There may come a time in your life when all of a sudden that cute Eiffel Tower print you made at Z Gallerie starts to not look exactly your age anymore. Then there’s that dodgy painting from the art fair, and, oh yeah, the paint-by-numbers you scrambled after two (or was it three?) glasses of wine. Now that you’ve realized you have to, how do you step up what decorates your walls? If you have no idea what the next steps are in becoming a true art collector, it turns out you’re not alone: A Miami nonprofit called Commissioner is working with a small group of people who are discovering the collection. The objective is to teach them to take their first steps into the world of original art.
The commissioner was born after a conversation in 2017 between friends Dejha Carrington and Rebekah Monson. Carrington recalls: “She once asked me how someone like her could find out more about collecting, and it was really that question which was personal to her that helped identify that there was a greater need in the community.” The two began to imagine a model that would use a stash of money from a group of people to commission original works of art. It’s kind of like a community-supported agriculture program, where a group of people participate to support and buy produce from local farmers. It’s also, says Carrington, inspired by a Caribbean susu, a tradition where women contribute to community projects. Their idea was good enough to secure a few grants, including $90,000 from the Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge. They launched Commissioner in 2018 and opened “collector” memberships to 40 people who pay $1,500 per year. Another 40 “patron” level members pay $75 to $100 to attend exclusive events and promote themselves to artists.
The two partners who launched the commissioner brought different skills. Monson has worked in journalism, technology, public relations and also started WhereBy.Us, a Miami startup that produces media and shares events. Carrington is Vice President of Strategic Communications at YoungArts, which strives to help budding young artists pursue their careers. She was also well placed to help people deepen their knowledge of the arts community. She grew up in Montreal in what she describes as a “close-knit creative and cultural community”. His parents both worked in an apartment building, his mother as a janitor and his father in construction. They had a small apartment full of antiques that her mother had scavenged at estate sales and local antique shops. “I think my mom has that collecting spirit,” Carrington says.
Carrington and Monson have devised a program where curator collectors get four original works of art created by local artists each year. Members have the chance to meet artists during visits to their studios and to attend events where new art is revealed. There are also regular events, like curatorial visits during Miami Art Week. Although the program is primarily aimed at helping new collectors, the goal is also to help emerging artists, says Carrington. Several of the artists they have commissioned have since had great moments in their careers. Earlier this year, Juan Pablo Garza, one of the artists in the Commissioner program, was named a South Florida Consortium Fellow. In 2020, Jamilah Sabur’s work was featured in “The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art” exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum; and currently, Pepe Mar’s work is exhibited at the Frost Art Museum.
The next season of Commissioner does not start until September 2022, but there is a waiting list in case a spot becomes available. There are also public programs that are free and open to everyone, best discovered by signing up for the Commissioner’s newsletter. Carrington says she hopes those leaving the program will start teaching everyone they know how to become an art collector. She says, “I hope our commissions create a lasting ripple effect where people see how they can support the community for years to come.