Career

Landing A Dream Job: Leaving Corporate Life For NY’s Art Scene

Jess de la Hunty quit her stable, well-paying job in finance to pursue a career in the arts. The risk paid off; she now works for internationally-renowned artist in their New York gallery.

A couple of leaps of faith

If you’d asked Jess de la Hunty five years ago where she thought she’d be working today, it’s highly unlikely she would’ve been able to tell you. The former Sydney girl is currently living in New York and working for a world-famous artist at his SoHo gallery.

A career in the arts wasn’t always on the cards though; the psychology graduate worked as a mortgage broker for two years before she realised it wasn’t the right fit. “It wasn’t suited to me and I was really excited for a career shift,” she says. “In school I’d always been good at art theory and writing and talking about art, but up until that point, I didn’t realise there was a whole industry outside of being an artist.”

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Jess at an art fair in LA. Image supplied.

Jess enrolled in a Masters of Arts Administration at UNSW’s College of Fine Arts (COFA) and “never looked back.” While she was studying, she began volunteering at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-Operative, the oldest of its kind in Australia. As part of her thesis she did a comparative study between Boomalli and the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, which sells Aboriginal art in London.

After a six-month internship at the London gallery, Jess was offered a management position there. It was tempting, but she had her sights on the US. She knew it would take yet another leap of faith, so trusting their instincts, Jess and her boyfriend decided to quit their jobs and move from Sydney to LA.

It’s all about who you know

Jess had always dreamt of working at Art Basel in Miami, so when she first arrived in the States, she offered to work there for free – but on commission – for emerging gallerist Victori Contemporary. “My goal was to meet people and see what the big art fair was all about. We don’t really have anything on that scale in Australia,” she says. “I wanted to get some face time with big art collectors and galleries from all over the US.”

Jess not only sold a few pieces and earned some cash, she also ran into her old manager from the London gallery where she’d worked, in one of those perfect right-place-right-time moments. Her former colleague mentioned that a respected international artist was opening a space in New York and put her in touch with the manager there. As most working Australians in New York can attest, this personal connection was everything and Jess would later be offered a full-time job there.

She didn’t let ego get in the way

The new space was still being built when she first moved to the city, so she continued to work part-time for Victori Contemporary. To make a little extra money, she also got a job at a cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“Say yes to everything and all opportunities – you never know where they may lead you.”

“To be honest, I didn’t want to have to get a job in a cafe. I thought I was over that point in my life, but it was actually awesome,” she says. “I made some of my first friends in New York and I also met two great artists there. I got so much more than just the extra money out of it.”

The scene is exciting yet accessible

Today, Jess works across online and in-person sales both in the gallery and at art fairs all over the country. “I meet clients who want to collect [his works] and consult with them on what they want to achieve in their collections,” she explains. Another part of her job involves liaising with the US-based artists that the company collaborates with. “It’s been fantastic for meeting amazing people and getting a real grasp on the New York art scene,” she says.

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Jess with friend Katharine Jaensch at an exhibition opening in Chelesea recently. Image supplied.

“The art scene here is pretty dynamic; there’s a lot of experimentation and risk-taking. I also feel like it’s a little more accessible than Sydney. I find it easier to talk to people and I think they’re more willing to engage about their art.”

Jess has worked closely and developed friendships with some of the city’s most sought-after artists. “The level of access that I’ve been lucky enough to receive is not something I’d have been able to get in Australia,” she says. “In the creative industries, Australia can feel very far away from the rest of the world. You feel its physical distance; logistically, it’s very expensive to stage art shows there.”

Perk alert: mate’s rates on high quality art

“It’s exciting because I now personally know a lot of the artists that I think are worth collecting and have a lot of promise,” says Jess. “It’s really nice to be able to go into their studios and work with them directly.”

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Jess at home. Image supplied.

“I’m lucky enough to have a partner who is also passionate about art collecting so as we get older, we’ve really started to look at it as a viable investment option,” she says. “All investments are a risk but I feel I have enough experience under my belt to manage that risk and make informed decisions now.”

There’s a whole lot of travel

A big part of Jess’ job is travelling to art fairs to sell work. So far, she has travelled to numerous cities in the US as well as to Rio De Janeiro, Mexico City and Toronto. “It’s a really great way to see a whole bunch of galleries in the one place,” she says. “I love designing the exhibitions and meeting new people; I’ve met some of my best friends in the art industry just by being their neighbour at an art fair.”

“Also the parties!” she says. “Collectors pair with fairs to host events and showcase their art collections. I’ve seen some of the most amazing houses and gotten to meet really interesting people from all walks of life.”

New York is a springboard   

Jess changes her mind daily about whether she wants to own her own gallery in the future. The next step for her now will be to become the director of a gallery, or to launch her own art consultancy business. Whether that will be in Sydney or New York, is still undecided. For now, she’s happy enjoying everything NYC has to offer.

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Jess with her boyfriend at a gallery opening.

Her advice to other Australians wanting to move to the Big Apple? “Say yes to everything and all opportunities – you never know where they may lead you.”


Olivia is a writer currently living in NYC, and she contributes regularly to DailyLife.com.au and Sunday Life Magazine in Australia.

Lead image supplied.