There may come a time in your life when suddenly that sweet Eiffel Tower imprint that you have marked from Gallery Z is starting to not look exactly like your age. Then there’s that questionable art fair paint, and, oh yeah, the paint by numbers that you scrambled after two (or was it three?) Glasses of wine. Now that you’ve figured out that you have to do it, how do you step up what is decorating your walls? If you have no idea what the next steps are to becoming a true art collector, it turns out you’re not alone: a Miami nonprofit called Commissioner works with a small group of people new to collecting. The objective is to teach them to take their first steps in the world of original art.
The Commissioner was born after a conversation in 2017 between friends Dejha Carrington and Rebekah Monson. Carrington recalls: “She once asked me how a person like her could learn more about the collection, and it was really this personal question that helped identify that there was a greater need. in the community. The two began to imagine a model who would use the money of a group of people to commission original works of art. It’s a bit like a community-supported agricultural program, where a group of people contribute to support and buy the produce of local farmers. It’s also, says Carrington, inspired by a Caribbean susu, a tradition where women put money into community projects. Their idea was good enough to secure a few grants, including $ 90,000 from the Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge. They launched the Commissioner in 2018 and opened “Collector” memberships to 40 people who pay $ 1,500 per year. 40 other “sponsor” level members pay between $ 75 and $ 100 to attend exclusive events and introduce themselves to artists.
The two partners who launched Commissioner brought different skills. Monson has worked in journalism, technology, public relations and also started Where.by.us, a Miami startup that produces media and shares events. Carrington is Vice President of Strategic Communications at YoungArts, which works to help young aspiring artists pursue their careers. She was also well placed to help people become more immersed in the arts community. She grew up in Montreal in what she describes as a “tight-knit creative and cultural community”. Her parents both worked in an apartment building, her mother as a superintendent and her father in construction. They had a small apartment full of antiques that her mother had collected at estate sales and from local antique shops. “I think my mom has that collector’s spirit,” Carrington says.
Carrington and Monson have designed a program where the curator’s collectors each year receive four original works of art created by local artists. Members have the chance to meet artists during visits to their workshops and attend events where new art is revealed. There are also regular events, like curator visits during Miami Art Week. While the program is primarily aimed at helping new collectors, the goal is also to help emerging artists, Carrington explains. Several of the artists they commissioned have since had great moments in their careers. Earlier this year, Juan Pablo Garza, one of the artists in the curatorial program, was named a member of the South Florida Consortium. In 2020, Jamilah Sabur’s work was featured in the exhibition “The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art” at the Pérez Art Museum; and currently, Pepe Mar’s work is exhibited at the Frost Art Museum.
The next season of Commissioner doesn’t start until September 2022, but there’s a waiting list go in case a place opens up. There are also free public programs open to all, which are best discovered by subscribing to the Commissioner’s newsletter. Carrington says she hopes those who drop out of the program start teaching everyone they know how to become an art collector. She says, “I hope our commissions create a lasting ripple effect where people see ways to support the community for years to come.