Jo is a former Director of Christie’s UK and has over 20 years experience in the art world. In addition to her role at The Ingram Collection, she is a trustee of arts charities ArtCan and the Artists Collecting Society, is a member of the Association of Women in the Arts, the Association of Professional Art Advisors and also acts as an arts mentor. Jo has just launched her first podcast ‘Sculpting Lives’ with Sarah Turner, supported by The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art which was The Guardian’s Art Podcast of The Week. Jo has curated exhibitions at public galleries and museums across the UK, gives regular lectures and talks and launched the annual open submission The Ingram Prize exhibition, which gives graduating artists a helping hand early in their careers.
How do you describe your current job to people when they ask what you do?
Well, it can be quite hard to describe, so I say that I wear lots of different hats within the art world. I have a main role which is Director of The Ingram Collection where I’m also the curator. But then there are other things that I do within the art world that have cropped up throughout my career. For example, I also do some art advisory work, I work a lot with young artists, I do lots of talks, I’ve become something of an expert on the artist Elisabeth Frink and that is all been quite organic. It’s happened organically throughout my career.
Could you talk a little bit about your career path from secondary school to where you are today?
I read history at Oxford. I really wanted to do History of Art, but they didn’t offer History of Art as an undergraduate degree back then. After graduating, I did a year as a management consultant at Accenture and I realised that really wasn’t for me so I looked into how else I could pursue my interest in art history.
I went to the Courtauld Institute of Art to do a Master’s in History of Art, which I absolutely loved. From there, I went to Sotheby’s for a year where I was a sale administrator. In the art world you have to really start at entry level. No matter how qualified you are you have to take what jobs are available and do those really well. I worked at Sotheby’s for a year and then I went to Christie’s where I joined the Modern British department and I was there for quite a long time.
I worked my way up from administrator to being a Director of Christie’s UK and head of department. During the period I had my two children, I went back to Christie’s as a consultant, which I really enjoyed because I could still see my clients and keep up to date with what was happening with the market. However, when I had my second child, I realised I’d done enough in that corporate world, that I’d got as far as I wanted to, and I was looking at other things.
That was when Chris Ingram and I started to think about potentially working together. He was a very big buyer of modern British art. So, I went to work for him and that role has very much evolved. I think the thing about the art world and about careers in general is that it is what you make of it. I started off with The Ingram Collection two days a week doing acquisition advice and now I work pretty much full-time with Chris and I’m the Director of the foundation that we’ve created and we work with museums and galleries across the UK.
What would you say informs or inspires the work that you do and how has this evolved through your career?
For me, it’s all about people, whether that’s relationships with museums and galleries, directors, curators, artists, but also about engaging with arts and how I can encourage people to engage with the arts. That’s always at the focus of the work that I do.
Can you tell us a little about the work that you do to support young and emerging artists?
As far as we’re concerned at The Ingram Collection, the art world is very much an ecosystem. It’s really important to us to support artists who are just coming out of art school. It’s something that we were doing, buying art from graduates. We would go around to all the degree shows every year and were really enthused by the talent that we saw coming out and we thought, ‘How can we actually formalise this, how can we best support them?’.
We don’t want to just sit in our little office in Central London and say this is what’s important for artists. We listen to people and we talk to people and what came out of those conversations was an understanding that there was a need for more professional development support, more networking support. We do a prize for emerging artists which I launched five years ago. The finalists get to show in Central London in Waterloo. We offer one of the finalists a solo show at The Lightbox and we are trialling a residency for the finalists at a gallery in Somerset. We also offer throughout the year events and networking for young artists.
Could you talk us through a project that has been a highlight for you personally?
I suppose for me, one of the highlights has been working with a project called Going Public. This is something that was initiated by a curator at Museums Sheffield and it’s about how you connect private collectors with public institutions. At the moment there’s a lot of talk about public institutions and lack of funding and how people can navigate that. The Going Public project is about getting private collectors enthused about showing their collection publicly and engaged and connected with public institutions. We had a large exhibition at Museums Sheffield called ‘Darkness into Light’ which was a celebration of this project.
I wonder if you could offer some top tips for pursuing a career in the arts?
My top tip is to do the job that you are currently in really well. I feel – and I felt this at Christie’s – that there are a lot people who come in and feel that they’re over-qualified for doing the role that they’re in and then don’t do it well. If you go in and you are over-qualified, just do your job brilliantly because that will make people notice you and then you’ll be considered enthusiastic, a hard worker, outstanding and then doors will open for you. And I would also say, go to events. If you’re invited, go, network, talk to people. The art world is populated by wonderful, enthusiastic, knowledgeable people so make the most of it.
Interview collected as part of Making Careers – Textiles Careers Seminar and Workshop supported by The Radcliffe Trust.