Asia Robinson graduated from Sotheby’s Institute of Art-New York with a Master's in Art Business in 2013 and opened her own consultancy, Trine Fortuna. The fine art consultancy based in London specializes in business development and contemporary art, with an emphasis on African art and photography. We spoke to Asia about her time at Sotheby's Institute, studying in New York, and the career that ensued.
Tell us about your current role and your experience starting your own business.
I am the director of my company, Trine Fortuna, which is currently focused on consulting opportunities in the fine arts field and often involves contemporary African art-related projects. I've been working on both long-term and short-term contracts with clients that include art galleries, artists, and art world professionals.
Before I started my company, I had become a new mom, was just getting back into working, and I really struggled to fit in to the normal nine to five work environments I encountered here in London. It was devastating for me, as I had a very successful position in New York right after I graduated from Sotheby's Institute of Art that I held for nearly four years. I was shell shocked to find that I didn't fit in, and that my personality, leadership abilities and aspirations were sometimes looked down upon. After an extremely discouraging year, I landed a meeting with the owner of TAFETA, a contemporary African art gallery in central London, and he said to me, "Start your own art consultancy, and I'll be your first client." It had crossed my mind previously to start my own company but up until then, as someone still new to the UK, I didn't have the confidence that I'd be able to pull it off. That meeting was in mid-December 2017. By December 29, my company was created and the following January I began working with him part time. From there, I met more people, made more connections, and thankfully, got more clients as well.
What is the biggest risk you have taken as an entrepreneur?
I think that my biggest risks are actually yet to be taken. Some of my long-term goals, such as having a physical gallery space or having an artist residency, I already realize will be big gambles in some ways in the future. Thus far, I'm not deterred from them, but I do understand the chances and the leaps of faith that will be necessary to move forward on those.
With what I'm currently doing though, I will say that one of the biggest risks right now is attending art fairs. Generally, when I attend with a gallery, there are expenses that I have to take on and can't really avoid, and these can add up for a brand-new consultancy like mine. It can be a huge gamble whether the artwork is going to sell (which is the same risk art galleries take when they attend the fairs too), and there are no guarantees.
What advice would you give women who want to hold leadership positions in the art market today?
Be self-confident, and when necessary, self-sustaining when it comes to your confidence. Don't let anyone strip you of it because both men and women will try. Whatever your background, your qualifications, ethnicity, if you're a working mom or really young and inexperienced, you have got to create your own internal support system. Don't get me wrong, sometimes the support and encouragement will come from outside sources like friends, family, a significant other, maybe even your boss, and it is so awesome and important when that happens. But, there will undoubtedly be stretches of time when you're on your own and in those moments everything — your encouragement, your self-esteem, self-worth, everything — has to come from within. Honestly, you need both support systems surely, but consultants are self-sustaining entities most of the time, often doing things alone, so finding it from within is really key.
If you could sum up your Sotheby’s Institute of Art experience in a brief quote, what would you say?
I had an amazing experience at the Institute. It set my career and my life on a completely new path (prior to starting my Master's, I was living in LA and had been working in the film industry for six years, and I was really done with it). I had only just discovered that pursuing my love for the arts as a career was an option for me, so when I arrived at the Institute, I was enthusiastic and therefore did my best to take advantage of everything that was on offer to me. Seminars, artist talks, exhibitions, the study abroad program, speaking one on one with my professors and advisors, traveling abroad — whatever I could get my hands on. All of it collectively expanded what I thought the possibilities were and it literally changed my life in every way.
Do you have any advice for future Sotheby's Institute students?
My mom's favorite saying is "Get in there!" She always says it to me when I'm doubting myself, or I feel like I'm not qualified to apply to a job, or approach an influential person, or go after some opportunity. I would encourage Institute students to have faith in themselves, their ideas, their passions and aspirations; to do their research, and then just go for it and see where your path takes you.