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“Remember, it’s not all about the numbers, it’s about the art, the artist, the people who are at the center of what you do, and your vision; why does your project matter.” Jeffrey Boloten, Co-Director, Enterprise Studio

The artistic process can be seen as an exercise in entrepreneurship. Making art is inherently entrepreneurial. Without the start-up spirit of new artists, curators and dealers, the art industry would not be where it is today.

Which is why Sotheby’s Institute launched the Enterprise Studio in February 2022, both a global idea and physical spaces in New York and London which all Masters students will be able to attend. The studio addresses all aspects of new enterprise, spanning design-thinking, venture funding, and start-up concepts.

The most successful entrepreneurs are those who have a refreshing vision yet take the time to study and learn from those artists, collectors, and ecosystems already in operation.

With the expanding online universe comes the growth of entrepreneurial potential. This creates opportunities when entering the art world, but it can be difficult for some transitioning careers into the art world, especially those who see art only for profit.

We chatted with Jeffrey Boloten, Institute faculty and Co-Director of our new Enterprise Studio, who brings years of entrepreneurial experience to students seeking to solidify their visions on what it means to make change happen within the art world. Jeffrey comes from an eclectic background, including commerce, law, and publishing.

Why is the Enterprise Studio such an important addition to Sotheby’s Institute of Art?

The art market has an ambivalent feeling towards the commercial side of the art world and it’s disempowering that art students are graduating and going out into the industry knowing nothing about their market. They don’t have to become businesspeople, but they should know how the art world works. 

There is a kind of reluctance for the art world to admit that it’s a business and that there’s a benefit in understanding how this complex business operates. The reality of the art world is there is not a big bank of jobs on continuous offer, not like law or accounting firms, the art industry is made up of predominantly small  and micro-businesses doing their own thing.

The Enterprise Studio offers essential entrepreneurial skills, which need to be honed before entering the art world. Even if people are not planning to go out and start their own business straight away, it’s something that very often happens a few years down the line. There is no such thing as a linear career anymore, things change, industries change, and it’s a good thing if you don’t feel constrained to stick with your first choice and embrace moving around.

There’s a lot of opportunity in the art world, especially with everything going online due to COVID-19, and there’ve been interesting innovations because of this, lots of lessons learnt, and new avenues found. So, it’s a great time right now to start developing your skills and passion in the art world.

To give people the confidence and skills in which to create their own art business is an invaluable thing, they can then physically move their lives forward.

What makes up the Enterprise Studio at Sotheby’s?

The Enterprise Studio is a new business incubator which is available to students (and eventually alumni as well), enabling them to start their own art operations and their own micro-businesses.

We offer MA students mentoring and assisted professional workshops, and we also have a competition in which students pitch their idea to a panel of judges with the prize being £30,000 to start their own business to get the ball rolling for them.

The Enterprise Studio runs parallel to the MA programs. It’s a career resource that is available to all students with modules including how to draw up marketing plans and how to finance them. It’s really lovely to also bring alumni back to support the Enterprise Studio and mentor the students. They’re thrilled to help people that are in the same place they were when starting out, giving back to the students.

What are the standout skills in which to be competitive in an entrepreneurial world?

Communication skills are hugely important, as well as confidence. The idea through the Enterprise Studio is to instill confidence to stand up in front of people and pitch an idea. Also, being able to identify markets you need to reach and how to go about reaching them is also incredibly important.

Tenacity and sticking with your goals and plans are crucial, and most people who take my course are tenacious. The art world takes a while to trust newcomers, and I think tenacity is the thing that pulls you through. With determination comes finding a way of how to do it and it’s great for me to be able to facilitate that journey.

What piece of advice would you like to leave your future entrepreneurs with?

The art world is a very conservative place and it’s been established for many centuries, so it isn’t a place that can be shifted very easily or very quickly. You have to find ways of operating within the structure in some way, or changing the way you do things, in order for new things to take hold, and to grow and nurture.

The art world is notoriously opaque, and it’s always been a problematic and challenging issue. I think a lot of the innovators and entrepreneurs are coming in and opening this up. Be that person.

About Jeffrey Boloten

In addition to his role as faculty at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Jeffrey Boloten is Co-Founder and Managing Director of ArtInsight Ltd., the education partner of art market research firm, ArtTactic. He was a director with several leading international publishers, including Penguin Books, and has held posts at the Tate and as General Manager of a London art college. Boloten is a frequent speaker and lecturer at international art fairs and conferences on topics including the global art, photography, and art investment markets. He is a Founding Member of PAIAM, Professional Advisors to the International Art Market, and on the Advisory Board of the inaugural Photo Shanghai Art Fair.

Learn more about the Enterprise Studio, a new graduate student center for art and entrepreneurship at Sotheby's Institute.