Geraldine Fabris’ voice brims with excitement when she talks about her job. She works for Art Basel in Switzerland as the VIP Strategy Manager—a job that sends her to art shows all over the world—where she focuses on cultivating and building relationships with the company’s VIPs. These VIPs include museum directors, curators, and collectors as well as galleries and art advisors at all levels and from dozens of different countries.
This dynamic and exciting job takes her to amazing places to meet interesting people in the field of arts administration. Geraldine is a graduate of the Arts Administration program at Teachers College, receiving her masters in 2014. When discussing her current job, she is quick to credit the education, experiences, and opportunities presented to her at Teachers College for how she got to where she is today. At TC, Geraldine grew her passion for Arts Administration and developed a vision for how she might impact the landscape of the field. This motivated her to seize every opportunity that came her way, which in turn enabled her to take her dreams of working in the art world and transform them into a colorful reality.
Geraldine says that her passion for arts administration began during her undergraduate studies at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where she’s originally from. She took a traditional European humanities track and studied history and French literature. As part of her coursework, she took a class about art markets, a topic that she knew very little about at the time, but the subject had piqued her interest. “It was basically just one seminar that was offered, and I learned about Christie's and Sotheby's and some of the mechanisms of the art market today, and I thought it was fascinating.”
Inspired and driven by this initial spark, Geraldine decided to pursue this interest further by working at Christie’s and learning more about the art world. She says that she began to find specific ideas of where her place in this field might be. This experience prompted her to begin looking for graduate programs in arts administration. Coming from Europe, she says there were lots of schools and programs all over the world that seemed interesting, but she ultimately decided upon the Arts Administration Program at Teachers College. “I felt that the professors at TC had a very strong profile and much experience in their perspective fields. I was definitely interested in the practical masters that would prepare me for the career that I wanted to go into.” Geraldine says that she also felt that as part of Columbia University, Teachers College would offer the greatest opportunities to focus on her individual goals and passions. “Being able to tailor the program to my specific interests and benefit from all the expertise and all that resources that Columbia has to offer was really amazing.”
Her experience at Teachers College was exactly what she had envisioned. At TC, Geraldine’s classmates came from a variety of eclectic backgrounds and experiences. With them, she was able to swap ideas and brainstorm creative ways to push forward the field they worked in. She says that she is still in touch with her cohort today and that these relationships were one of the highlights of her time at Columbia.
Another distinctive part of her time in the Arts Administration program were the strategy courses she took. They proved essential to Geraldine as she pursued her career. “Those classes helped me shape the way I think, the way I approach business problems, issues and questions.” She says that in addition to the strategy classes, she also loved the wealth of resources that Columbia had to offer. There were classes at the business school, SIPA, the arts school and even Barnard that offered different opportunities to learn about the arts administration field from different perspectives, and she took as many as she could, especially focusing on business.
Geraldine also found that everyone she worked with at Columbia was supportive and accessible. She was amazed that the professors here went above and beyond to make themselves available to their students. She recalls one instance in particular. “It was a marketing class and my professor called me at 9pm. She had to put her kids to bed but she took time to help me anyway. It's one example of how professors treat their students.”
Another thing that Geraldine says helped form and shape her experience were the internships she was a part of. The arts administration program encourages its students to do internships around New York City, and Geraldine was able to work at the MET, Christie’s and MoMA, as well as being a graduate assistant for professor Richard Jochum. Through these multi-dimensional experiences, she was able to meet a variety of professionals in the art world, which opened up doors for her as she began looking for a job. Geraldine emphasizes how valuable this was to her process. “It’s about professional connections. It’s about networking. They might help you in the future. Being from Columbia really helps. Reaching out to people and sincerely being interested in learning from them is so important. I very rarely got a no.”
Because of the networking she was able to do through the arts administration program at Teachers College, Geraldine was hired right after she graduated by an arts marketing and PR company called Fitz and Co in New York City. During that time, she was able to build relationships with people within Art Basel, and when her international visa was up a year later, they brought her on to be the VIP Strategy Manager. Geraldine has worked hard to get to where she is now. She passionately emphasizes that she loves her job and the interesting and layered opportunities it gives her. It allows her use skills she gained at TC, such as the classes in topics like strategic thinking, business, and finance, which taught her how to look at an organization holistically, something that she has to do every day in her job.
“At Art Basel you’re at the core of the art world. You get to work with galleries from around the world, with museums from around the world, with collectors from around the world. It’s very exciting.” The possibilities are endless, and she is excited about what she will be able to create with all the things laid out before her. “You dream your future and you dream who you want to be and what you want to do and then you find ways to go about doing it. It’s the cliché way of saying live your dreams, but I think this is what was possible at TC, and this is what helps you get the drive to accomplish the goals that you set for yourself.”