Ian Gerard founded Gen Art in 1993 with his brother Stefan Gerard and Melissa Neumann. Gen Art is a unique organization that showcases emerging talent in fashion, film, art and music. In May 2010, Gen Art shut down due to lack of funding and has since returned in February 2011 after being acquired by Sandow Media.
Can you talk about GenArt’s mission and founding? What came first: fashion, art, or film?
Gen Art’s mission is to showcase emerging talent in fashion, film, music and the visual arts. To that end we produce fashion shows for emerging designers, film festivals, screenings and premieres for independent filmmakers, gallery receptions, art exhibitions and fairs for artists in all art disciplines, and live music performances. The company started by showcasing visual artists back in 1994, then expanded to include designers in ’95, filmmakers in ’96 and the music gradually developed over time but never became as large a presence as the others.
In addition to event programming, over the past five years, Gen Art had increased its offerings and opportunities in the digital realm and has hosted on-line competitions with consumer voting, produced substantial content for various partners’ websites and digital platforms and created an integrated multi-platform approach to both what we can offer talent, as well as corporate partners.
For the past several years, our fashion and film arenas have been the strongest mainly because there has been much more corporate marketing support for such.
In 2010 Gen Art shuttered its doors due to lack of funding. Less than a year later Gen Art was acquired by Sandow Media. How did this come about?
Because Gen Art relied so heavily on corporate sponsorship and marketing dollars, when the economic crash hit in late 2008, it had a massive effect upon Gen Art. This was especially the case as 3 of our 4 largest corporate partners were in the finance and auto sectors. All of their partnerships came up for renewal in January 2009 and from those 3 partners we lost 70% of our funding on that date. Because the recession was so long and deep, we were unable to replace those losses. We carried the large liabilities for 18 months and struggled to stay afloat, but due to a lack of any short term economic rebound, we finally could no longer meet out obligations and had no choice but to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
But we still did not give up hope. And neither did our supporters, alumni and others. Their words of encouragement kept us from walking away even though we had lost everything and were somewhat at the end of our rope. We were very fortunate to find Sandow Media. Adam Sandow and his team believed in the Gen Art brand and what it stood for, and he purchased the company’s assets out of bankruptcy. Adam relaunched the brand from Los Angeles for strategic reasons and Gen Art was fortunate to have its two longest serving SVPs based in that market. Now they are the two Co-Presidents of Gen Art and I have assisted getting the company back on its feet as a Senior Adviser based here in New York.
Did you think Gen Art would resurface so quickly?
When the company went under in May 2010, if you had asked me then I would have said that was the last time anyone would have heard the phrase a “Gen Art event” ever to be mentioned. However, after a few months and some perspective, and the support and kind words from so many people around the country, I realized that there was still a need for a company like Gen Art, that the brand had true value, and that there was the potential for more. By February of 2011, the re-launch team for Gen Art was in place and in June 2011 the 16th annual Gen Art Film Festival opened at the Ziegfeld Theater before a sold-out audience of 1,100 guests. In hindsight, I am still rather in awe.
How has the structure of the organization changed under new management from what you started in 1994?
The main difference is that Gen Art is now part of a larger entity and family of companies as it is owned by Sandow Media. In many ways, this is better, as there is a parent company helping Gen Art keep its eye on the bottom line, and most importantly, that can bring resources to the table.
What about the programs? Which ones have been cancelled and what has been added?
It’s not that anything has been cancelled, it’s a question of which properties Gen Art decided to focus on in its first year of re-launch. To us, that was making sure to bring back programs that we knew were important for both emerging talent and our consumer audience and that had long track records of success. We began with the Gen Art Film Festival, which celebrated its 16th edition, and our bi-coastal Fresh Faces in Fashion events which were in their 17th and 14th years respectively. We also re-launched our Film Screening Series in New York and Los Angeles, and had a presence during Miami Art Basel, partnering with the Scope Art Fair.
In 2012, we will return to the Sundance Film Festival with a 3 day lounge in the heart of Park City bringing back exciting events like “7 Fresh Faces in Film,” which will celebrate its 5th year, and “The New Garde” for February New York Fashion Week. New and past programs will continue to be added to the schedule as the year progresses.
Gen Art launched Zac Posen, Phillip Lim and Rebecca Taylor. What is your proudest success story with Gen Art?
Well you’ve named three of our biggest alumni for whom Gen Art did their debut runway presentation. Zac I believe was 2001, Phillip maybe back in ’99 when he was the lead designer for the brand Development, and Rebecca back in 1997. In the case of Zac, the Fashion Director of Bloomingdales at the time (the legendary Kal Ruttenstein) saw Zac’s collection at the show and made a decision right then to purchase it. So, that’s a pretty cool way to get help a new designer and to see instantaneous results. But in most cases, we are part of the designers’ slow growth and their learning the ropes of the fashion industry and world, and success can often take 5, 10, even 20 years in developing.
Do you find it challenging staying on top of what’s new in fashion, music and film all at the same time?
While I particularly like to watch indie films and enjoy good fashion and art, I never have been the person responsible for curating Gen Art’s programs. No one person could ever be an expert in four arenas, and we always had individual experienced curators both inside and outside of the company who helped Gen Art to search out, locate and select the talent we have provided a platform for. As fashion and film have been our largest verticals over the past decade, we created a solid fashion and film specific departments. Gen Art’s current Co-President Jeff Abramson was the head of Gen Art’s Film Division for many years and now has a team of people who help him to track all the great films doing the festival circuit or otherwise just being completed and looking for a way to get showcased.
How would you differentiate Gen Art’s film festivals and screening from others like Sundance and The Cinema Society?
The Gen Art Film Festival is very different than all the other well known festivals because of its format. Whereas Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca and most major festivals showcase literally hundreds of films, Gen Art focuses on presenting the New York premieres of just 7 short films and 7 features. Because of that, each film is given prominence and real ownership of a night of the festival, which includes not only the short and feature’s premiere NY screening, but also a party in their honor. So, from the filmmakers prospective, it’s a pretty amazing experience. From the consumer standpoint, because we only showcase 14 films, they know that the quality of the films is consistently superior than what is often a roll of the dice at a bigger festival. Of course, these other festivals do play great movies, and that’s why we track films coming out of all of them and try to pick out gems that might have been overlooked by distributors.
The Cinema Society seems like a great PR vehicle to generate some buzz around an upcoming smaller type film. However, their events are very small, and not open to the public. So again, the big difference is the access that Gen Art supplies to enthusiasts of these areas – be it independent film, fashion, or art. At Gen Art, we invite you to join us behind the red velvet ropes – along with the industry, press and talent.
What measures have been put into place to make sure Gen Art is here to stay?
The most critical was having the company purchased and backed by a larger entity, Sandow Media, which has the resources and funding to make sure that Gen Art can survive. Previously, Gen Art was self-financed and never had any significant investment backing the company, so it was always a much more fragile entity.
When you look back at the organization you created and what it has gone through, what are you most proud of?
That the concept that we developed in a law school dorm kitchen 18 years ago is still producing some of the best opportunities to help the next generation of talent have a shot at doing what is most important to them.