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The Art of the Press Launch

17 June 2013 Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter goes behind the scenes of the modern press launch with arts PR specialist Chloé Nelkin

London Calling: Can you describe your job and some of the recent projects you’ve worked on?

Chloé Nelkin: I run Chloé Nelkin Consulting, a small company specialising in PR, events and consultancy with a focus on visual arts, theatre and opera in London and the UK. My job ranges from: speaking to journalists; managing PR campaigns for clients; meeting gallerists, collectors, producers, editors; helping galleries to plan their exhibition programmes; finding locations for exhibitions, public sculptures, opera and theatre performances; going to the theatre and private views…  It couldn’t be much more varied. 

Currently, I’m working on five incredible shows for the Edinburgh Fringe – Belarus Free Theatre’s Trash Cuisine, Jonathan Holloway’s Jekyll & Hyde, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Brad Birch’s Gardening: For the Unfulfilled and Alienated and ANTLER Theatre’s Where the White Stops.  On the opera front, we’re working with Pop-Up Opera on their Summer season where they are presenting an ingenious new production that combines Rita and La Serva Padrona and Opera Holland Park on their specially-commissioned exciting family opera, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Will Todd. 

With our art clients, The Piper Gallery have just opened an exhibition of steel  sculptures by the French artist Etienne Viard, bringing his work to the UK for the first  time.  We’ve just installed monumental bronzes by David Breuer-Weil in  Portman Square and Grosvenor Gardens. Last week Renaissance to Relativity:  Masterworks of Paint and Print opened bringing together the collections from  three international sources, featuring treasures of literature, history,  science, religion and philosophy alongside some of the finest examples of  illustration and design.  

And, last but by no means least, we’re working with the National Trust’s London Project which is trying something wholly new in London running one-off events. Over this year there are twitter performances, bespoke themed pop-up dinners combining art, theatre and fine dining, garden parties, a festival of London beers and micro-breweries, long term partnerships with major London museums and galleries, a new orchard on the South Bank as part of the Chelsea Fringe, participation in the London Design Festival, a croquet, boules and garden games weekend, a programme of immersive film parties with arts organiser Amy Grimehouse, intellectual stimulation with the Last Tuesday Society and a lot more. 

LC: What first drew you to a career in the Arts?

CN: I’ve always had a passion for the arts and have visited galleries since I was a child. I knew very early on that I wanted to work in art and was lucky enough to gain internships at many fantastic places. This first-hand experience, combined with my love for the subject, convinced me that this was the path I wanted to follow. The next step was to pursue a degree in History of Art and I was over the moon to get a place at The Courtauld. Once there, I didn’t want to leave and I stayed for my Masters degree in eighteenth-century British and French drawing.  People always look slightly confused when I mention my background but it’s wonderful to work with contemporary art and have an academic background. I gained PR experience through running the East Wing VIII collection – PR brought together all my interests and I set up in 2010 specialising in visual arts.  But I didn’t want to just do PR although it is one of the main services I offer; I also wanted to run events, curate and consult. Since then the company has grown and, at the beginning of 2012, I began to take on opera and theatre clients as well which has enabled me to combine all my interests. I’m very lucky to be doing something I love and I know that not everybody ends up in that position. 

LC: Any advice for people looking to get a head start working in the sector?

CN: As with any sector, supply always outweighs demand. Don’t undervalue how important experience is in any role across the sector.  Hard work is key.  Passion is truly important so make sure that you are seeing things and doing things across London.  If you love art or theatre then make sure you know what’s going on.

LC: What are some of the most challenging projects you’ve worked on?

CN: I think all of the projects we work on present very different challenges – recently I helped to manage a protest run by Free Belarus Now. This came about as we handle the PR for Belarus Free Theatre.  Early last Thursday I found myself in Parliament Square wearing a bright orange t-shirt and arranging a group of volunteers to lie down in body bags for an hour to raise awareness for human rights in Belarus.  The police even turned up to check what we were doing (although I hasten to add that we did have prior consent from them). 

Every client has different requirements so I suppose the main challenge, but also what makes all of our work so exciting, is making sure that each campaign is tailor-made for each client. It’s important that we stay really flexible and are on call for our clients, whatever they may need. That’s why I’m always attached to my Blackberry.

LC: Is London still the cultural hotbed of the art scene or are there other contenders for the crown?

CN: I’m biased as I adore London but I don’t think there is just one cultural hotbed anymore. The art scene is so spread across the world - you only need to look at the calendar of major art fairs to see how far and how regularly people travel. I try to get abroad whenever I can and have recently been to Maastricht, Berlin, Venice and France. It would be easy to travel all the time so I have to be very selective and limit where I go and what I do. 

The amount of art and theatre going on at any one time in London is pretty spectacular and I think this is still unique.  London will always have the advantage of an ever-changing schedule and a diverse choice – you could see a different exhibition or show every day. I try to travel as much as possible around the UK to get a feel for what’s going on – I love the art scene in Edinburgh and it’s brilliant to be up there during the Fringe with my theatre clients. London will always stand out in the UK but it’s great to see high-quality art and theatre across the country.

LC: Assuming you ever get a day off, what kind of things do you do to unwind – visit more exhibitions or something completely different?

CN: A day off, what’s that…

I tend to visit exhibitions when I have gaps during my days in the week and I often head to the theatre or opera if I have an evening off. Otherwise, at the weekend, I like to relax with a trashy book or catch up with friends.  During rugby season, I head down to The Stoop every other week to watch Harlequins play at home and rugby is a great escape as I tend to lose phone signal in the grounds. I try to make sure that I fit in pilates and zumba whenever possible as I think it’s really important to balance out my schedule. Because my days are so varied it doesn’t always work that I have a straight day off.  Some days I’ll be with a client until 2am but I may go and get a manicure the next morning.

I love having nice meals out and there’s nothing better than relaxing with a glass of champagne at a great restaurant after a busy day of running around. My biggest indulgence to help me unwind is buying shoes, as anyone who knows me well will know.

LC:And finally, what are you working on now?

CN: So much...  For example, last week as well as a host of meetings and press  sell-ins, I had the private view for Renaissance to Relativity, a  private view at the Piper Gallery, the press night for Pop-Up Opera, a  photography session at Octavia’s Orchard and a special evening with  Belarus Free Theatre. I can’t say that I’m ever bored.

You can keep up to date with the latest arts exhibitions, openings and insights from Chloé on her blog, Arista or follow her on Twitter

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