Zanny Dow and Brooke Einbender are an ambitious pair whose bond was forged in the Scales painting studio. Together they've co-founded Higher Art Galleries, an online platform making the sale of student art more accessible. We spoke with the duo about their time at Wake and what's coming up next.
DeacLink: What did you both study at Wake? How did you choose your majors?
I was awarded the presidential scholarship for visual arts at Wake Forest. As a freshman on campus, the scholarship gave me the confidence to pursue art seriously from the very start. I thought I only wanted to minor in art, but I soon realized that was not enough. My minor blossomed into a major, the art department faculty felt like family to me, and the painting studio was my home away from home on campus. I am so glad that I made the “brave” decision to study Studio Art with a concentration in oil painting.
In my four years, I was fortunate enough to participate in several uniquely Wake Forest art opportunities. I took a semester long class focusing on contemporary art and ended the course at the Venice Biennale, while staying at Wake Forest’s Casa Artom. Additionally, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Student Union Art Acquisition Committee. This experience in particular actually led to my current job working for a private art advisor/consultant.
My immersion into the Art Department wasn’t as immediate as Brooke’s. I came to Wake Forest as a Presidential Scholar for Music with a concentration in Harp studies. I had every intention of majoring in Chemistry and following the Pre-Medicine track. Art was barely on my radar and the thought of studying it seemed absurd; I hadn’t taken an art class since middle school and had no idea what I would do with a degree in art anyway. Amidst the stress of organic chemistry, I signed up for a digital art class with the idea that it would be a creative outlet for my overworked mind. This class forced me to think in ways I had never before. In doing so, I realized the value of creative thinking and it completely altered the trajectory of my Wake Forest education.
It wasn’t until second semester of my sophomore year that I had the guts to let go of my childhood dream of becoming a doctor to pursue the arts-- this was one of the most terrifying, yet rewarding things I have done. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a completely random decision, I have always loved drawing, painting and crafting, I just never saw it as a potential career. After taking that class, amongst others, it no longer mattered to me if there was a distinct path. What mattered was that I was happy.
ZD & BE: We both majored in Studio Art with concentrations in Oil Painting and minored in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise. With all of our friends pulling all-nighters in the library, we would be in the painting studio until 3am, mixing paint, building canvases, and blasting good tunes. This is the type of education we chose!
As for entrepreneurship, both of us always had creative side-hustles growing up. Our decisions to apply to the Entrepreneurship minor was the best decision either of us made while in school. Wake Forest’s Entrepreneurship program is absolutely amazing and we are so excited to see how it develops in the coming years! As seniors, we took full advantage of the unique opportunities and incredible resources the entrepreneurship department had to offer. Brooke applied to the first-ever Deacon Springboard program which provides seed money, access to mentors, and creates a community of passionate student entrepreneurs. She pitched the idea of a student art rental business and was selected to participate in Deacon Springboard’s culminating event DeacTank, a shark tank style event. Zanny joined up just in time to participate in the program. After spending just a few short weeks developing our idea, we pitched “Art Rentals for Students by Students” to the first-ever panel for Wake Startup Lab. We were selected, along with several other teams, to participate in the accelerator program in which “Art Rentals for Students by Students” evolved into the company that we have today called Higher Art Galleries. This class was the most rewarding and life altering class we ever took at Wake Forest and we would not be where we are now without the support of our mentors, Dan Cohen, Greg Pool, the other teams in Startup Lab, among others.
DL: How did you two meet?
ZD: Wake Forest is small and Brooke was just one of those people that everyone knew or knew of-- she had the reputation for being friendly, outgoing and always covered in paint. Before meeting Brooke my Senior year, I knew who she was. The art department raved about her and my classmates were excited for her to join Advanced Painting. Brooke and I quickly bonded over our mutual love of painting and entrepreneurship. Completely coincidentally, we had the majority of our shared Major/ Minor classes together. After many late nights together in the studio, blasting music, suffering through painters' block and talking about our Entrepreneurship projects, Brooke asked me if I would be interested in starting a business with her. I jumped at the opportunity and we have been friends/ business partners since.
DL: What inspired you to start Higher Art Galleries?
BE: Sophomore year I was looking for an internship, and through a friend of my sister’s, I interned at Turning Art, which is an online platform that creates prints of artists works, installs these works, and creates subscriptions with businesses. You can buy originals, but they are mainly a printing source to decorate offices. While there, I was able to see different types of art and the printing processes. I didn't think anything of the internship, but it was a good first experience. Shortly after, I realized that I didn't really know on campus what other artists were creating. The artistic process is very private, intimate. Studios are key card access only. There is not a dialogue going throughout different classes. Even non-art majors are doing really cool things in their spare time, and there was not a way to celebrate or view what people were doing on a singular platform. Zanny and I took entrepreneurship minor classes and we had this professor, Dan Cohen, who really just changed our lives. He just gave us so much knowledge about startups and how to create them. His course was a crash course in entrepreneurship and how to work your way up and build your own business. Each student had to create a business idea, pitch to the class, and then class votes. I pitched my art rental idea, but I didn’t win. But afterwards, Cohen pulled me aside and told me to try and pitch to Deacon Springboard. I was so nervous. I walked into the OPCD and gave my one minute elevator pitch, and I got into Deacon Springboard. This all began from the need for something to celebrate art on campus, what others are doing, read about their work and their artist statement, and put a student face to artwork.
ZD: Next Brooke and I merged together. We had painting and entrepreneurship classes together, but we were in different sections. We would talk about a lot senior year. Brooke was saying to me, “I have this idea…” It originally started as art rentals for students by students, but it was very similar to the Turning Art method of prints. One day she asked me to join, and we wound up developing our business model before pitching again to another panel, Wake startup lab. Dan Cohen had just started it with another professor.
Wake Startup Lab is a new big thing, and there were a bunch of teams pitching. We figured just do it. What did we have to lose? Our pitch was so messy and cobbled together at the last minute. It was pretty awful in hindsight, but we wound up getting a slot. It is the best experience I’ve had at Wake. Made Wake what it was.
BE: The 1-on-1 attention was amazing. They invest in your ideas and your talent. They also provided us with funding and access to mentors. They brought in guest speakers every week with such an incredibly, well-seasoned experience set in business. They also brought in lawyers. The program made an educational experience real life. It didn't feel like a class. We created something real that turned into what it is today. The program was a great stepping stone. Dan came from Cornell and created the program there, and he has been super successful in bringing it to Wake. He’s part of the revamping of the entrepreneurship department.
They even paired us with a law school student that acted as our lawyer. The free legal advice was great. She helped us create contracts with artist and establish an LLC. Any questions she had were run by the head of the law school. We also had two mentors who acted as advisers that were parents of students. One worked in nonprofits and one was the CEO of a marketing company. That connection showed us that Wake was not only willing to help students, but parents connected to Wake are really willing to give back through mentorship, advice, and coming to speak. It’s such a great community. I’m not sure other schools are like this.
DL: I was also an entrepreneurship minor (it was just beginning to take off when I was an undergrad). From the outside looking in, it seems to be an increasingly popular minor for students that put the “art” in liberal arts. What do you think is the catalyst for this?
BE: There is a big difference between the business major and the entrepreneurship minor. I thought I wanted to enroll in business school. I didn't get in, so I decided to minor in entrepreneurship, and I am so happy I did that instead. Entrepreneurship encapsulates all kinds of people and bring them together under one roof. There is a lot of merging of different ideas from different backgrounds. It gives you enough business and real life knowledge and a foundation that will allow you to align passion with major, which for us is art and business.
ZD: The entrepreneurship minor is one of the most practical minors at Wake. They are teaching you actual usable skills to move forward with a business. Often I felt that you were learning information in classes that was important but not practical. Entrepreneurship is hands on and practical. You can actually use things like a cash flow spreadsheet. The minor and the department give students with different majors a way to move forward with their careers. It adds practicality to their major. It’s amazing.
DL: How many artists are you representing right now, and how have you been adding new artists to your stable?
BE: We have 15 artists. It’s hard because right now we are not on campus. We have 2-3 interns and they act as our student liaisons. They also create content around Wake and Winston-Salem art events. They help us access new artists. For Zanny and I, the larger plan is to expand to other universities. We want to become the destination to see student art and emerging talent nationwide. We just sent an email to five North Carolina Universities' Art Department heads. We are scheduling info interviews to pick their brains about student and art department needs. We want feedback on Higher Art Galleries to see what else people need with this platform. We are still in the building process. Other school’s departments have much better access to students than us to see how we can bring on more artists.
ZD: We are hoping that they say, 'We support this'. We know Wake and all its facets, and have gotten great feedback from them, but part of that could be biased since we know everyone. There are a few people that are a few degrees of separation that are involved, but most are friends. Right now we are at a point where we need to test to see if this is the case with people that don’t know us. That’s where we're at right now.
We had an exciting conversation with the new head of art department at Wake, Dr. Bernadine Barnes. She reached out to one of our interns to learn more about Higher Art Galleries and loved the idea.
At Higher Art Galleries, we are commissioning our artists to create Wake Forest-inspired artwork. This serves as a visual way to show where the artist is coming from and their art education. We hope wake Forest inspired commissions will help parents, alumni, students and faculty realize the talent on campus. If the viewer doesn’t understand abstract or conceptual art, this is a piece that helps them understand the talent that exists. We hope to expand to other universities and to have students create work about their university
Our next two places to expand to are North Carolina, near Wake and with similar demographic, and then we are also planning at looking into some New York universities. We just launched on November 15th  so we're still super fresh, in the testing stage. We will iterate as time goes on.
DL: I know this is a national project, but what do you think will be the long term impact on the Wake Arts community?
ZD: Our ultimate goal is to create and foster an art community on campus, one that is bringing the arts outside of the studio. We want to create a place for people to explore the arts and what is happening on campus.
BE: These interns that reached out to us understood that there's a lack of a visible, vocal art scene on campus compared to something like WFU style. There is a community for that and a network, system, building blog, Instagram, and events. Our interns are really bringing to light what is going on on campus art wise and broadly in Winston. They’ve written about some of the sculptures on campus - explaining what, who, and why. They’ve been featuring students having shows at START gallery, the buying trip exhibition, people’s final projects in public art class. They are bringing to light what is going on in the arts, and that will impact department as a whole. The department’s website is not up and coming. I was talking to Zanny, and she didnt feel at home until the end of her time in the department…
ZD: Brooke and I had very different experiences. Brooke was a Presidential Scholar so she went right in, but for me it wasn't so immediate. It wasn’t on my radar at all. It was also hard to get into classes. I couldn't get in until I was a sophomore. Junior year got involved in painting and it clicked then. Once you are in, it’s gold, but it’s not so immediate. It would be helped if there was a way to talk about art and involve people at Wake that aren't art majors. People that just enjoy it, but don't study it. Neither of our interns are studio art majors or minors, but they are interested in the arts. That’s exciting for us, and it validated our idea by showing there was a broad interest.
DL: Are you focusing on the blog full time? Or are you working in NYC as well? If so, what are your day jobs? And how did you land those roles?
ZD & BE: No, we actually have two amazing WFU interns that reached out to us wanting to get involved in supporting Higher Art’s missions; they run our blog! Our interns, Maggie and Abby, are sophomores who produce art related content specific to Wake Forest and Winston-Salem. Now that we are in New York, Abby and Maggie are our connection to Wake and keep us up to date with the WFU art community. While they focus on creating content, we spend early mornings, late evenings and weekends continually developing our business model and online platform. One thing that we have learned from working in the Entrepreneurship department at Wake is that startups are an ever-evolving process. As for our “day jobs,” Zanny co-manages a wine bar in Union Square and Brooke is an assistant to a private art advisor and art dealer. Although this is what pays the rent at the moment, we are counting down the days to focusing our full energy on Higher Art Galleries.
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
ZD & BE: The thing is, pursuing a career in the arts is often not as straightforward as other career paths like business or science. As a result, it is challenging to have a set protocol to prepare students for entering the “art world” post graduation. The art department does a good job bringing alumni and guests to campus to speak about their art related careers, which is one step to alleviating the negative stigma associated with studying and pursuing a profession in art. That being said, there is still a lot more that Wake Forest OPCD and Art Department could be doing to support their art students. One thing that we LOVE about DeacLink is that it creates a singular platform to learn about the Wake Forest Art Alumni network. This is a resource that would be invaluable to Wake Art students and something that OPCD could use as a tool to further help support the students looking for careers in the arts. Additionally, we would have loved to have a course available to teach us how to pursue a career in the arts. It would have been helpful to learn how to apply for art grants, research for grad schools, build an art website, photograph your artwork etc.. The “art world” is such a broad term that encompasses infinite job opportunities. Art Students need help demystifying the art world by learning about the different types of art jobs.
DL: The commercial sales/gallery route is a popular career option for art alums. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the field?
ZD & BE: Our advice for recent art grads who are interested in commercial sales/ galleries is to do informational interviews. Reach out to older alumni, recent grads, and family friends who work in similar fields that interest you and then pick their brain. This is also a great way to create a professional relationship with people who can potentially help you get a job in the future. Contact these people early on so that you can reach out to them once again when you are job hunting. Especially in the art world, it helps to have a contact who can help you get a foot in the door.
DL: How do you like living in NYC? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in the city?
BE: I was not planning to come to New York. It wasn’t for me. Zanny is from Garrison NY, and loves New York so much. She said I had to move. I said it was “too high key, there was no nature,” but she said I had to come, so I took the leap. For the sake of Higher Art, it will be better for us to be in the same vicinity. I love it. It’s so expensive. I am living with my grandma, so I am not paying rent which is a blessing. There is so much going on, so much culture, so many art events. It is so inspiring and energizing. We went to this WeWork event. We had applied for this grant as they were giving away $20M to fund ideas around the world. We didn’t get the money but went to the award ceremony, and it was awesome. There were thousands of young people, who were all passionate about ideas. We sat through the awards ceremony. It was at a warehouse with a DJ, open bar, free food.
ZD: The WeWork event was a really cool experience. I don't think you get that in other places. So exciting to go there with thousands of other people our age. It was cool to have the community for a moment.
As Brooke said, I am NY’s number one fan at Wake. When we were figuring out our plan, I talked her into coming to New York. I grew up outside the city and went to school right outside the city. Living here has been so amazing. It’s just so much culture, and there’s always something to do. It’s a lot fun and really inspiring. Everyone is working really hard, there’s somewhere they’re going, something they’re going to do. The energy is inspiration to keep working harder. It is hard to be motivated to do double work, but we are passionate, so it doesn't feel like work often, but it’s time consuming. It’s good to be in a place that inspires us. In terms of advice, save money before you come.
BE: A lot of friends of ours came here not knowing their exact route since they knew they wanted to be here. I wasn’t going to move here unless I had a job in hand. When I came, I did. I think that informational interviews and doing a lot of backend work before actually coming here was crucial. You need to set up appointments to meet with people fact to face. That is really important for getting your foot in the door anywhere in New York. Here, sending resumes and waiting passively doesn’t work. You have to take action. Zanny went through a job recruiter.
ZD: I think taking action is so important. People are worried about badgering future employers, but in New York, that’s the way. Send follow up emails, call them. In NY, it’s one of those places where every man is for themselves. When it comes to jobs, it’s a matter of getting your foot in the door. You need to decide what you want to do and go for it. You can’t be passive in this city.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
ZD & BE: Take risks, listen to your gut, and do things that align with your passion. Wake Forest is generally a risk averse community in which people tend to follow careers with concrete futures. This is all well and good but for those of us who weren’t placed on this earth to be Doctors or Accountants, it can be overwhelming. The things that excite you are connected to your purpose, so have the courage to follow them. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the things you are drawn to just because the don’t follow a set path. It’s not necessarily your job to know where you are going, it’s your job to take action on the things that pique your curiosity and the rest will follow!