At GLOW, we strive to create a community of women by sharing the strengths, community leadership, and creative endeavors of our Organized Women members through our OW Spotlight series.
Today's OW Spotlight comes from the founder of My Art Boston, Christina McCollum.McCollum has a background in academia and years of experience leading private tours. She is currently a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Center CUNY, and working on her doctoral dissertation in Boston. Over the course of several years, she fell in love with the art collections in and around Boston, and recognized the need for a premium tour service. So, in the style of any Organized Woman, she set out to found a business providing a service for art tours in Boston!
We interviewed Christina on her goals and passion as a female business starter here in Boston:
Q: What was your career goal as a young girl and how did that evolve as you progressed through your education and professional life?
Q: What experiences led you to where you are now?
When I was a kid in New Orleans I would tell people who asked that I wanted to be an archaeologist. Once I realized that archaeology is actually a very meticulous and scientific field that possibly brings one into contact with lizards, I decided I wanted to be a professor – probably because Indiana Jones was an archaeologist AND a professor. I knew I was in for many years of school no matter what, but I liked school. As a teenager I would hang out at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and when I got into NYU I went into the Art History Dept. right away. The New York art world seemed like this chic, official and totally alien world that I wanted to break into. By the end of my undergraduate years I was still curious and still very much outside the art world, so I decided a Doctorate in art history would be my ticket inside. And that was true in many cases – being a graduate student bought me access to museum and gallery jobs and internships. During graduate school I came to reject much of the elitism that had originally intrigued me, but I found that art was an incredible vehicle for thinking about history and philosophy (economics, politics, religion, I could go on…). I was able to teach as an adjunct professor for five years, and that remains one of the greatest experiences I think I’ll ever have. I found that I had a knack for explaining art to people of all different backgrounds and experience and interest levels. As my graduate studies were coming to a close I was working freelance as a private art guide for clients in New York and loving it. I founded My Art Boston when I moved to Boston in 2013.
Q: What were you doing before you made this change and what experience helped lead you to where you are?
I was engaged to one of my best friends from Massachusetts. He was ready and willing to move to New York for my career, but we started to visit the museums and galleries in Boston and I kind of fell in love for a second time. I found myself spending more and more time in Boston. I decided that I could provide a service here that wasn’t being met. Freelancing in New York had been fun and exciting, but I wanted to take responsibility for my career and my future so I decided to start My Art Boston. My company offers private museum and gallery tours and custom public art and architecture outings. I also prepare art itineraries for clients or travel with them to see art in other cities. I mostly work with couples or families and small groups, but I also create tours for larger or corporate groups. Sometimes I produce mini- art history courses about a certain topic, and I advise clients who are collecting. This business is certainly not something I could have predicted but it’s in line with a career I always wanted, and I’m so grateful to be doing it.
Q: What is your role currently and what does an average day in your work life look like?
At this stage I do everything from planning to touring to research and marketing. Things go from fabulous to mundane pretty quickly. One minute I’m meeting with a gallery director or hotel concierge and the next I’m stuffing envelopes. Every day is completely different. Many days are spent in front of my laptop, or whipping through the museum to see what’s new. I get to travel fairly often within Mass. or to New York, and occasionally abroad with clients. If I'm being romantic I'll say that my office is whichever museum I'm touring or scouting that day: the Museum of Fine Arts, public art or gallery openings. Honestly, most often it’s my home, the Trident cafe on Newbury Street or the Fine Arts reading room at the Boston Public Library.
Q: What advice would you give to a young woman trying to pursue a career in your field?
Since I’ve always sort of straddled Academia and the art world my advice will too. If you want to pursue a PhD, you should, because learning the history of the philosophy of any field will change your worldview. Consider taking some time or a Masters degree between your Undergraduate and Doctorate to really hone in on your subject matter. Be aware of the internal politics of academic institutions and the increasing rarity of academic positions, and try to secure enough funding so that you can focus on your research. I always worked, and the degree drags on that way.
As an entrepreneur, I suggest losing all reticence. Be bold and confident as much as possible. I have always been turned off by people with a false sense of entitlement, so for a while I was professionally timid although personally outgoing. That doesn’t work in Academia, the art world or in owning a business and so I slowly grew into a professional confidence. Also, people want to help you and you should let them. Women defy the competitive stereotype all the time and are tremendously supportive. I can think of at least three times in my life when a woman directly helped to advance my career. One woman I barely knew literally took me by the hand and introduced me to a gallerist who would become my employer.
Q: Is yours a male-dominated organization or industry? What challenges have you faced as a female trying to succeed in your field?
Back in the day (until the 1980s I’d say) almost all art historians were men. Not the case any longer! Women populate the art world these days- as curators and gallery directors and art historians.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced when first getting off the ground?
I knew that I had a good product that I could deliver. I had plenty of experience with all sorts of clients. But I had no idea how difficult marketing would be on a limited startup budget, or any budget. You really find yourself getting creative with your resources – just marching into places with a brochure in hand. People seemed to respond to hand-written notes, and personally addressed mail. That’s more of a tip than advice, I guess. I also built much of my website myself. It took me far longer than a professional programmer – far longer – but what a valuable skill set to have acquired, however painfully!
Q: Who was your childhood hero?
There are many. I went to a Catholic elementary school in Louisiana named for St. Joan of Arc. She was the only female warrior from history I had ever heard of, and I was fascinated that she went to battle as a teenager, visionary or not. As soon as I read about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo I was transfixed by her tenacity and tragedy. I remember the day and the book perfectly. I should include the aforementioned Indiana Jones in this list. I also can’t remember whether I admired, or had a crush on, the Karate Kid. It’s not that I wanted to be like a man, but I wanted to be smart and heroic like those characters. There weren’t too many powerful, adventurous female role models in movies in the Eighties when I was a kid. There were some: Sarah Williams in the Labyrinth put David Bowie in his place. I’ll admit that I can still recite her speech from the end of the movie. I also identified with girls from books: Meg from A Wrinkle In Time was a math whiz; Claudia from The Mixed Up Files... ran away to live in the Metropolitan Museum (go figure why I liked that one!); and I admired the questioning defiance of Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird.
Q: When have you been most satisfied in your life?
Right now is a great time, but I I’m constantly pushing forward. Boston has opened a new chapter in my life, and life is good.
To learn more about My Art Boston, please visit www.myartboston.com