For more than a decade, the crowned ZuCot Gallery has been the largest African American-owned fine art gallery in the Southeast. Founded by St. Kitts native Troy Taylor in 2008, the expansion of the brand came in 2012 when Taylor partnered with Premier Art show producers, brothers Onaje and Omari Henderson to rebrand the celebrated gallery where they primarily focus on the works of living African American Artists. The trio adopted this ideology: “What you hang on your walls is a reflection of you. It is a window into your soul, your character, and your beliefs.”
ZuCot is not just a fine arts gallery, but it’s also a place where individuals, politicians and celebrities “gather, network, and connect through the world of art.”
Here, Upscale speaks with one of the famed “Art Brothers,” Omari Henderson who offers insight in the world of art and shares how-to thrive in a pandemic.
What was life like for you before ZuCot Gallery?
I grew up in Decatur, Georgia. Before the art business, I worked for Fortune 100 companies in the areas of engineering, marketing, innovation and business development.
What are some things a start-up gallery needs to know about keeping an art business engaging, impactful and profitable?
Focus on an engaging experience that will resonate with potential clients and differentiate you from the traditional gallery experience.
How were you affected by Covid-19?
Fortunately, we were investing in technology before the pandemic. When it became a reality, we were able to accelerate some of the development that increased our virtual presence. This includes “virtual views” where we digitally enhance a wall in the clients’ home with a piece they are considering.
We also closed our doors to daily operations. With this, we introduced an appointment-only strategy that actually allowed us to spend one-on-one time with clients.
This was successful as people began to shop for art like other retail items. However, our space does double as a lease facility for corporate and private events. We did lose most of this revenue during the pandemic.
What is your role? What is your background or what formative experience do you have that prepared you for this role?
I attended Tuskegee University and earned a degree in chemical engineering, but spent most of my corporate career in the space of Innovation and Marketing with companies like Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Chick-fil-A Corporate.
Throughout this time, I lived in many cities throughout the U.S. and Europe. The experiences that I’ve had and the problem solving skills that come from being an engineer have translated directly to solving some of the issues in the art world and being creative about how we serve our community. As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to completely delineate between our roles, but I primarily focus on strategy, marketing and business development.
How well do you work together?
We work extremely well together. We don’t agree on everything, but are usually able to talk through any disagreements and make it work. We stay rooted in our mission to create unique experiences to serve our clients and be a place for the community to learn about art collecting.
What is the secret sauce?
In an art business, it’s important to be creative, but it’s also important to understand your customer. We use a variety of insights to understand the market. We’re also classically trained business leaders so our knowledge of operations, marketing, finance and sales enhances our success.
How do you use technology? How is it incorporated into your business model?
We use technology in our virtual views service where we digitally enhance a wall in a clients home with a piece they are considering. In the summer of 2021, we issued our first NFTs, which we plan to expand in 2022.
How do you select artists to showcase?
Artists can submit their work via our website. We review these submissions monthly and determine who we think we can work with. We also search for artists at art fairs, on social media, and via other outlets. We select artists based on their professionalism, their complete body of work, the material they use–ensuring they are archival–and their history as an artist. Most of the artists we partner with are mid-career and are already in a number of private collections and museums.
How do you curate your exhibition calendar?
We usually consider our exhibition calendar about one year in advance. Covid slowed some of this down, but that’s normal protocol for us.
How does Atlanta fit in the art world? How would you say it ranks?
Atlanta is a growing arts city. There are hundreds of talented Black artists that live in metro Atlanta. However, there is still a lot of room for growth in support of the arts at the city and state levels. We’ve been in this business for over 20 years in Atlanta and have seen it evolve, but it has the potential to reach the levels of New York, Miami, and other cities that are known for their arts culture.
In a time of great social and political reckoning, what is the role of art?
Throughout history, art tells the story of our time. It should evoke emotion and give the audience a view of a particular moment in time. Right now, artists and art galleries have a responsibility to ensure that these stories are told. This is not just done for present day but also so that in 100 years people can look back at this art and understand what happened in 2021.
What are your current exhibitions?
We currently have a “Favorite Things” exhibit, which is something we typically do during the holidays. It’s a compilation of staff and client favorites that we still have in inventory. We are preparing for new exhibit in February.
What can we look forward to in 2022?
Continued growth with corporate partnerships, new technology enhancements, continued growth in the NFT space, and several new partnerships with artists from around the country.