I decided to go on holiday when the Brexit vote happened as it was the first political event that I really felt passionate about and I wanted a distraction. I remember waking up in Greece and looking at the news on my phone and was shocked to read that we, the UK, were out. I woke up my partner, who annoyingly never seemed to be interested in current events, to tell him the news and he showed about an ounce of interest before going back to sleep.
But I was genuinely shaken. I was worried about what would happen to friends in the UK who were from other countries. I was annoyed that there had ever been a referendum in the first place and I felt that the people who voted to Leave were ill informed. But I was most concerned about how it would affect the art industry and business in particular.
Who knew it would take almost 4 years, 3 prime ministers and a rather embarrassing amount of votes, bills, amendments, and postponements for the final Brexit plan to pass.
The result for the art industry is reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis. Literally the same month that Lehmann Brothers crashed, I changed jobs and moved from a small gallery in Notting Hill to a large gallery in Mayfair. I managed to double my salary and suddenly went from selling art up to £20k to selling art in the millions. I learned in that dire time for most industries that the art industry always seems to be the last to be affected. People that can afford to buy the Picassos, Mirós, and Matisses of this world will most likely still have the funds to do so even if they lose a few million, and people who are hit hard by a financial crash will still put their money into art as it is one of the few commodities which will always retain its value and that can often bring hefty returns.
As an art recruitment agency we recruit for roles in the art world globally, but it is actually rare that someone from Europe relocates to the UK for a role as it is uncommon for UK employers to even consider potential employees coming from other countries, a slightly uncomfortable fact that highlights how we got to our current political situation in the first place. And we have found that Europe has been less receptive to using art recruitment agencies in the first place so with the arrival of Brexit, nothing really changes in that respect.
So, after all the speculation of what would happen with Brexit the answer is, at the moment, not much. In the lead up to Christmas last year LWAI was probably the busiest it’s ever been. Galleries continue to open, people continue to move around, employers are hiring for multiple roles at a time and there is the overall feeling that everything will be okay, even with all the shortcomings of the UK government.
Now I am not saying that Brexit won’t disrupt other aspects of the art industry. Registrars, for example, now have their work cut out for them with increased import taxes on art and longer waiting times at customs which leads to the increased risk of damage to objects. And public institutions such as museums may suffer depending on how European funding is affected.
But at least in the commercial art world, which is where the bulk of our business comes from, it seems just as good a time as any to find a new job or hire a new employee. We at LWAI will continue to believe in art and the art world and plan to best serve it internationally, continuing to respect all of our clients and candidates wherever they may come from. With the UK’s newfound status as its own entity and unaccountable to anyone else, we need to remain informed and see how things do pan out in the months and years to come, but as a specialist agency we are able to continue to advise and best serve the industry we love – things will change but our approach, and the global nature and international power of art, won’t.
by Lacey West, Director