Renaissance Woman

It’s not all pizza and mandolinos

How do you bootstrap an art gallery from nothing? What can a culture entrepreneur get out of technology? Enterprising gallery founder Valentina Fois has her sights set on a digital future. 

Valentina, you’ve gone from fashion to arts entrepreneurship – and now you’re investigating digital. Where do you think your drive comes from?

When I was thinking about my future and career, I always pictured myself as someone with the potential to achieve big projects. For me, a ‘big project’ is one where several people invest time, passion and energy; an opportunity to develop yourself – and hopefully to help change perceptions about a subject that matters to you. I wanted to work on a successful project that would make me smile whenever I looked back on it.

My family taught me that you can get whatever you want from life, provided you’re prepared to work hard and take risks. Most importantly, though, they taught me that nothing comes easy and we must constantly push our limits in order to see any results. All our efforts will pay us back, one day.


With this in mind, I always felt confident in my skills and in general, about the future. My goal was never to set up a gallery or any other business. My goal was would always be to work to my natural potential on everything I do, and only invest my energy in projects which I strongly believe in. 

Back in 2009, I moved to London after a year in marketing. I was a 24 year fashion design graduate studying in Rome and Milan, but I finally found the courage to pursue a career in the arts.

So I wrote a plan (I’m a big fan of lists). I knew I needed some practical experience to work out what I wanted to do… curating? Art management? Work for a not-for-profit organisation? Art has always been a big passion of mine, but I knew I needed to expand my art history knowledge.

“My goal was never to set up a gallery or any other business. My goal was always to work to my natural potential on everything I do.” 

I emailed 110 galleries across London (no kidding!), and eventually received two replies. Before long, I was working as an intern at an artist lead space, Civic Room, and a commercial gallery, Union Gallery. These two internships were great as they gave an insight into the commercial and not-for-profit worlds.

At this time, I worked several part-time jobs to sustain myself and afford the ‘luxury of being an intern’! It’s very important to stay focussed and not get upset if we need to consider other temporary jobs. Always think about the big picture. That’s what I used to tell myself. 

The same year, I applied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Contemporary Art History at Goldsmiths, University of London – and got in. I started my course in October 2010 and that was it. The game was on, for me; a lot to learn and discover.

 

After a year I had met many artists, curators and art lovers, amassed great advice from everyone and built my own network. At the end of 2010, one of the collectors invited me to use one of his spaces with a facilitated rate, so I took the opportunity without even thinking about it – and never looked back.

In November 2010, I set up La Scatola Gallery, and opened to the public in January 2011. Since then I’ve produced and curated 25 shows, collaborating with people and institutions across the art world. As the founder, I managed marketing, PR and sponsorship, too.

“One of the collectors invited me to use one of his spaces for a facilitated rate, and I never looked back.”

When I started, I didn’t know what being a gallery director would involve and I had to learn the job by doing it. When you don’t have much funding at your disposal you have to be very flexible, ready to work long hours and constantly learn from your mistakes (and how many mistakes!) It’s essential to work with people who share your passion and values, and potentially, are better than you at certain things. Find someone with a different set of skills who can teach you.

I have worked hard and met some extraordinary people, but I’ve also felt really tired and frustrated from time to time. I’ve only recently learned, at great cost, how to balance my private life and my job. I think of the gallery less as a commercial space and more a dynamic project, constantly in development. 

So now, it makes sense for the gallery to take a new turn. Since November 2013, La Scatola Gallery is a platform for digital art, and solely operates online. I run a residency programme to showcase artists who engage with digital in the post-internet age.

How have you used digital to help your business?

I love technology, and what started as casually advising friends has gradually developed into a side job as a social media consultant. I’ve taken this a step further, and am now completing an MA in Digital Heritage at the University of Leicester.

Without much budget for our exhibitions at La Scatola Gallery, we had to think outside the box and come up with promotional ideas that didn’t cost a fortune. We used Facebook and Twitter to invite people to our openings, and posted sneak previews of the exhibitions to get them curious. We ran promotions through social media too, e.g. when we participated in the London Art Fair in 2013, we gave away free tickets on Twitter. Pinterest was ideal for showing our artists’ work, and there’s a resource for some great free listings for the arts here.

Personally, I use the internet extensively to practice my English. As an Italian I have to duel daily with the cliché that we are all ‘pizza and mandolino’ – very lazy and gestural with our hands! Well, I love pizza, and I love to move my hands when I speak, but I am also aware of my limits and keen to demolish the language barrier. This list might help anyone who feels like improving their English.

Thanks Valentina.