Industry Insight with Robyn Zolnai
Robyn Zolnai completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours at York University in 2008. From 2010 to 2012 she attended Ryerson University, where she obtained a Master of Arts in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management. Zolnai is the sales manager and communications officer at the Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, and conducts lectures and workshops on collecting photography and career development for emerging photographers at various high schools, colleges, and universities in Ontario. Zolnai is currently co-teaching a course on contemporary photography at the Chang School, Ryerson University, and also works as a collections manager for a private Canadian collector.
Questions & Answers
Q. What is the difference between being an “employee in the art realm” and an “artist in the art realm,” and what is the significance of this relationship?
A. Whether an employee or an artist in the art realm, both professions go hand in hand. Both are pursuing a passion and adding value to the arts. Artists depend on gallerists, curators, writers, collections managers, conservators, etc., to build, maintain, and manage their legacy. Without artists, these roles wouldn’t exist. I think it is safe to say that at some point an employee of the arts has tried their hand as a practising artist, and vice versa. This naturally allows an understanding of the challenges both roles face. For example, I studied visual arts during my undergrad, practising everything from photography to sculpture. And although I loved the processes, I was never ecstatic about my result. Instead, I championed my classmates who truly excelled. It wasn’t until I discovered the art market that I found my true passion. This isn’t to say I haven’t met professionals in my field who work as both an employee and artist, but everyone I have met in this industry works above and beyond a 9 to 5—which is easy to do with a job you love.
Q. How do you navigate the various types of galleries for exhibition? And how does having this greater understanding help you succeed in the exhibition art world?
A. I think that a lot of emerging artists believe they need immediate commercial gallery representation to have an exhibition, but in many cases there are great exhibition opportunities that foster exposure and build networks—for example, applying to calls for submission within your medium, or joining a co-op gallery with a collective of artists organizing an active exhibition schedule. There are also galleries where you can rent an exhibition space for a period of time for more of a do-it-yourself type of operation. It is important to remember that building your reputation as an artist takes time and dedication. Eventually, with persistence, like most careers, you will find the exhibition recognition that you are looking for.