"I think everybody is made up of their experiences" explains Heather Urban, MA 2003 (Visual Arts Administration) and founder of Urban Art Access, a Florida business dedicated to bringing innovative and cutting edge art programs and services to Miami.
Like many Steinhardt alumni, Heather was curious and interested in exploring professional opportunities beyond what she found upon completing her Bachelor's Degree in Painting and Metalsmithing at Skidmore College. Heather's natural instincts, combined with her understanding of visual arts and crafts, led her to Colorado shortly after graduation. There she pursued opportunities in glass-blowing and jewelry studios, but slowly became less interested in these crafts, and instead turned her energy to learning about new and emerging artists, the marketing of art, and business.
Quickly realizing that her prospects were limited in Colorado, Heather moved to New York City to pursue new opportunities and grow within the world of art. After moving to the city, Heather took a position in the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) Architecture and Design Department on a special catalog project. Once the project at MOMA was completed, Heather was presented with a new job opportunity in marketing. In May 1995, she accepted a position at Caspari, a publishing company with deep heritage and a tradition of excellence in creating upscale paper products. As Marketing Manager, she designed trade show booths, managed a sales team, and created packaging design. This new set of diverse skills inspired her to think beyond her current professional situation.
"I always knew I wanted to own my own business [and] do something that incorporated all of these skills," Heather said. With a new inspiration and desire to forge her own path, Heather left Caspari and entered the Master's Program in Visual Arts Administration at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. "I didn't think I wanted to be a dealer. I wanted to be broader than that. I was intrigued by the [Steinhardt] program because I knew it would take me hands-on right into the art market; people were plucked right out of the Chelsea art world and into our classroom. You had an interesting opportunity to be able to see every aspect of the business."
While in her second year of the program, Heather was offered the opportunity to intern at a new gallery in Miami that led her to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in North Miami. She made the move south without hesitation, saying, "I came [to Miami] for three months in the summer and everyone thought I was nuts because it was so hot. But as the summer ended it got nicer I was able to turn my volunteer efforts at the museum to a full time job for the Museum."
Serving as MoCA's Membership and Marketing Manager, Heather established Miami's first young professionals group, the MoCA Shakers. Today, the Shakers continue to serve Miami's art enthusiasts, collectors, and donors age 21 to 45 as a social and educational outlet. After two years at MoCA, and having built a strong and active members group, Heather left her role and turned her energies to completing her thesis.
Heather worked on her thesis with newfound interest, focusing on the development of successful young-professional patron groups. (It should be noted the model she established at MoCA has since been replicated at other galleries and museums in Miami and beyond with great success.) Upon the completion of her thesis, it became clear that Heather had not only earned her degree, but stumbled upon what would be her business plan. "The variety of work experiences I had, and the relationships I made through NYU with the gallerists and dealers were tremendous for building relationships with people in Miami and the art community."
The compellation of experiences Heather had in her schooling, careers, and time in New York helped her refine and re-define her approach to art and the art world, and in such found a way to connect average people intrigued by the visual world to artists and art collectors. Heather began her new business by giving educational talks to people and groups both new to and deeply immersed in the contemporary art world. "I thought a lecture isn't really that enticing to a novice, so I thought ‘make it informal.' I was giving the artist time to talk about their art publicly, and the guests [a chance] to learn about contemporary art in the marketplace as well as form a relationship with the artist and the dealer." Heather explains, "You're not only providing an opportunity to educate them, but taking the initiative to be involved in the art world."
The early events, which had an informal ambiance, allowed the artist, dealer and collector to discuss individual pieces from their perspective. They quickly established Heather's reputation as the go-to girl for high-end collectors and art lovers. In 2002, with the emergence of what is now Miami's largest art event of the year, Art Basel, Urban Art Access was born and Heather's own masterpiece finally came to fruition.
"I think one of the things that I loved when I moved to Miami was that the city is relatively young and the art world is even younger." And Heather viewed this emerging young art market as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Art Basel marked the first major art event in Miami and offered Heather a host of opportunity in her new business venture. Through her hard work, connections, and ‘word of mouth' endorsements, Urban Art Access quickly became the place to turn in Miami for everything from art tours for beginners to week-long trips to Miami for museum board members. Heather can now proudly say, "I hear from people, ‘Heather got me involved in the arts,' and that's very rewarding!"
Urban Art Access works to create an individual experience for each client from the local art novice to the out-of-town museum board member. "My company has expanded into lots of different types of projects, but they all equate to helping people become connoisseurs and potential collectors. I never thought of my business as solely art tours or educational talks, but as a bridge between people so that the art market will expand [in Florida]."
Heather equates her great success with the variety of experiences she has had over time. Her business allows her to continue to develop her own artistic eye, connect people to their inner passion for art, exercise the business savvy she discovered in Colorado, and utilize the skills and connections she maximized while at NYU.
Heather lives with her husband and their two young children in Miami, Florida. For more information on Urban Art Access, please visit the company website at http://www.urbanartaccess.com/.