptures at Jack Hanley Gallery
How does NADA differentiate itself from other art fairs in this highly competitive environment?
NADA has much more of a community vibe. Our organization exists as a platform to support and showcase the best of today’s emerging contemporary art community. Our booth prices are a fraction of the price of our competitors and we are a non-profit. Also, when you walk into NADA, you know that you are seeing work that has been thoroughly vetted at an attainable price point.
Art Basel Miami is known for becoming ‘commercialized’ by big luxury brands in recent years. How do you feel about this?
It really depends on the authenticity of the brand’s interest in contemporary art. If they genuinely want to support artists, institutions, and arts organizations, then it’s fantastic and we need more of them to participate. If they are just trying to piggyback onto a commercial art fair with unrelated, self-promotional content – way less interesting.
How can brands work with artists in a credible and authentic way?
Give money to artists to realize their dream projects and get of the way. Putting your name on that at the end of the day is the best PR you can buy.
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