The ‘art’ of being an art collector and art patron of Contemporary Art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora

Isshaq Ismail, courtesy artist

Collecting Contemporary Art and being an art patron are very exhilarating, purposeful, and fulfilling passions. Simply, an art collector collects art for the sake of collecting, and an art patron goes beyond collecting art and plays the role of sponsor and advocate for the expansion and preservation of the arts and culture sector. For me, being an art patron and art collector of Contemporary Art, particularly art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora, are all about the preservation of art for future generations, and the expansion and sustainability of the arts and culture ecosystem for the enrichment of ‘the wider community’. The gift of being an art patron and collector gives me the confidence to share my own creative expressions and do so with a boldness that I’m proud of. One of my personal missions is to encourage more people, including artists, to be art patrons and art collectors. I am especially committed to helping more people living in African countries to join the community of those of us who want to expand and sustain the arts and culture ecosystem on the Continent.

In telling my story many times of how I got started as an art patron and art collector, I realized that the practice of it may need to be demystified. For far too long, buying art has been thought of as something reserved for the wealthy elite. This is just not the case anymore. We make decisions all day long about how we live and what we do with our lives. Being an art patron and collector is like any other decision. Just decide and then make your commitment to the practice of it.

This brief commentary is meant to answer the questions: How do I become an art collector? What should I do to get started as a serious art collector? Why should I make the leap from art collector to art patron? What difference can I make as an art patron?

Here is my list of 13 things to consider as part of becoming an art collector and art patron, particularly of Contemporary Art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora.

Be an Art Collector

1. Find an art collector mentor to connect with as you’re getting started. If you can’t find one, join me on Instagram @nishmccree. I love to connect with fellow art collectors and art patrons.

2. Become a part of the community of people who make up the arts and culture ecosystem where you live. Get out and meet people. Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, Director at Jack Shainman gallery called this community “friendtors”. Sharing ideas with others is one of the ways to learn about art. If you prefer less facetime with people as you’re getting up to speed, check out online communities that have great resources to offer new art collectors. I suggest you follow on Instagram @afrikart.ghana, @ablackhistoryofart, @diaspora.art, @shelovesart, @artnet, @artnewsafrica, @contemporaryand, @blackartinamerica and @blackartnow. However, there are many other excellent aggregator accounts and hashtags to follow on Instagram to help you connect with an online community.

3. Look at art every day. Sharpen your eye. Embrace the research aspect of it. Identify what you love and learn as much as possible about that kind of art. Getting started, I suggest you look at everything. You will naturally start to form preferences. Over time, you can decide what you want to focus on to start your art collection.

4. Meet the artists in person and virtually. Ask to do studio visits with artists whose work you admire and want to see in person. I cannot overstate how enjoyable and meaningful it is to connect with artists. The artists I know are the most creative and humble people I have ever met. It is a joy to spend time with them learning about their art practice and brainstorming ideas together. In the context of COVID-19, even virtual video meetings with artists is not out of the question. My relationship with artists is very special to me, and I think you will have a similar experience once you get started as an art collector

Serge Attukwei Clottey, courtesy Gallery 1957

5. Build a professional relationship with galleries that represent the work of artists whose artwork you may want to buy one day. Curators and gallerists are great resources. I find galleries in African countries to be quite accessible compared to their counterparts in more established art markets. Of course, this is a blanket statement. Most gallerists and curators are very helpful and truly knowledgeable about art and the art market. You can learn valuable lessons from them.

6. Do not be naïve about the global art market. The more you learn and listen to trustworthy people the better off you’ll be. Try following art auction sales too. It will give you some perspective on the magnitude of the business of the global art market and where your individual collecting practice fits on that financial continuum.

7. Buy art that you love. Your art collection is a reflection of your values and yearnings. The collection is meant to inspire, challenge, remind, and encourage you to live fully and endeavor to create your own ‘art’ through your gifts and dreams. I think of collecting art as a passion project with a purpose. It’s meant to be fun. Everyone is welcome to be a part of it.

8. Artists might want to consider being art collectors too. I know a few artists who support other artists by collecting their work. This is a fantastic idea and great way to build community and contribute to the preservation of the culture.

Kaloki Nyamai, Courtesy SEPTIEME Gallery

Be an Art Patron

9. For established art collectors, I strongly suggest that you become an art patron. Art patrons play a key role as custodians of art and culture. Why? The art patron is a donor partner with institutions and a trusted resource to artists and the arts and culture community. The patron gives and only expects to realize her goal of contributing to the betterment of the arts and culture community in return. The patron may give mentorship, advice, sponsorship, encouragement and information about the business of art in the global art marketplace. The patron can be especially instrumental in giving advice to and making gamechanger introductions for emerging and early career artists.

10. Make the leap towards being an art patron. Being an art patron represents a shift from simply buying art for art sake towards being a creative partner who is committed to the development, elevation, expansion and sustainability of Contemporary Art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora. This is where your decisions and support will serve the greater good.

11. Support the ecosystem that makes up the arts and culture sector around the kind of art you collect. Young curators, artists in residency programs, and art training programs can use your resources to continue their exceptional work. Many community-based art institutions committed to providing professional development opportunities for artists and showing Contemporary Art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora need your support to thrive over the long haul. Ask the art community you collect from how you can help in a more meaningful way. Identify what you can do to make a lasting difference for the arts and culture ecosystem that you love.

12. Donate some part of your collection to an institution interested in receiving your gift. This is a high impact way to allow your collection to serve a larger community. I have always been inspired by Herb and Dorothy Vogel’s generous gift to the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC). What a way to share art for the greater good of an entire nation and its millions of visitors from around the world. If you do not have an institution in your country to donate your work to, then consider building one with your art and culture sector community. Yes, you might be the one to take the lead on establishing a museum or cultural center where you live. “Think globally, act locally” approaches would work well for those who may wish to establish an institution for Contemporary Art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora. The highest consideration should be for the local community and how they will experience the institution — to raise the population-level awareness and appreciation of art and culture.

13. Serve on a board or as a curator-at-large and become a more formal custodian and influencer of an institution’s art collection. This is one of the best ways to see more of the art you love be represented at the institutional level.

While I did not cover all the facets of being an art collector and art patron, I believe this list provided some insight. Like Marie Kondo asks, “what sparks joy for you?” Above all, ask yourself this question as you start your journey as an art collector and art patron. Trust the work that sparks joy and you will build a beautiful, provocative, thoughtful, and enduring art collection. Give back to your art community and aim to be an art patron whose contributions make an impact in lives, communities, and art institutions. It is all very worthwhile and necessary for the culture of Contemporary Art made in Africa and by the African Diaspora.

If you would like to know more, share bold ideas, and discuss collaborations, I invite you to reach out to me. I would love to hear from you. Let’s make something beautiful and necessary happen together.

Renicha (Nish) McCree Tetteh-Kujorjie| nishmccree@gmail.com

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Nish McCree

I write about Contemporary Art made in Africa and my experiences living on the extraordinary African continent. Connect with me on Instagram at nish_mccree.