How Uprise Art's Founder Built an Artist-Supporting Platform With Just $800
Photo: Megan Weaver
You might consider Tze Chun's career to be the perfect fusion of left-brain and right-brain. In addition to serving as artistic director of her own dance company, the Fashion Mamas New York member is also the founder of Uprise Art, an online gallery that allows collectors buy art they love at any budget. It was the perfect fusion of her experience in the startup and tech world (she's also the co-creator of MiniMash, an app for making music mashups), her passion for creativity, and her entrepreneurial mindset.
What began as an $800 startup born out of her NYC apartment has grown into a company based out of a floor-through office loft and supports over 200 artists from around the globe. Here, we asked Chun to tell us what inspired her to create Uprise Art, her top tips for beginning your own art collection, how she defines work/life balance, and more.
Photo: Courtesy of Genevieve Garruppo/Uprise Art
What's the name and age of your kid?
Claire, 6 months old.
Tell us about your career journey: How'd you get to where you are today?
I started Uprise Art seven years ago to create a new kind of gallery experience. At the time, many of my friends loved going to museums and had great taste, but they didn’t own any original art. For a new art collector, it’s hard to know where to start. Galleries can be difficult to navigate and sometimes intimidating. I wanted to take a different approach and make it easier for people to discover, collect, and engage with original art. I launched the gallery with $800 and eleven artists, and was the only employee for the first year. After hiring employees, we still worked out of me and my boyfriend's (now husband's) apartment for over a year. My dining table was so small, one person would have to work on the couch at any given time!
We've come a long way since then. We represent more than 200 artists from around the world. We still help new art collectors find the perfect pieces for their homes, but we also work with some of the largest architecture firms and real estate developers around the country, providing custom installations and large-scale works for homes, and residential and commercial buildings. Our office is a floor-through loft on the border of SoHo and Chinatown in NYC, and it's where we host viewings by appointment, so collectors and interior designers can stop in and see works in person.
I love going to work every day and still believe as strongly, if not more so, in our mission as I did back in 2011. We recently redesigned the Uprise Art website to make it even easier for people to find artwork they love, and at the same time created the Uprise Art Journal, which tells the stories behind the artwork through artist interviews and home tours.
"Someone once told me, when you're a mom you just cut out all the bullshit. There's a lot of truth to that."
How does Uprise Art advocate for artists?
We represent emerging contemporary artists and introduce their work to a wide range of collectors. We help tell their stories and support their creative process. Uprise Art also curates exhibitions and participates in art fairs and other offline programming. One of our most successful programs is our Summer Salon series, where we feature an artist's work at the Uprise Art Loft and invite a small group of collectors for a meet and greet and artist talk.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Each day is different, which I really enjoy. I can usually be found in meetings with the team, at studio visits with artists, planning an exhibition or event, or at a yoga class. Since having Claire, who is now six months old, my morning routine has been replaced with trying to squeeze every last moment with her before work!
What art do you personally collect, and what do you love about it?
Most of my collection is from Uprise Art artists (naturally!) and my approach to collecting is the same as Uprise Art's approach to curation. I look for artists who have a unique view of the world and a conceptually compelling artistic practice. There are plenty of artists who can make something beautiful; at Uprise Art we're focused on artists who go one step further and create memorable, meaningful work.
Photo: Tze Chun
What are your top tips for beginning collectors who don't quite yet know what their "style" is?
My first tip would be, "there are no rules." It’s very simple — always collect art that you love, not something to fill a space. You can collect only one type of art, or an eclectic mix of mediums and styles. The only thing that matters is that the artwork makes you happy in your home. If you want help discovering artists, Uprise Art matches collectors with a personal art advisors, who can help curate artwork options based on what you are looking for, free of charge.
My second tip would be to choose art that speaks to you. Your artwork should reflect your personal style, interests and aesthetic. At the same time, collecting art is a great way to shake things up a bit and look at the world, and perhaps yourself, differently. You wouldn't let a stranger into your home, so similarly you should feel comfortable living with the artwork you collect.
You're putting together a quickie NYC tour for first-time visitors (with kiddos!) — what's on your Day 1 itinerary?
I'm biased because I live there, but definitely Brooklyn! Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park (which is less crowded than Central Park) and the great restaurants on Vanderbilt Avenue are all within walking distance of each other. Compared to most of downtown Manhattan, the great bars and restaurants in Brooklyn are much more stroller friendly and spacious. Brooklyn is less bustling too, which makes walking around with kids more relaxed and enjoyable.
Courtesy of Genevieve Garruppo/Uprise Art
How do you balance motherhood and career?
Someone once told me, when you're a mom you just cut out all the bullshit. There's a lot of truth to that. It's much easier to prioritize your time and commitments when it's a black and white question: "Is this worth missing family time for?" I'm a better manager at work now as well. When you stop giving in to distractions and make mental space for big picture goals, your entire team is more focused as well. Before I was pregnant, I used to pride myself on being efficient. Now I'm on a whole other level. It's incredible what you can achieve in the 30 minutes your child is napping!
The main things that has helped me balance motherhood and career is a support system. Having a smart and hardworking team at work, and a supportive life partner at home has made all the difference.