The field of art PR just added another player to the game. You might be familiar with Cultbytes as an art publication, but as of recent, has grew from a publishing platform to a Curatorial & PR/Digital Services Agency. Leading the charge is founder of Cultbytes Editorial, Anna Mikaela Ekstrand.
We caught up with Anna Mikaela to discuss her newly formed agency, must-see exhibitions, and what she’s doing to fight social inequalities in the art world.
Art Zealous: 6 items in your bag right now?
AME: Michel Houllebecq’s newest book Serotonine, lipstick, wallet, keys, pens, and a thousand business cards.
AZ: Go-to outfit for art openings?
AME: I never wear the same outfit more than thrice.
AZ: What was your first job in the arts?
AME: I worked as a sales assistant in the film industry; the highlight was going to Cannes. It was the spring of the DSK [Dominique Strauss-Kahn] scandal and in between meetings my female boss showed me an effective technique to maneuver out of a man’s grip, lying down. We also met with Harvey Weinstein. Little did we know that a few years later justice would be served. Then, I worked at a contemporary art gallery in Berlin.
AZ: Favorite art institution in NYC? Favorite one overseas?
AME: I admire The Kitchen for championing performance art and interdisciplinary practices ahead of their time; I am definitely going to keep a closer eye on them in 2019. Since 2011, in her role as Director of Tensta Konsthall, Maria Linde has set new institutional precedents by experimenting with and pushing the boundaries of programming and institutional management. She’s leaving soon, so go to Stockholm to visit.
AZ: Cultbytes went from being a publishing platform to a Curatorial & PR/Digital Services Agency. Was this a natural decision for you?
AME: Absolutely. I have been doing freelance curating, communications, and digital strategy for art advisors, arts-tech companies, non-profits, and artists off-and-on for several years. So, I thought why not bring all my activities under one umbrella and think bigger? With the help of my team, expanding the editorial to an agency has allowed Cultbytes to grow in new, unexpected directions and for us to deliver better and more visionary results to our clients.
AZ: What was the driver to expand Cultbytes?
AME: Money. Can I say that? I was having a hard time funding the editorial platform, but I wanted to continue to publish high-quality articles. So, I decided that we should build revenue from adjacent activities. I think this is one way to keep arts media alive, using editorial platforms primarily to build cachet, reputation, and drive traffic.
AZ: The field of Art PR is relatively small, what is your vision and approach and why is it different?
AME: When I started the agency, my editor-at-large Alexandra Bregman told me: “You’ve basically been doing great PR for years.” PR is all about grabbing attention and communicating stories, which is really important. But, through the agency we offer more than just PR. Among other things, I am trying to pitch a TV series starring our client Jennifer Klos, a museum curator turned art advisor based in Dallas. To artists, I like to say that we can support them in a way that a gallery would; for example, we are project managing the painter Méïr Srebriansky’s participation at Superfine! in May. Nina Blumberg, Cultbytes social media manager, is an integral part of the team and not only does she manage Instagram accounts she also sets our clients up with New York’s leading influencers in the arts for collaborations and coverage. Together with Alexandra Israel, our PR specialist, I am working to connect artists with other industries. As a team we definitely have a “can do” and “we will do what hasn’t been done” before approach.
AZ:You mentioned that you are passionate about working against the social inequalities in the art world? How are you doing this and how can others do their part?
AME: Battling the gender inequities in the art world is important, luckily this is now mainstream. So, let’s talk about unpaid labor, a practice that I vehemently oppose. Expecting interns to work for free, or below living-wage, makes the art world unattainable for people from less privileged backgrounds, it takes jobs from entry-level workers, and lowers base-salaries for regular employees. And, if groups from homogenous racial and socio-economic backgrounds carry out cultural work, how will programming become more diverse?
If you have or have had a job, entry-level or higher, in the arts you can help change the situation: 1) Do not offer to work for free. Value your own and others work! 2) Negotiate a salary/stipend for your intern(s). If you were able to land a managerial position you should be able to advocate for those who you manage. If you’re not at the Guggenheim, it really isn’t that hard. 2.5) If you’re at a non-profit you can also turn to your development office to try to establish a grant for interns or find a partner organization to sponsor them. 3) Speak up against unpaid labor. I just called out an artist friend for wanting to take on unpaid interns, he got offended, but our friendship will survive. Through Cultbytes, I champion a respectful and equitable work environment for my colleagues, you should too. FYI, if you need help spreading the word, I am happy to advise, speak on panels, and pen articles on the topic.
AZ: What are some must-see exhibitions that we should have on our radar?
AME: I heard from Hirschl & Adler that the rumored schizophrenic and highly prolific self-taught Antiguan artist Frank Walter is the topic of an upcoming solo-show at a major American museum. The artist’s works include painting, sculpture, photography, and some 25,000 pages of writing influenced by post-colonial trauma and racial tension. How often do you see work that explores the complexities of Caribbean identity through art? Thelma Golden is a fan. He’s the next big thing. Keep an eye out for the press release.
AZ: Advice for young people in the arts.
AME: Stay up to date, work conscientiously, and turn your competition into collaborators.
top image // Anna Mikaela Ekstrand at Valli Art Gallery photographed by Casey Kelbaugh.