All’s fair in love but when it comes to business, sometimes it makes for strange bedfellows. However, on the rare occasion that a husband and wife team manages to come together and be in total harmony at home plus work. Meet the co-founders and happy to be working together couple, Jennifer and James Wallace of nAscent Art New York. In the first ever couples edition for AF’s Q & A feature, both were asked to answer the same questions on their own ala “Newlywed Game” style. Let’s learn from them on how to keep it sacred and real on the vows they took on. For better or for worse, they had to answer 10 questions.
ARTE F– USE: Out of all the businesses to have, why did you both decide to establish nAscent Art New York?
Jen Wallace: I have always been drawn to fine art–it’s in my veins. I love working with and supporting fine artists–the challenge was making it a business and making it accessible. For example, even when they’re welcoming, the very idea of a gallery opening can intimidate people trying to discover art. We decided to stay positive and open while promoting fine art and artists. James helps make my dreams come true, so here we are. Running nAscent Art is my dream job, but better.
James Wallace: nAscent grew from several seeds. First, Jen really inspired me with her enthusiasm for art. We didn’t have the network or resources to sell works by Picasso, and we saw a ton of untapped, under-appreciated emerging talent just in New York. If Warhol could sell an artwork to a young Dennis Hopper for $500 in the 60s, why couldn’t we help 21st century Warhols? We knew the risk, but I also had great confidence in Jen’s eye and our work ethic. From there, the decision was clear–we had to do it.
AF: You’re both co-founders, so how does that work out for you as a married couple? How does the role of the other compliment the dynamics?
Jen: We have different roles in the company so it’s more collaborative than competitive. My role is artist management, business development and project execution while James takes care of strategy and operations. We back each other up. We help each other solve problems and we communicate really well. Even when we disagree, like over graphic design details for example, the result of the team effort is always better than it would have been otherwise.
James: Starting out, Jen had more of an art background and had the eye for visual art talent than I, whereas I had more in business and law background. Seven years later, we’ve taught each other a lot. We share offices, so I work on nAscent every day. But, as head of business development, she really is the driving force for nAscent right now. Because we produced At Fest, a feature-length documentary (https://www.facebook.com/atfest) that comes out this year, lately my focus has been the movie. Jen’s an executive producer on At Fest, and has helped when she’s needed. nAscent is her top priority, and each of us backs up the other. I also produce our art show, Art Seen.
AF: You guys see each other most of the 24 hours. Do you draw the line between work and home life? How do you keep things separate?
Jen: In fact, nAscent started in our apartment, so working at home continues to happen even though we have an office now. Also, because we do different things with nAscent, we have plenty of time apart, which makes the time we spend together even better.
If we just wanted to focus on nAscent Art, we could probably have more free time, but we have so much we want to accomplish. In addition to running nAscent Art, James and I run a film production company, Mastodon Films. We have a couple of other exciting projects on the horizon. We’re also planning the second edition of THE(UN)FAIR, our alternative to the art fairs during Armory Arts Week, covered by Arte Fuse and Le Monde (though dark forces are conspiring against it). We do work a lot, but we somehow make time for friends and family.
James: We haven’t worked in seven years. We’re both doing what we love with the person we love, so we hardly see it as work. On work-life, there is little separation. Entrepreneurs work 24/7. We talk about nAscent at home; we make time for non-nAscent stuff. Date night is important. But it’s very natural for us to be, for example, cooking dinner and start to talk about an art client, then to talk about a news story, then to talk about family–whatever comes up. If a client needs something urgent, we can do it at home and help each other. It’s just part of our lives
AF: If your other half doesn’t have a say in it, what kind of art would you collect or acquire? (If not art, what would you collect?)
Jen: Our art collection is currently contemporary and very eclectic, and I would want to continue to develop our collecting in that direction. I definitely have a short list for pieces I want to buy next 🙂
James: I actually really love the artwork of the nAscent artists. Their work comprises the bulk of our current collection, and represents a wide range of styles. I have a special place in my heart for works of the Renaissance, but my checking account has more of a say there.
AF: Let’s talk about Good Karma: You want to walk the good line because you don’t want to come back in the next life as a…
Jen: Mustard seed. I hate mustard. It’s like my kryptonite. It would be the worst thing I could imagine to come back as mustard seed.
James: I’ll just be happy to be back for another go-around
AF: Name the dream client or site / venue project you’d love to acquire art for.
Jen: We’ve done some work in hotels and hospitality, which I love to do. We’re actually currently working on a couple of out-of-state hotel projects. I would be thrilled to select all the artwork for a boutique hotel in a major city. All of you hotel developers working on projects–call me at nAscent Art! 😉
James: Dream Client: Someone who doesn’t think art is for them, or that they can’t afford it. Dream Venue: Times Square.
AF: Name an obsession or indulgence that the other has which can drive you crazy.
Jen: James is a big film buff, and he loves the movie Blade Runner (as do a lot of people). Not me. I’m not a fan of Blade Runner. It moves too slowly for me and the setting is dark. He loves to watch it, and I like to fall asleep.
James: Jen will indulge in streaming certain TV shows as brain candy every once in a while. It’s not her obsession, but I just can’t get into The Bachelorette. Besides, she’s the only one who drives me crazy (in a good way).
AF: Name something that attracted you to the other and confirmed that this is the person you can be with.
Jen: In my prior relationships, I was the “smart one”. With his multiple advanced degrees and countless accomplishments, I would have to give James that title in our relationship. Not only did James not make me feel self-conscious, but he made me feel brilliant, too. I knew he was, and is, the one for me. He challenges and inspires me every day. Then there’s that whole soul-mate thing.
James: You’d have to meet Jen to see and experience her enthusiasm and optimism. She is one of the most positive people you’ll meet. I’m just lucky, plain and simple.
AF: What is ideal or more significant: selling the art to the big spender who just needs something on a blank wall or carefully finding the right work for a collector that will love the art forever?
Jen: Both! Part of our DNA is to break down barriers and help people connect with art. Even if the buyer’s initial intent was to fill a blank wall, in working with nAscent they would find an exciting connection to the work as well. I’ve seen it happen and I love it when it does.
We love helping people connect with art. There are amazingly talented artists at every level of the market, you just have to know where to find them–that’s where we can help!
James: In general, love wins. Boom. But the big spender is significant because few artists I know want their prices to stay low in their lifetime.
AF: Any advice for couples who want to be in business together – any wisdom or guidelines to survive and how to not kill each other?
Jen: It’s certainly not for everyone. Some of the things that help us are “fighting fair” (talking about the issue at hand and not dragging other things into it) and just making sure to be supportive of each other. We both believe very much that ideas are only that–ideas. What matters is execution, so make sure your business partner, whether they’re a spouse or not, is willing to work hard and execute.
James: We’ve come up with some rules of thumb.
1) Start with love. If you remember that this is the person you love, you can often defuse arguments before they happen.
2) Don’t escalate. In “fights”, someone usually kicks it up a notch and the other person responds in kind. At least one person needs to catch it so both people can ratchet down. This really works.
3) Don’t push buttons. We all know what buttons to push–just don’t.
4) Stay on point. Disagreements happen, so focus on the issue at hand. Don’t bring up resolved past issues or wander.
5) Listen & validate. Reflect what the person says back. Don’t argue every point in your mind as the other person is talking. Many disagreements are just miscommunication. Listening helps a lot, and everyone’s entitled to feelings. You may not agree, but try to be supportive.
6) Take responsibility. You can’t force someone else to take responsibility. Blame is lame.
7) What’s the endgame? How does the conversation end? Too many arguments get bad simply because no one knows how, why, or when to stop.
8) Respect timing. Sometimes discussions get intense because the timing is bad. Like having one in a car – Bad idea!
9) Relieve stress. Have fun, celebrate successes, and work out–stress can lead to a shorter temper.
10) End with love.
Now LOVE – that is a thing of beauty and sustaining it is art itself. Kudos to you both! And oh Jen, I am with James on Blade Runner – I love that film to pieces! So you are outnumbered. Sorry, but I promise to buy you a treat from Doughnut Plant. A peace offering so my Karma is not shot and I won’t come back in the next life as – some fungus that feeds on algae. That is bottom feeder Kryptonite!
The Wallaces are juggling a number of corporate lobby and hotel projects. They are doing small art events this summer. Their film that they produced At Fest will be premiering in Philadelphia on August 7th and in New York City on August 12th. Watch out in March 2014 for the second edition of THE (UN)FAIR during Armory Arts Week.
For more information, visit the nAscent Art New York website: http://www.nascentartny.com/art/.
interview officiated by: Oscar A. Laluyan
photos courtesy of James and Jennifer Wallace