Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hi! I’m Phoebe, I’m the Creative Director at Reem Gallery. We are a contemporary art gallery founded in 2014, with locations in Surrey and Soho and I’ve been with the gallery full-time for just over a year now.
What does your job involve? What happens on a typical day?
On a typical day, I’m at our Soho gallery from 10-6, so I get to engage with all our clients, new and old, walk-ins, and by appointment.
I start the day by catching up on emails and enquiries with the rest of the team (sometimes via Zoom) including our PR team. Then I spend some time on gallery admin (website maintenance, maintaining our artwork databases) before getting to work on upcoming shows/ exhibitions/ events/ art fairs, etc.
My afternoon is spent editing social media content and planning or editing our next podcast episode as well as keeping up to date with all our artists, and clients. I always spend about 30 minutes reading through art publications/ websites/ blogs/ Instagrams to see what’s new and what’s opening that week towards the end of the day. Then I will wrap up the final tasks for the day (organise shipping, collections, deliveries, etc. review tomorrow’s to-do list).
What’s great about what you do?
So many things! Getting to connect artists and buyers is amazing, being able to help someone adorn their home or workspace, or business with beautiful artwork that inspires them and that they connect with is a real joy. I really love finding new artists and getting to know them and their practice and then being able to work with them and support them in whatever capacity makes sense at the time. I also love when families and children come into the galleries and I get to talk about art with children because they have the best opinions.
What are the toughest parts of your job?
It’s a very 24/7 kind of job, and I’ve definitely had to learn how to have a good work/life balance. The working hours don’t stop after 6 pm or at weekends, the gallery is closed on Sunday and Monday but even then sales and enquiries are still happening of course, especially because we have an international presence. We have a very fast turnover of artwork, so managing and updating the databases is constant and you cannot let your eye off the ball. We are engaging with clients 24/7 and there will always be something else to see or read about or get involved in within the art world. If you stay organised then it’s absolutely fine, and all of those things turn into huge positives.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Opening the Soho gallery in April 2022 was awesome. Zaid (the Director of Reem Gallery) and I had been planning for 6 months and when we opened, with the debut solo show of Kay Gasei, we had exhibitions booked in and lined up already for the next 6 months which felt so exciting. Gasei’s exhibition was such a delight to work on and the opening was just such a fun celebration of his artwork and everyone’s commitment to the gallery. Also getting to go to CAN Ibiza and the Venice Biennale were real pinch-me moments!
What's been the biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
I am currently in my final year of BA Fine Art (having taken a year out last year) and I always knew that juggling the two (full-time career + final year studies) would be a challenge, and it’s certainly proving to be physically and emotionally tiring. So my current challenge is managing myself, my time, my expectations, and my workload.
I have always been somebody who plans meticulously and because of that, I am able to fill up every single hour with something. My sister once made fun of me because I was sitting on a train with her dividing my coming month by the hour so I could pack in as much into each day and week as possible. I’m not as regimented as that makes me sound, but I certainly have only been able to achieve a lot of what I have because of this discipline when it comes to time management. And by the way, I schedule my non-negotiable self-care time too, which is always the priority because if I am not feeling good in my mind, body, and soul, then I cannot perform to the best of my ability which is what I’m often striving to do. (Also, it’s important to know when 75% is JUST as good as 100%! Working efficiently is the key!)
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
Outside of the arts: I was actually desperate to work from about 11 years old and would always google what jobs you could do under the age of 16. I have worked since I was 14 in jobs like babysitting, tutoring, and nannying (I was a live-in tutor for 3 months of lockdown, homeschooling 3 kids under 10). I’ve also worked in administration and marketing for a global organisation in the construction industry!
Inside the arts: I have always been creative and loved studying and learning about art. I studied it at school through to undergraduate level (where I am currently), but I was always much more interested in other people’s art than my own, and the potential of art for communication and creating and reflecting changes in society. When I was 14, I found Zaid who had just opened Reem Gallery and I asked if I could have a meeting with him, I went with my notebook and questions about art dealing and the commercial art world, and after he’d answered them all I asked for a job. Of course, he said no because I was 14.
When I turned 16, I got a job in a public gallery where I worked at the reception desk and as an events assistant. Then in my first year at Central Saint Martins, while I was studying my Foundation, Zaid got in contact to see if I wanted to apply for a gallery assistant job at his pop-up in St James’, Mayfair. I got the job and sold a Banksy in the first week.
My BA course has the option to spend a year working in the industry and so in September 2021, I began working at Reem Gallery full-time as an Art Consultant, and then we opened the Soho gallery in April 2022, and just before we did I became the Creative Director.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry in recent times? If so, what?
I have certainly not been in the industry for long enough to be able to observe any significant shifts, however, there are a few things that I am aware of:
- The market has a huge presence online, online galleries now exist and online bidding at auctions has increased dramatically over the last decade.
- There’s an interesting link between the luxury world and the art world, and it has resulted in certain artists, artworks, art objects, and collaborations taking on new collectible status, especially among younger audiences (eg. KAWS, Be@rbrick, Supreme X Louis Vuitton).
- There is a fast-growing interest in and acknowledgment of female artists (past and present), demonstrated at the Venice Biennale this year and Frieze London. The prices of artworks by women is reflecting this growing interest, and according to the annual Art Basel survey of established private art collections, the percentage of works by women has been increasing year on year since 2018. Despite this, Forbes recently posted an article that said that there is a $192 Billion gender gap in the world, so there’s still a long way to go!!
- The way that artists are being expected to self-promote on social media when the platforms do not facilitate ease of self-promotion of artists is very unfair and is fast becoming a problem spoken about by most emerging and established artists. By documenting work, the process of creation is disrupted and for what purpose when that documentation does not reap a valuable reward (more followers, more interest, sales etc).
How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?
I recognise how lucky I have been to have parents who, not only supported and encouraged me, but saw the importance of introducing me to creativity from a really young age. Both my parents have a huge appreciation for the arts, despite that not being their chosen career path. I have early memories of museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions. I actually dropped GCSE art because I wasn’t very well, and I also really struggled with the way it was taught, and I cried through a lot of A Level Art! So my art education was definitely not straightforward but I think because of that, I began questioning the role and purpose of art from a young age. When I was 15 I volunteered at a primary school helping with art lessons for a year, which was very formative in my understanding of art as a communication and processing tool, and the benefits to society of raising children to be creative, expressive, and to enjoy and critique art.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Learning healthy and efficient working habits is not a waste of time. The quicker you start to understand the non-negotiable things that you need to maintain the health of your mind, body, and soul, the better! Always reflect, always analyse, prioritise being kind to yourself and others, learn from situations and take opportunities. The goal of living is to become the most you, you can be. So see everything as a step towards discovering who you are at your core.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in your field?
There’s a joke amongst my friends that I am either in the gallery that I work at, or a gallery I don’t work at. Spend time reading, watching, and listening to whatever you can get your hands on related to the subjects and topics that make you excited and interested. Become obsessed, take notes, stick your neck out, make your own opportunities and don’t be afraid or put off by inconvenience or hard work. I have had a lot on my side in terms of education, family support, and opportunity and that has been important of course, but whenever there was a chance to work hard, and put my comfort second to work experience I took it without hesitation. Whenever I had a choice between short-term gratification and long-term investment in my future and progression, I went for the long-term investment.
When I first started at Reem Gallery, I travelled 4 hours a day to and from the Surrey gallery for 6 months. I was exhausted and had a very limited social life. We can get a false impression from social media that young people have dream jobs, with healthy working hours, and they’re paid well with good benefits - this is the minority. And sometimes there is exploitation in the creative fields, so know your rights and your worth, but also push yourself out of your comfort zone and into new places and new opportunities even if that’s so you can find what you definitely don’t like! It’s not ok to not get paid enough to live, but it’s also not normal to have first jobs that pay well enough to eat meals out regularly and buy new trainers once a week. Have realistic expectations.
Where can people find you and your work online?