Ian Gerard Reflects: Gen Art–The Art of the Next Generation

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ByIan Gerard, Co-Founder pf GenArt

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Looking back to the winter of 1993, the photo montage of the memories and events is endless. It certainly doesn’t feel like 17 years have passed. After receiving initial positive feedback from my brother Stefan, future Gen Art co-founder, I was sure we were on to something. Showcasing young talent supported by their consumer peer group and working to break down the art industry barriers to provide access to all enthusiasts seemed needed, salient. And sadly, it still does today. Little did I know at that moment, in my NYU law school dorm room, that this concept, being batted back and forth between a 22- and 24-year-old, would actually come to life and result in the production of over 1,000 events showcasing emerging talent in four media across the country before artistic industry leaders, across the pages of national media outlets, and before the supportive eyes of celebrity talent who understand the challenges that this new generation of talent truly faces.

While I never expected the idea to truly take off and for us to achieve so much, I also did not think that the journey, or at least its first phase, would end in federal bankruptcy court. This past Tuesday, I watched independent third parties bidding for acquisition of Gen Art and its assets.

I do not know what the new acquirer (to be announced shortly) will do with the brand, and I remain hopeful that the brand will continue in some manner to fulfill its mission of showcasing and supporting emerging talent. That chapter has not yet been written or even fully outlined. The sale provides a definable moment in time, when it’s easy to take stock of the past, not to wonder what could have been, but to acknowledge what was achieved by a small group of dedicated people.

Gen Art was nothing, if not scrappy, at least behind the scenes, though many of our events were sophisticated, polished and, in some cases, grand. How can you not feel that way when your annual Gen Art Film Festival opened at the magnificent 1920s Ziegfeld Theater, the largest theater in New York City? Or when Our Fresh Faces in Fashion Show opened up the inaugural Chicago Fashion Week hosted by Mayor Daley at Millennium Park? Or when you produced a concert for 800 people in a ski lodge during the Sundance Film Festival that featured the Beastie Boys in connection with the release of their documentary?

But behind the curtains, Gen Art succeeded because it attracted so many dedicated and smart individuals who were committed to Gen Art and to best serving those in their area of expertise. Among these people were Mary Gehlhar, who ran our fashion division for eight years and became one of the leading champions of emerging fashion designers, Jeff Abramson, who in ten years with Gen Art became the godfather of independent filmmakers, working to get them the recognition they deserved, and Elizabeth Shaffer, who oversaw Gen Art events for the better part of a decade, creating unique experiential event experiences that awed both consumers and corporate partners alike. These professionals were indispensable leaders, along with many others, without whom Gen Art might never have been able to give a leg up to so many deserving artists.

They, and so many others on our staff, including freelancers and long-time volunteers, helped to create that somewhat indefinable magic that was Gen Art. They helped create an organization that I hear, in many ways, was unlike any other. They also helped to install confidence in young talent, a commodity that is hard to find for those who are just starting out. Whether it was giving Zac Posen or Rebecca Taylor their first runway shows before 1,000 guests at our Fresh Faces in Fashion shows, or opening up the inaugural Gen Art Film Festival at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall with Brad Anderson’s directorial debut (he has gone on to direct five features, including Next Stop Wonderland, The Machinist and Transiberian), or featuring MGMT two and a half years ago before 800 guests before virtually anyone knew who they were, the Gen Art team made any talent who came through our doors feel like the rock stars that they would one day become so that they could aspire to greatness.

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