Abby Bauman: Proposals Writer
New York City
Writer for Proposals Department, Christie’s New York
WFU Class of 2009
Major: Art History
Double Minor: Economics & Studio Art
Abby Bauman has enjoyed a winding path since graduating in 2009. Starting in PR, on to a development role at DC's National Gallery of Art, and finally joining Christie's New York in 2012 where she still remains, Abby reflects on her journey and shares the advice she's gathered along the way.
DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?
Abby Bauman: At Wake, I was an Art History major with minors in Economics and Studio Art. I hadn’t really taken any art history classes before my 20th century art history class, but then became very interested in pursuing it further.
In school, I interned at the Reynolda House with Kathleen Hutton in the Education department. I also did an internship at the Morgan Library in New York before my senior year, which I found through networking.
I graduated in 2009, right after the economy crashed, so I had a difficult time finding roles in the art world. I wanted to get experience outside of the art world so I interned at a PR firm in Maryland, where I wrote press releases and media alerts. I later moved to DC and interned at a bigger PR firm called Fleishman Hillard. Soon after I started, I was offered a position in the Development Department at the National Gallery of Art in February 2010- my dream job!
At the NGA, I was a development assistant in the membership group and later transitioned into organizing events for the membership group. I learned so much about being a professional, and being surrounded by such smart, academic people was inspiring. I worked there for a little under three years.
In the summer of 2012 I started networking in NYC and was able to connect with a few people at Christie’s. One thing led to another and I landed my current role in the Proposals Department, where I’ve been since October 2012.
DL: Would you mind telling me about what you're doing at Christie’s?
AB: I have been in the same department since I joined - I work in the proposals department, which falls under the marketing umbrella. My team does business development. We work with specialists and other “business getters” to put together formal pitch documents to try and persuade people to consign their property with Christie’s. My department becomes involved when a piece of business is very valuable and competitive with another auction house or dealer. I started as a Junior Proposals Writer and now I am a Writer. I put together extensive proposal documents, presentations for pitch meetings and do basic tasks like formatting letters when timing is tight. And we do projects on a bigger scale for big pitches, like bespoke boxes. Because our business is art, design is so important. The presentations we make are beautiful. Sometimes we have crazy quick turnarounds or we have month to work on a project. We are often pitching to estates or to individual clients, and we do this for jewelry, furniture, art, etc. We work with every art specialist department at Christie’s. Every day and client is different... It is really exciting and very fast paced.
DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?
AB: Once I started hitting the ground running with my major, I knew this was something I was interested in and excited by. I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. However, in college, I was mostly focused on how to do well in school. The longer I was involved in my art history classes, the more I came to realize I could turn my interest into a career.
Senior year I was fortunate to be a part of the art buying trip, and that introduced me to the gallery world. I was able to see the sorts of art world jobs that were possible, whereas before it was much more vague in my mind. In retrospect I wish I had thought a bit harder about how the art world was impacted by the economic downturn while I was on the buying trip. But regardless, I was interested in the business side of the arts, and I felt like there was so much to be learned. In school I didn’t seriously consider going to graduate school right away but thought it could happen down the line.
DL: What do you think is the hardest part about breaking into the auction house world?
AB: Auction houses are a relatively small industry, with only a few major international players, which means that positions at every level are highly sought-after and very competitive.
I remember reaching out to galleries and not necessarily knowing how to communicate with people in the art world. It’s pretty intimidating. I didn’t break into the commercial side of the art world when I first graduated, and it was so hard to make headway. Getting someone to respond to you is just really hard. Because of that, my best advice is to network. That’s the only way I found any of my jobs. When networking, you need to be persistent and gracious. Remember that the people you contact are taking time out of their schedule to talk to you. Also, be humble about what you want. And always follow-up with a thank you note!
DL: Do the auction house masters programs help you get jobs with the institution after graduation?
AB: I don’t think it can hurt. From my own experience, I found that I was able to learn everything on the job. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been useful. The masters programs certainly help, but it’s not necessary for many entry-level roles. However, if your end goal is to become a specialist, a master’s degree at some point is likely necessary.
DL: What advice do you have for students considering a move to New York?
AB: Really focus on cultivating the relationships you have. Networking is hard, but it is so important. I think that New York can be very overwhelming. Because of that, make sure you are ready to hustle. Develop a strong network of people, and put your head down and be ready to really focus on your job. In New York, everyone in every industry works long hours. Also, it is pretty expensive, so make sure you are okay with eating pasta. It gets better though!
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
AB: From what I can see, I think that Wake is already doing a much better job. Between the different treks and the buying trip – these experiences really open peoples’ eyes. When I was there, I didn’t feel like I had a great sense of what kinds of jobs were possible for an art history major. But in recent years I’ve been very impressed with all of the efforts WFU has gone to to encourage students to learn about potential career paths.
Also, resumes you submit for art jobs are different than what you prepare in business school. We work in a visually focused business, so it means something to have the awareness to do that with the materials you submit. That’s one bit of advice I didn’t get while I was there. Lastly, the art world is small, and the school should help more with making introductions to alums, but now we have DeacLink!
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
AB: I wish I had taken the time to get to know my professors better. Current students shouldn’t be afraid to meet with professors and show engagement and interest. The professors know so much and will help and be there for you. They know a lot about the art world. That is a huge thing. With that in mind, it’s also important to stay in touch with your professors and fellow students. They will be a good resource.
Also, I really didn’t start doing this until the buying trip, but stay engaged with what’s going on in art world. Make sure you know about the big gallery and museum shows. You can do this by reading the big art world publications. As an applicant, you will be quite impressive if you know what’s going on in New York all of the way from North Carolina.
DL: What's next for you?
AB: Christie’s has been a great place for me, and I’d love to stay here for a while. However, I absolutely would love to spend some time abroad. That has always been a goal of mine. Maybe London? I think my interest to continue to lie in business development. Right now, I am not in a client facing role, but instead work in an internal department. As the art market evolves, so do my interests, but I think I will stay in the art world in some capacity throughout my career.