Art entrepreneurs have a business plan

Jan 9, 2015

If you thought art collectors were intimidating professors with white sofas and inherited wealth, you haven’t met Amanda Dunn and Julia Wehkamp.

“There is a whole new generation of collectors. Whether they’re coming from emerging markets in the Middle East, Asia, or whether they’re young professionals looking to invest,” explains Wehkamp.

And with good reason. The art market is strong and growing as an investment option.

The pair – who have been best friends since bonding over horses on the first day of Grade 9 – have made it their mission to bring art collection to a chequebook near you. They are demystifying the process through talks and webinars that make global experts accessible to laypeople.

One Art Nation has accomplished a lot in just under a year.

They have hosted symposia at Art Miami, Art Southampton and Art Silicon Valley, built a comprehensive website and have developed partnerships with experts around the world to provide free webinars. Also on the site are event listings and marketplace news.

The pair’s journey has been a long one. Their original ambitions couldn’t contrast more with their work today: Dunn, to go to medical school and Wehkamp, to become a lawyer. Instead, Wehkamp completed an MBA in Germany and was working in Zurich in healthcare before moving to Toronto for love (it worked out).

Dunn, on the other hand, was recruited out of university with an ad agency that took her around the world, training her on marketing and sales. She spent five years in Dubai before moving to London to work with Christie’s Auction House as global marketing manager.

While at Christie’s, Dunn said she noticed that the art world was not speaking to the new generation of collectors. “They’re very intimidated to ask basic questions like ‘What should I be investing in right now? If I like a piece is it worth buying just ‘cause I like it? … Can I take a piece off the wall and try it in my house?’”

The pair met to brainstorm and two bottles of wine later, they were starting a business, applying a web platform Wehkamp was familiar with to art collection. Conscious of the impact a business could have on a friendship, they outlined expectations around time, financing, risk and exit strategies.

“We balance each other out,” says Wehkamp. “We’re friends for a reason; we have the same taste … we’re on the same page.”

Recognizing they could use help on developing their business plan, they visited Enterprise Toronto. They say their consultant, Sandi, was “very open, never intimidating…. She had a genuine interest.”

Sandi suggested they create two business plans – one for investors, one for grants – and helped “seal the deal” with a silent partner in Berlin. Dunn says they will likely continue to seek advice as they develop.

And how are the pair’s own collections coming along? They are inviting the public to find out, as they undergo the process of purchasing their very own, and their very first, art investment.

If they had it their way, Wehkamp’s would be a Lawren Harris and Dunn’s, a Kandinksy or Vlaminick.

By Deena Douara

Photo taken at Katzman Contemporary

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