Art World at Home: PR Pro Tiana Webb Evans Is Launching a Society for Jamaican Art and Doing Deals Over Single-Malt Scotch
The veteran brand strategist tells us how she sets professional boundaries, and the art that inspires her at home.
As life increasingly returns to normal, many in the art world are still spending more time working from home in the aftermath of lockdown. In this series, we check in with curators, historians, and other art-world professionals to get a peek into their day-to-day lives.
Tiana Webb Evans wears many hats. A seasoned brand strategist and publicist, she opened her own firm, ESP Group, seven years ago. She’s also the founder of the cultural organization Yard Concept, and, most recently, the Jamaica Art Society, a professional networking group that champions Jamaican art. And she’s a mother of three.
While juggling her many business and family responsibilities, Evans took the time to speak with Artnet News about coming to terms with unread emails, why she doesn’t mind skipping a big art gala, and the luxury of reading.
What are you working on right now?
The question really is what am I not working on right now? A few years ago, I launched the Yard Concept as a platform for exploration and the activation of critical consciousness through a bi-annual journal, digital exhibitions, and events. It is rooted in the complexity of Jamaican-ness and born from a personal need to integrate all aspects of culture—art, design, philosophy, and spirituality. The next issue of Yard Concept Journal is in the works! I am also excited about our second digital exhibition, curated by UK-based curator and art advisor Arianna Nourse, who is a brilliant mind.
Yard Concept Reading Circles, our signature “happening,” have become a virtual experience just like everything else. It was an unexpected gift since we were able to gather people from around the globe. The experiences are about using books as tools to build community, exchange ideas, question our world, and cultivate consciousness. We’ve worked with texts by Edouard Glissant, bell hooks, and Rebecca Solnit, among others, with unexpected guests from Anthony Anderson to Julie Mehretu. It is an unapologetic nerd fest. All are welcome.
My biggest adventure over the past year has been the launch of a sister initiative to Yard Concept, the Jamaica Art Society. When I was last in Jamaica I had the pleasure of meeting with a community of artists at New Local Space in Kingston. The conversation was a call to action that left me asking myself, “What can you contribute to your people and culture after all of these years in the ‘art world’?”
Jamaica Art Society’s mission is to preserve Jamaican art history and to support its future leaders. We have an In Focus fellowship program, a professional development program preparing artists, curators, and writers to confidently navigate the global art ecosystem, create new models, and shape our stories. We’re committed to participating in the broader conversation about Caribbean art and culture, and look forward to collaborating with the organizations and leaders who have been shaping this conversation for decades.
It’s Friday night and your favorite restaurant is packed. What’s your backup plan?
I am very fortunate because my husband is an undercover Top Chef. So one of the few things I didn’t miss during the pandemic was going out to restaurants. We, like many of our truly fortunate counterparts, dealt with the rabid angst induced by all things 2020 by delving into the things we could control—like dinner. My husband and I have been cooking together for two decades. This tradition has now been taken to a much higher level. He’s been asked by a number of people to start a supper club. The jury is still out on that matter, so, in the meantime, the kids and I are able to enjoy the ever-changing menu at Chez Evans.
It’s Sunday and your calendar is completely clear. How do you spend your morning?
Reading, reading, reading! Anyone who knows me well knows I have an unhealthy love affair with books. When you have a family, reading is a luxury. The lengths I will go to carve out time to read is comedic. I am not above hiding in a closet or the basement to get a few pages in.
Sunday morning between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. is a very special time—the magic hours. Being able to read, take a walk, or do yoga on Sunday morning can set the tone for the entire week.
You’re on a desert island and you can only stream one TV series. What do you choose?
I am not a big TV watcher; I read like most people watch television. To be honest, I watched more TV between December 2020 and January 2021 than I had in the last five years. My series of choice is Atlanta. It is one of the smartest, most nuanced bits of hilarity I have seen to date. Needless to say, we have been waiting years for a new season. If Donald Glover’s art advisor is reading this, please tell him to hurry up… sincerely, Tiana.
What three things is your kitchen always stocked with?
Eggs, espresso, and excellent tequila.
What is your favorite part of your house and why?
My favorite part of the house is my office. It is my command station and where the magic happens. I love that it has wood paneling, built-in millwork, and a wet bar. I know there is a history of success in that space—where business deals were done and many important conversations were had over single-malt scotch. The room demands a certain level of seriousness and action. I respect that space.
The art world can be all-consuming. How do you create boundaries for yourself?
I am intentional about my time and where I show up. My limitations were set early on. Being a mother of three is an automatic boundary. Of course, I have missed out on experiences or events over the years, but my focus is longevity. I only have a handful of regrets, and usually they revolve around things like spontaneous artist performances or extraordinary symposiums.
At this stage of my career there needs to be a concrete reason for my presence—either supporting an artist, friend, or institution I am closely aligned with, experiencing something that relates to my personal research, or connecting with clients. Otherwise I am okay with missing out on events.
At the same time, I am consumed with art and its ability to shift and shape culture. Building community around art (and design) is the work I’ve dedicated my life to, so in that regard the art world is, indeed, all-consuming.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?
Best: You can have it all, just not all at the same time. (Longevity and pacing.)
Worst: Fake it till you make it. (Never. I place extraordinary value on authenticity. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it.)
What’s the best change in habit you’ve acquired over the past year? What’s the worst?
I take much better care of myself. I’ve developed an elaborate sanity-securing morning routine. These days I may not get through all of the steps every morning, but three out of five is enough to set my day on the right path.
Emails and text messages used to run my life, no matter who they were from. I just hated unread emails. I answered everything immediately. Now I reserve that sense of urgency for my clients, collaborators, and, of course, the media (missed deadlines are missed opportunities). My approach is much different these days—I am much more “gentle” about the process. It is good for me, but not so great for unsolicited requests.
What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why?
This is a challenging question—it’s like asking me to select my favorite child. Almost every piece here has sentimental value. The latest addition to the family is Nari Ward’s Canned Smiles (2013). I first saw the work in “Nari Ward: We the People” at the New Museum. (Yard Concept’s first event was actually a party with African Chop House and the museum in celebration of Nari and the exhibition.)
The cans were in lucite boxes on pedestals in a neat recessed space adjacent to the museum staircase. The element of surprise and the fact that the cans contained captured smiles, immediately made me smile. It was a little bit of joy in the midst of a weighty and powerful exhibition.
Today, Nari is a friend, collaborator, and a Jamaica Art Society advisory committee member. These little cans are loaded with meaning and represent a litany of special moments.
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