ChART Contemporary


The Arts: Artistic {Re}treats

Megan and Sir Boom Boom working remotely from their new home. Photo by Marty Carson.

Art Advisor Reboot: Relocates to New City

Megan Connolly, founder of ChART Contemporary, left her native New York for Austin, Texas, in March after meeting someone significant. She now lives in the same town as her sister, who she started a business with over a decade ago in China. Meanwhile, she pivots to running things completely remotely, where in the recent past, she would have traveled to her clientele.

You are a curator and advisor, specializing in contemporary art with expertise in the East Asian market and art discoveries. What inspired you to start ChART Contemporary, a new business in 2008, which was a year of financial crisis both here in the US and abroad? Where did you see the need for your service, and what made you feel there was an opportunity?

Megan: 2008 was also the year of the Beijing Olympics – a time of optimism and opportunity in China.  I had been living between Beijing, Hong Kong, and New York since 2000, specializing in contemporary East Asian art. By 2008, China’s art scene was booming. Inbound and domestic travel were skyrocketing and contemporary art from China had become a global conversation. People were curious about contemporary art, and ChART Contemporary responded with a commitment to curating meaningful cultural experiences for students and collectors. My gut said it was the right moment to create ChART Contemporary – an inclusive art advisory dedicated to bringing together art and people through education and exploration.

What’s in a Name?

ChART Contemporary – I chose ChART as it married China and Art.  My company maps out the contemporary art world, making it more accessible to navigate. At ChART, we are your art compass, providing the tools you need to achieve your creative goals, and build confidence through an insider’s perspective. Whether your goal is knowledge, access, or to collect, our curated experiences provide a point of entry into the contemporary art world, which can be intimidating or overwhelming if tackled alone. 

The Early Days

Initially, ChART educated people about collecting and appreciating contemporary Chinese art. Galleries, museums, and tour companies were already abundant in China, but they did not provide client-driven art advising through hands-on curated experiences. Being bilingual, deeply connected to the art world, and a people person, I saw an opportunity in Beijing and ran with it. The atmosphere in China was hopeful and the economy felt strong. People came together. Artists were open to welcoming strangers into their creative world because they trusted me. We organized community-driven experiences like impromptu Book Parties inspired by NYC Block Parties. We would set up a DIY bookstore on a sidewalk, like many street peddlers in China, and invite the local community to choose one complimentary book per person. The goal was to offer people an opportunity to engage with art in their neighborhood and interact with neighbors. We asked our network for donations and distributed several hundred art books to the community.

Megan and KC Connolly organize Book Party in Caochangdi Art District. Photo courtesy of ChART Contemporary.

ChART started as a modest initiative that gave me the opportunity to collaborate with my best friend and sister – a lifelong dream come true. We’ve always said, “We can’t change the world overnight, but we can make dents, and those dents lead to ripples, and if everyone creates ripples, there will be change.” That is how I approach life and business. ChART’s ripples created a buzz that sparked the media’s curiosity. We started seeing write ups in different press – whether it was Wall Street Journal or local press in China. Many of my early clients have become friends and remain clients today.

Zine: Where were you living when you created your company? Who was your support group, and what did support look like to you?

Megan: I was living with my sister in Beijing. Support came from a decade of cultivating and maintaining good relationships – “guanxi” with artists, curators and art professionals. I was given access to private spaces and communicated directly with artists, which gained their trust and respect. I built genuine connections with the art community and it paid off. Funding for the arts is completely different from the United States so I relied on my network and got creative.

 These assertive sisters from New York City were on a mission. My background in art history, event planning, and sales combined with a love for China and the language helped me connect with a variety of people who offered a lot of support. My sister was a practicing artist and an art educator. ChART brought an Artist and an Art Historian together. My sister can talk to a room with 500 students and have them in awe; I break into cold sweats. If you put me in a room with 500 CEO’s, I’m fine. We have this yin yang approach; it was a nice balance. I had a dream and my sister supported it. In the early days, monetary funding came from savings and my sister’s day job – but we didn’t really need much money to get started because my extensive network (after a decade of building guanxi) really came through to support the dream.

Returning to the States

I moved back to New York City in 2015 because I felt disconnected from the United States, and honestly Beijing’s pollution was taking a toll on my spirit. Upon returning to the states, I encountered people intrigued by the art world, but they were put off by the New York art scene. I saw an opportunity to curate experiences devoid of pretension in the United States, so I increased ChART’s scope of curated experiences. I became interested in global art discoveries that address social justice, identity and politics. What I mean by art discovery is underrepresented artists, which I already focused on in China, but I now had the vision and drive to expand into other regions. At heart, I will always be a social and cultural anthropologist with a passion for art and storytelling. ChART evolved organically from people’s needs and my research focus. I’m currently very interested in contemporary South African and Latin American art. I started curating ChART Experiences in Europe, and I collaborate with experts in various regions.

“The Experience”

ChART Experiences are structured into three tiers: Curious, Committed, and Fanatic. Our goal is to educate and stimulate a deeper understanding of contemporary art. Cultural Confidence develops from not only knowledge and facts, but experience and interaction. Confidence is feeling comfortable and familiar with a subject intellectually as well as tangibly. ChART provides interactive experiences and knowledge, contextualizing the art, to make it part of your unique journey. From students to art professionals and collectors, our mission is to provide an experience that is approachable, exciting, and enlightening. Curious Experiences are for those beginning their art journey; Committed Experiences are designed for people with some art knowledge and a specific focus, who want to deepen their understanding of contemporary art; Fanatic Experiences are designed for both novice and experienced collectors, as well as corporations, seeking an Art Advisor – which often entails discovery travel. All ChART experiences are designed based on the client’s needs and provide cultural interaction as a way of connecting people with art.

Zine: Can you share some of your process and journey as it may relate to readers of this issue who are setting out to build a company of their own, for the first time? In hindsight, what are some roadblocks you encountered and how did you overcome them? What were some successes/rewards of working for yourself?

Megan: Curiosity fuels me and determination is my guiding light. My advice to any aspiring female entrepreneur is: believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing; be humble and learn from mistakes; don’t be afraid to fail and be open to collaboration. If you are inclusive, you will build a community that wants to sustain you, that wants to support you. By sharing, you exude confidence and attract the type of client you want. Find a good mentor and always remember “money isn’t personal”. Working for myself provides creative freedom and flexibility to pivot during times of uncertainty. I wear multiple hats and every day is different. I love it!

Megan connecting with clients during a pandemic. Photo by Marty Carson.

Zine: What adjustments have you made to your business due to the recent pandemic, and which of these changes turned out to be valuable (that you can carry forward), if any?

Megan: When the Guggenheim closed its doors on March 12, I had to postpone a Curious Experience planned for the following day. At that moment, I realized the world was heading towards major change. I had to accept the reality of not being able to enter museums, galleries, art fairs, or studios with clients. At first, I struggled with all of the unknowns around COVID-19, but I remained determined.

Turning Inward, Making Changes

I embraced daily exercise to manage stress and Kundalini Yoga to ground myself while navigating my daily routine and new normal. It’s incredible how helpful sweating daily has been to ground my mind. As New York prepared to shut down, I focused on what I could tangibly rely on and in that moment – love, self-discovery, reconnecting with friends and family, and focusing on my mental health kept me afloat.

Zine: Where are you now and what do you see yourself growing into? What are some routines that keep you on a path you want to be on?

Megan: I’ve slowed down physically and mentally. I am embracing the calm, as my schedule before the pandemic involved traveling to different cities and countries every month. Adapting to a new work-life balance has and continues to be interesting, challenging, and exciting. The love I mentioned earlier is my pandemic rom-com.  I moved to Austin in March to live with my boyfriend and three cats. 

I had no idea it would take a pandemic to find love, or that I would relocate to Austin. When I boarded the plane with a suitcase and Sir Boom Boom – my cat from China – on March 18, I discovered my COVID-19 silver lining. Since then, I’ve been making changes and turning inward. I’m trying new things, like surviving the Texas heat and running outside in the early mornings. I find joy working out in the home gym I created with my love these past five months, spending time with meditation, monitoring my news intake, mothering my micro-green garden, and researching artists who address the racial divide in our country and beyond. I travel online and I stay connected with clients regularly through phone calls. To balance uncertainty and anxiety, I meditate and practice Kundalini Yoga. Deep breathing and remaining open to change have become daily rituals. Everything has changed, but my passion for art, people, travel, social justice, and community is stronger than ever. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Texas, or when the pandemic will end, but I am looking forward to discovering art and people in a new city, and remain open to receive what the universe brings my way.

Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.

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