In our contemporary times, you will not (always) find the life-long artist, or the sole curator or even the staple art collector/dealer/consultant ménage trio. You might instead see professionals in the arts wearing many hats working synonymously as artists, curators, consultants, directors and educators. These hats belong to many of today’s creative professionals and they also belong to Jayson Lawfer.
At his very foundation, Jayson Lawfer is a skilled potter and photographer. Lawfer has an extensive curatorial history and directs the highly regarded ArtReach program at Lillstreet Art Center. Separate but also threaded into all of this, Lawfer is also the founder and director of an art consulting business called The Nevica Project—a contemporary art sales and consulting business. The Nevica Project’s mission is, “to develop a unique relationship between highly skilled artists, an online gallery and collectible art.”
From one hat-wearer to another it is hard to shake the curiosity of wanting to know how a person like Lawfer does it all. Especially when he still manages to find studio time. It is possible that the drive originates from a strong passion and need for it (art.) Who wouldn’t want to create a business that provides an opportunity to work with Sol LeWitt’s and Warren MacKenzie’s? But is love for the art enough?
Ciao. My name is Jayson Lawfer and I live in Chicago. I have been pretty active in the arts most of my adult life. I went to Illinois State University and dabbled a bit. Then moved to Montana and graduated with a BFA. After a rather nice college experience, I headed to Europe to participate in an artist residency (Denmark). Ahhhh, Denmark… Once I finished the residency, I filled my backpack and trekked across Europe, taking in as many galleries and museums as I possibly could. After two months of crossing great cultural borders, I returned to the good ‘ol USA. Once I finished the residency, I filled my backpack and trekked across Europe, taking in as many galleries and museums as I could. After two months of crossing as many cultural borders as I could, I came back to the US. I was hired immediately as the Executive Director of an art center for the next 4 years in Missoula, Montana— building a new identity and establishing the art center’s gallery and residency program. In 2006 I went back to Europe and stayed till 2008.
How long have you been living/working in Chicago?
Since November 2008. I came back to Chicago in November 2008 to host an art exhibition during SOFA CHICAGO. So I made the difficult decision to stay, though my culinary palette was begging me to go back.
When did you decide to make a career in the arts?
Since I was young. I always had small dreams to be an attorney, but I really needed creativity in my existence. I desperately need it.
What were some of your struggles and achievements along the way before Lillstreet Art Center and The Nevica Project?
I think that one major struggle was always the financial struggle. It is hard to exist as a young artist. You are constantly trying to create an identity and find your artistic individuality. This is the most important thing and making money seems ridiculous and irreverent.
Fortunately for my career and my mental well-being, I feel like I have had lots of achievements. There are many things that I have overcome and people that have come into my life that meant so much to me. As a ceramic artist, I was able to be in contact with the “greats” early on in my career— Paul Soldner, Rudy Autio, Peter Voulkos, etc. That can mean so much to a young artist, to see one’s idols and converse with them about their careers. I studied their achievements and it made me realize what I must do—find my own voice. As a dealer, I was able to accomplish goals an early age because I studied the market so extensively, and in turn, curated shows I felt would be successful and important when seen by the public.
But I think the most important achievements I have attained are because of the people I have connected with and how they have helped me grow. Every person has the ability to change a life. When I receive positive feedback, it makes me feel what I am doing is not transparent—that it has shape, form and presence.
Explain The Nevica Project.
The Nevica Project is an online gallery and art consulting business. I started thinking of the idea when I left the USA and was moving to Europe in 2006. I had no idea how I would support myself in a foreign land but I knew I had gained knowledge in the gallery business and still had many artist friends. Seeing how the contemporary Italian art market is lightly supported, I knew I had to do something worldwide. I started creating the idea of The Nevica Project and picked a handful of solid artists to represent. Then I contacted dealers, collectors, and galleries— letting everyone know The Nevica Project was soon to be released. I came to San Diego to spend three months figuring out web marketing strategies. I found a beach cruiser, rented an apartment from an old friend, and signed up for a library card at the Ocean Beach Public Library. I read every book I could find on ANYTHING related to web design, email marketing, SEO strategies, etc…
The way it works. I represent a handful of professional artists. They are sculptors, photographers, painters, potters— no restriction on what mediums I represent. The only criteria is that the artist be honest and makes confident artwork. I then work with other gallery dealers and private collectors to sell work in their possessions, charging a fee. There is a consulting aspect of The Nevica Project too. I am hired to consult with artists on their careers, I am hired to curate gallery exhibitions, and I can also be hired to sell or appraise complete art collections. It really spans quite a lot of virtual turf.
Where did the name come from? Is there any significance to Nevica meaning “snow” in Italian?
The word Nevica in the Italian language means, “it snows.” I selected the name because I love the idea of precipitation. I started this business as something small and it snowballs into something bigger and bigger every year. In the beginning of 2008, I hardly ever saw online galleries online. Now, online galleries are the norm.
Are you a one-man show or do you have a team that helps you with marketing and development for The Nevica Project?
One man. One computer. One life. Haha. Actually, this business is a complete partnership with the artists, collectors and myself.
If I am correct, you started doing photography in Italy and that was where The Nevica Project began? How long were you doing photography/making art, curating and art consulting before that?
I have been doing most of these things since 2004.
Elaborate on your experience doing photography, curating and art consulting (if they relate to Nevica, explain that as well).
I enjoy different aspects of all of them. Photography allows me to capture moments in time that will never be repeated. Consulting allows me to help others figure out avenues of artistic success and future strategies. Curating allows me the chance to say something to the public, but in a physical way.
Out of those, which of them have been the most successful? Favorite? Miss doing the most or would like to spend more time with?
How is success measured? I can’t even begin to proclaim that I know this answer—or at least to know a single answer. I rarely do wedding photography anymore unless it is for a friend. But I really enjoyed shooting all over Italy. It was providing such exciting opportunities to travel and see things that a normal American would never see. I was visiting 13th century castles in Tuscany, restaurants built in the side of cliffs in Positano, and riding water limos through the surreal waters of Lake Como. But working in the art market is a beauty in itself.
How does Nevica currently function as a business? How do you cater to the art market?
The primary way The Nevica Project caters to the art market is by bringing strong artwork to the public—making it known and available.
Do you ever plan to expand The Nevica Project from the web to a physical space? If so, how do you think that will change the way Nevica currently functions?
Surely I will always have a desire to have more physical relationships with people. I adore sitting in a gallery space and conversing with collectors, dealers, and artists. I enjoy arranging and designing a space’s layout. At this point in my life, I am too busy to turn The Nevica Project into a full-time brick-and-mortar space. But I am always looking for pop-up spaces!
How do you choose the artists that have featured work in the galleries on the Nevica website? Are there certain themes and styles that you tend to gravitate towards depending on what is demanded most by other art collectors?
There is only one thing I look for when I feature work on the site: quality. It either has it or doesn’t.
What artists are you currently working with?
Many and always keeping an open eye to search for others.
What artists on The Nevica Project roster have been the most widely received/successful?
How does the consulting side of The Nevica Project work? What sort of clientele have you worked with in the past? Is it typically corporations and private business owners?
Most of my consulting is with individual artists and art centers. My goal since I have started was to consult for big corporations but it is an extremely difficult field to get into.
Has the economy affected The Nevica Project’s growth at all or do you think that since your business does not rely on a space that you were able to reduce some of the costs opposed to other art consulting businesses that function out of a space?
The economy hasn’t affected The Nevica Project. Even if a nation is in a recession, quality art is still desired.
Where have you seen the most response with the business you bring in for The Nevica Project?
I always see the most response coming in from the younger generation. They support it, enjoy it, and are just plain interested. Internet businesses are the new thing and the younger generations are just as intrigued by the structure of that, just as much as they are by the art. That being said, there are very few “young people” buying art from The Nevica Project. This is unfortunate because collecting art and investing monies in something so important spreads great interest in the art community. I remember in my late 20’s, every bit of money I got, I was spending on art.
Any plans to cater even more towards Chicago-based artist and Chicago-based collectors?
I am always out networking in the Chicago community and I would like to represent more Chicago artists.
What other projects are you currently working on?
Recently I accepted the position as Executive Director of ArtReach at Lillstreet. This is the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization associated with Lillstreet Art Center. We are an outreach program providing art to the underserved population of Chicago. Now I own an alarm clock!