Spotlight Interview: Andrew Gristina

Andrew Gristina: VP, Navigators Management

New York City

WFU Class of 1990

Major: Art History

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Andrew Gristina majored in Art History at Wake, then jumped midway through undergrad into George Mason to finish his degree with Economics tacked on. Andrew is now based in NYC underwriting for Navigators Management in art insurance. Andrew breaks down his path to NY and just what the art insurance field entails.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?

Andrew Gristina: I was an art history major, but I was also a mess at Wake. I was there for three-and-a-half years, and I did not graduate. But I did meet my wife there. When I was at Wake, I was studying art history, studio art, and history. I took a couple of years off and then went back to school and graduated from George Mason. 

When I graduated, I got an art history minor from George Mason and a major in economics. That is how I got into the art insurance field. What happened was that I was in DC, and before the age of Monster and everything, resumes used to go into pools, and you would be pooled by the skills you listed. I was put into the economics and fine art buckets. At the time, Huntington T. Block was really the only insurance agency in the country that did art insurance. I was recruited to them because of the art history background on my resume. 

When I left Wake, I knew I needed to go grow up. For a while, I was a ski bum and moved to Breckenridge. It was great, but I realized I needed to go back to school and get a career. I moved back East was working in this outdoor store and had a management path ahead of me. Then this job came up, and I spoke to my dad, who is an art collector. He put it pretty bluntly to me and asked why would I not want to labor over art.

DL: Would you mind explaining a bit the world of art insurance? It’s not the typical path for the art major. 

AG: I work for Navigators, which is an insurance carrier, which is the company that pays the claims. When you get a policy, we are the ones that pay the claim. Insurance is a complex financial product, so the way most people purchase insurance is through an agent or a broker. So it is their job to assess your need, and find the best offering for that specific need. So the broker represents the interest of the insured, and I, as the underwriter, represent the interest of the company. I work with galleries, and when a broker comes to me with a gallery, I will assess the characteristics of the risk - do they have any losses in the past, how experienced are they, where are they located, do they travel often to fairs, what mediums are their artists using - and then I assess the risk and create a limit that’s fair. 

DL: How small is the art insurance world?

AG: From my side, fine art insurance underwriters, there are 40-50 people with full time jobs. A lot of those are base level roles. Companies on the underwriting side are Chubb, AIG, Navigators, Travelers, Berkley Asset Protection, and Huntington Block. 

On the brokerage side, it’s about the same. It’s almost a one to one relationship with maybe a few more. The brokers that do it have a specialization. These companies are Willis Fine Art, DeWitt Stern, Huntington Block, and Arthur J. Gallagher. There are maybe 80 full time job. There are lots of people in insurance where this is part of what they do, but they work with high net worth clients, but the role is taking care of lots of different things. 

DL: For the readers that are interested in a similar career path, what advice would you give them for breaking into the field? 

AG: Number one is you have to be ready to start at the bottom. That can be frustrating but you have to be ready to preserve in the role. The second thing is that you have to be willing to live in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, LA or Washington DC. DC has the most jobs in the field. It is very difficult to do this role in a smaller market. 

As far as networking goes, it’s different now. There is a lot of networking that goes on on LinkedIn and Facebook, but you really need to make the person to person contacts and keep at it. When you get to the city where you are, see who those people are, and start working with them. At any given time, there may be one role open in the field. It is really helpful to be at the fingertips of someone when a position comes open, so keep in front of people. 
The job of underwriter is more insurance-based, and not as client-based. I work with brokers, and I have 20 I know and work with regularly. 

Brokers have lots of clients, and they go out and find new clients. It helps to have a big network of people to help you find clients. As far as networking goes, I teach in graduate education in art law and business at Christie’s. I teach my students that there are many areas from which you can build your network: galleries/dealers, museums, art fairs, art banking, fine arts claims management, art insurance, insurance appraisal firms, fine art storage, art services firms, attorneys, family offices, and government agencies. Through these groups, you need to have connections to know what’s going on. All of these are entry points into the art business. Some of these types of companies offer really interesting approaches to the art world.  For instance, look at family offices. These are management offices for high net worth individuals that take care of their personal business transactions. They make sure the tax is paid on the boat and insurance on the houses. I know some people that are with private collections. You are not advising them on what to buy, but you are the registrar. It is about managing the collection. 

In terms of me, I found an entry point. When people get into the fine arts insurance business, most people like it and stay, so to advance you have to move companies. If you are working under someone that’s only five years older than you, you will have to work for them for the rest of your career unless you move. 

DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?

AG: I’ve spoken with the management in visual arts kids and have kept in touch with Paige Laughlin. One of the things is that there are many entry points that expose you to a lot of the business. Art fairs always need interns. With an internship with an art fair, if you get it in the right spot, it will put you in touch with a huge number of galleries. You are going to be engaging on a daily basis with over a hundred galleries. It’s an effective way to build a network.I started working with Affordable Art Fair as a sponsor. They always had intelligent people working there and after a year and half, they would be gone. I wondered if there was someone wrong with the culture, but they explained to me that employees come in and meet all of these people, and eventually they transition out into a gallery job based on their connections. There are art services firms out there, and that is another way to meet a lot of people. You can meet people in the auction house, on the appraisal side, and in packing and shipping. 

One thing is when you are young, you have a lot of mobility. Some of it is about getting experience elsewhere and bringing that with you. I known people that have looked into programs and done an internship in Australia or something, and then you come back with a unique skill set. In the art world, it is good to do some international work before you transition to New York (London or Paris are great). As an intern, it’s easier to get a visa, so students should use that to their advantage and go abroad right after graduating. 

Transitioning to New York, you have to start at the bottom. Be prepared to be met with and overcome frustration and move forward. You have to be persistent if you are going to work in New York.