There may come a time in your life when suddenly that sweet print of the Eiffel Tower you scored from Z Gallerie starts to not exactly look your age. Then there’s that questionable painting from the art fair, and, oh yeah, the paint-by-numbers thing you muddled through after two (or was it three?) glasses of wine. Now that you’ve realized you must, how do you step up what decorates your walls? If you’re clueless about the next steps to become an actual art collector, it turns out you’re not alone: A Miami nonprofit called Commissioner is working with a small group of people who are new to collecting. The goal is to teach them how to take the first steps into the world of original art.
Commissioner came about after a conversation in 2017 between friends Dejha Carrington and Rebekah Monson. Carrington recalls: “She asked me one day how someone like her could learn more about collecting, and it was really that question that was personal to her that helped identify that there was a greater need in the community.” The two of them started imagining a model that would use a pool of money from a group of people to commission original art. It’s a bit like a community-supported agriculture program, where a bunch of people chip in to support and buy produce from local farmers. It’s also, Carrington says, inspired by a Caribbean susu, a tradition where women chip in money to do community projects. Their idea was good enough to score a couple of grants, including $90,000 from the Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge. They launched Commissioner in 2018 and opened up “collector” memberships to 40 people who pay $1,500 a year. Another 40 “patron” level members pay $75 to $100 to go to exclusive events and get exposure to the artists.
The two partners that started Commissioner brought different skill sets. Monson has worked in journalism, tech, public relations and also started WhereBy.Us, a Miami startup that produces media and shares events. Carrington is vice president of strategic communications at YoungArts, which works to help young aspiring artists pursue their careers. She was also well suited to help people get deeper into the arts community. She grew up in Montreal in what she describes as a “tight-knit creative and cultural community.” Her parents both worked at an apartment building, her mom as superintendent and her father doing construction. They had a small apartment full of antiques that her mother had collected at estate sales and from local antique dealers. “I think my mom has that collector spirit,” Carrington says.
Carrington and Monson designed a program where Commissioner collectors get four pieces of original art created by local artists each year. Members get the chance to meet artists during visits to their studios and attend events where the new art is revealed. There are also regular events, like curator tours during Miami Art Week. While the program is geared mostly to help new collectors, the goal is also to assist up-and-coming artists, Carrington says. Several of the artists they’ve commissioned have since had big moments in their careers. Earlier this year, Juan Pablo Garza, one of the artists in the Commissioner program, was named a South Florida Consortium Fellow. In 2020, Jamilah Sabur’s work was featured in the exhibit "The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art” at the Pérez Art Museum; and currently, the work of Pepe Mar is on view at the Frost Art Museum.
The next season of Commissioner doesn’t start until September 2022, but there’s a waitlist going in case a spot opens up. There are also public programs that are free and open to everyone, best discovered by signing up for the Commissioner newsletter. Carrington says she hopes those who leave the program will start to teach everyone they know about how to become an art collector. She says, “I hope our commissions create an enduring ripple effect where people see ways they can support the community for years.”