15 Minutes with Chicago Art Consultant Susan Blackman

 Project by Art Advisory Ltd, Susan Blackman Art Consultant
 Project by Art Advisory Ltd, Susan Blackman Art Consultant
 Project by Art Advisory Ltd, Susan Blackman Art Consultant

When Chicago art consultant Susan Blackman talks about her work, her enthusiasm for art is infectious. She calls herself a solopreneur and she thrives in the freedom that it gives her to be boundlessly creative, while applying the unique expertise she has acquired over several decades in the industry. She is the founder and president at Art Advisory Ltd, where she provides “straight-forward and customized” creative counsel and guidance for all things art, including everything from selection, planning and curation to installation and appraisals.


As part of our series on the benefits of hiring an art consultant, we had the opportunity to chat with Susan by phone to get a deeper understanding about why she loves working in this exciting field, and how there is nothing that she finds more professionally rewarding.Susan Blackman, Founder, Art Advisory Ltd.

What is Your Background and When Did You Get Into the Art Consultant Business?

I've been doing this since I graduated from college in 1987. I got my undergrad degree in Poli sci and I also have a graduate degree, an MBA. I realized I didn't want to work for anybody and so I borrowed money from my parents to open an art gallery in the 80s and early 90s.

It wasn't long before I recognized that I am not the kind of person that likes to just hang out and wait for people to walk in. Regardless of how much marketing you do to get them to come in, I'm more of a go-getter rather than sitting in a gallery and waiting for people to show up. So I closed the gallery and that's when I started off doing consulting. I've just been doing it ever since and I mostly do corporate work. That's the niche that I've gotten into and I've done projects including in health care and hospitality, and occasionally residential. I do all of them when the projects arise but I guess I'm more tapped lately for corporate work, so that's what I know and I've been doing it ever since.

What Projects Are You Working on Currently?

I just did my first chalk artist installation. That was cool. That will be an ongoing project for this particular company. Obviously chalk is new for me so that’s been fun.

I recently worked with a law firm in Chicago -- and now the same firm has hired me to work in another city, another territory, and that's cool because they want a specific artist to that region, so I get to dive into the southwest region. On a side note, I appreciate that the UGallery website allows me to dig into local artists in that way. I can search by region. It is a really great resource. It is a big thing in supporting your local community and it’s very important.UGallery artist Yangzi Xu has painted several pieces featuring Chicago cityscapes, including “Concrete Forest”

I love every project but for me every one is different.

There's been a lot of mural work that I've been doing lately dealing with “street artists” and you know it's just a whole different market. I swing around and offer different things to different corporations as they are developed. I like being independent in order to keep things fresh. I'm not tied to any artists and don’t represent artists.

When Should Someone Consider Hiring an Art Consultant?

I consider myself a giant resource -- a huge resource. If you're thinking about hiring an interior designer, you can totally think about hiring an art consultant at the same time, unless of course you have your own collection and then maybe you need someone to add to it, to manage it.

There's all different levels of why you might want to hire me. You might want to hire someone if you're in corporate work. For example, I just finished a project for a company that was moving from a stale 15-year-old office space with walls into a more open office system which means they downsized from 220 pieces to 40. They don't have time to do the work themselves so I do it for them, and I present it to them. They get a lot of new offices. That is one common way that I get a lot of return work. Businesses that after a certain amount of time are seeking new offices and they redo their furniture and as a result, change out their art.

On the residential end, if you're considering hiring an interior designer and don’t have artworks that go with your new furniture, then you may consider hiring a consultant at the same time or shortly after when you’ve settled on your palate.

Every reason is different but the long and short of it is that the art industry is huge and I've been around for a long time. I know a lot about it. You hire me because I'm an incredible resource and I'm not here to sell you. I'm here to gain your aesthetic and then go out and find it to match your needs.


What Can You Achieve Working With an Art Consultant That is Different Than Procuring Art on Your Own?Project by Art Advisory Ltd, Susan Blackman Art Consultant

Again, I'm just going back to resource. You can hire me for a number of reasons. If you know a lot I can be your eyes and ears to that end. If you don't know a lot, I can bring a lot to your eyes and ears, so it really depends on what kind of expertise you might need.

What Has Been Your Favorite Project and Why?

Well I've had a couple of clients over the years that have open checkbooks. Those are my favorite for obvious reasons. Spending someone else's money and then just to see them so delighted is absolutely incredible but really I just have fun with every project. I'm in the happy business because when I leave, you're going to be happy. That’s the bottom line.

Right now I have a client who's deep in Czech Republic artwork, especially the turn of the century. We are taking this project to two museums so far, with a third one in Florida, and then it goes to the Czech embassy in Washington. That's fun.

I've enjoyed everything that I've done, otherwise, I wouldn't have done it for so many years. Let's put it that way. Being a solopreneur is challenging but that's also what's cool about it.

Tell Me About a Project Where Something Surprising Happened.

I once worked for a huge tech company and we created a 50-foot Scrabble board with three games going on simultaneously. It had magnetic letters that were two-sided and featured giant graphics that required putting vinyl up on the wall. The installer's advised the client to put a metal bar at the top of the mural so it wouldn't fall down. Well they didn't do it and within the month it came down and took the exterior siding of the wall with it. It ended up in a dispute between the various parties so that was surprising, and sad at the same time.

Tell Me About Your Most Unique Installation.

Recently I did a bunch of murals in a service staircase because the client wanted to incentivize their employees to be active and use the stairs rather than the elevators. So we made the staircase more interesting -- we did all these street murals in the rather industrial-looking stairwell. That was fun and I’ve gotten to do a lot of fun stuff, as well as crazy stuff.

Commissions are a lot of fun too, such as when you get an opportunity to take a piece and make it larger. As a solopreneur I also do a lot of curatorial stuff. I can do a lot of different things.

I did a project recently working collaboratively with the city of Chicago. I was working in a building with a lot of empty space and floor-to-ceiling windows on the first floor, so we put down 5,000 square feet of live sod and then I put in a sculpture garden. That was fun to do. I've also curated for another project in which we had artists trick out five trains in the downtown area that go around a loop. We turned it into a moving art gallery on these trains, there were five or six of them, and you’d get on to ride around the loop. We called it “art on track.”

As a solopreneur you can do a lot of other things. Currently, I'm working with another consultant in town and we're doing pop-ups and we call ourselves “curators gone rogue.” Our most recent pop-up was entitled “Small but Mighty, Works under 12 by 12” so that was fun. I lead a fun life.

I Know You Have Clients All Over, but What's Unique About Working in Chicago?

There are a lot of good artists here. Although we’ve lost some to New York, we've retained a lot of good artists. And a lot of good art initiatives and programs and lots of different opportunities to tap into.

Anything Else You Would Like to Share About Your Work as an Art Consultant?Project by Art Advisory Ltd, Susan Blackman Art Consultant

My husband is a professional musician, and while other people are thinking about retiring, we agree we're having fun and we'll just keep going.

My husband and I recently went on vacation to Hawaii and had a blast, and I could still continue my work momentum. For example, I received a call to sell a large painting and figured “why not?” So I'm just totally enjoying my life and I’m going to keep moving forward.


On that positive ending note, our sincere gratitude to Susan for sharing her optimistic and inspiring perspective as a Chicago art consultant. If you’d like to learn more about Susan’s work, check out her website or give her a call at (773) 671-8624. To shop UGallery’s selection of original works, you can check out new art weekly on our website.